Since the Sci-Fi channel scored a success with its reinvention of Battlestar Galactica in 2003, reboots of classic science fiction stories have been everywhere. Paramount and CBS breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise with a trio of new movies and a broadcast program. MGM is looking to see if life remains in Stargate, through a dedicated transmission platform and original series. ABC returns to The Jetsons, Warner Bros. finally made its sequel to Blade Runner, and Netflix even rebooted ReBoot. The broadcast service has been particularly active in the reactivation field, with new versions of everything from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to the Benji films.
The latest Netflix review of a classic is a reboot of the family sci-fi show Lost in Space. With a new coat of paint, great production values and an updated approach for the broadcast age, the show has a promising premise. But it is undermined by silly decisions of the characters and a world made reality at random.
Like some of the other reboots, Netflix's Lost in Space picks up the blows of the original story in the broadest strokes. The Robinson family (John, Maureen, Judy, Penny and Will) is destined to Alpha Centauri, where humanity has discovered a paradisiacal planet. Because the Earth faces climate change, wars, hunger and other problems that end up in society, explorers are heading to restart society with a new beginning in a virgin world.
But when the show opens, an accident with the boat from the Robinson colony sucks them into a wormhole and crashes into another habitable planet. At first, the family is forced to focus on simple survival: they have to take their ship out of a glacier, orient and find other survivors, all before their mother ship goes without them.
There's a lot of potential in this show, and Netflix has done an admirable job of updating a campy series for a modern audience. The Robinsons are no longer a typical 1950s family: Judy is a mixed-race teenager from her mother's first marriage, and there is much more tension among family members. Judy and Penny are competitive stepbrothers, Will is on the verge of an anxiety attack throughout the series, and John and Maureen are separated, they are only together in this mission for the children. Nor are they alone in their new world. Other families aboard Jupiter's other spacecraft rushed to the surface and, as they unite, the survivors have to discover how to survive and try to escape. Oh, and the classic robot of the series has been updated with a more modern look.
When it works, the program is fun to watch, and there is enough material to keep moving forward, from the interpersonal problems of the Robinsons to the challenges that arise in each episode, from saving your spaceship to trying to point to the mothership after they are cut. The show also benefits from a fantastic production design: the boats, vehicles, equipment and suits look quite realistic and functional.
But while the program has some promising elements, Lost in Space encounters the Prometheus problem: the program often does not seem to know how to make the actions of its characters and situations drive the plot forward, and they make many silly decisions to along the way. In the pilot episode, the Robinson's boat lands on a frozen lake and sinks, but after a moment of struggle over who dives behind him, the family quickly recovers it. Later, Maureen escapes with a space suit and a high-altitude balloon to try to point to the Resolute. Her balloon is caught by the wind, which almost drags her from a cliff, but she throws it successfully into the next scene. Both sequences stand out, because both resolve quickly without any significant effect on the general plot. There may be long-term consequences: Judy has flashbacks about her efforts to recover the ship, while Maureen is exposed to radiation, but quick resolutions make both sequences look like wheel fill. They lack significant impact, and do not help develop the characters.
There is also a lot of silly science, which includes the instant freezing of lakes and eels that consume fuel. For a program that seems to want to focus on realism, these problems are incredibly annoying. The writers seem to be inventing new physics solely to frustrate the characters, which hardly seems to be necessary: on an alien planet, with a group of strangers dealing with stressful and dangerous conditions, there are many more credible challenges to face.
But there are other systemic problems within history. The Robinsons and other settlers like them are fleeing from a devastated Earth. At one point, Maureen explains to her children that going to Alpha Centauri will be like going to a new world, where they can live freely without the war and climate change that ruined their home. Only the best and brightest will be allowed to travel, he says, since the settlers will be examined by a battery of tests.
This is a problematic argument: only the richest and most advantaged segments of society have the freedom to leave behind a broken world and start over. The writers of the series -Draducia Untold and Gods of Egypt, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, are behind this restart- seem aware of the insidious nature of this line of thought. Dr. Smith (Parker Posey), the classic villain of the show, has a secret story that brings her closer to the screening, and explains how such a ruthless and imperfect person infiltrated the group. And the presence of a smuggler named Don West (Bones & Ignacio Serricchio) points out that the selection process is far from perfect, and that the self-destructive nature of humanity is not limited to the poor and uneducated.
But the program does not address its inherent class problems, which is a shame, because the question of who is responsible for climate change and how people who benefit from massive industrial pollution are also the least likely to feel the consequences is a hot topic in 2018. A key reason for the excellence of The Expanse is the will of the creators to explore the divisions created by inequality, and in that program, the ramifications have been incorporated into the world and are an underlying motor for much of Of action. In Lost In Space, the same problems feel like a light dressing. If the writers are committed to the idea on a more dedicated level, they could give the program a much needed depth.
In short, Lost in Space seems to be caught between the poles of two recent films by Ridley Scott. The Martian also focuses on survival, ingenuity and a series of growing challenges. But it is hampered by the inexplicable construction of the world, the character decisions and the informal distancing of the science that defined Prometheus, and sometimes it is frustrating as it squanders the few opportunities that could have placed it next to better shows like Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse . But it's a fun show to watch, and a promising start to possible future adventure seasons.
The opening season of 10 episodes of Lost in Space begins airing on Netflix on April 13.