From Lost in Space‘s original incarnation as a classic ’60s television series to its various comic book adaptations to the 1998 film, the galactic reimagining of Swiss Family Robinson has always been a fun-filled romp that focuses more on adventure and intrigue than anything else. But we find a different kind of Lost in Space in the newly released Netflix adaptation: a refreshingly realistic look at family dynamics and the impact of bad parenting through the lens of a prestige sci-fi show.
It’s not surprising that Lost in Space fits so easily into the ever-popular grim and gritty reboot framework as the setup of the original story is actually pretty dark: a family of space colonists gets lost in the depths of space after their ship is sabotaged. The new version builds on this, adding in the implication of a potentially world-ending object heading towards Earth, as well as introducing a conflict that we’ve never seen in previous iterations. In this retelling, the Robinson parents, John and Maureen, are revealed to be separated before they’re accepted into the space program that leads to their life-threatening predicament.
Genre television has long been used as an allegorical way of telling stories, and though the Robinsons are literally lost in space they’re also afloat in their own familial struggles. John is an absent dad obsessed with his career. Although that part of his life is still a mystery, it’s suggested in the infrequent flashbacks that he’s some kind of special-ops soldier, one who’s clearly spent more time away from his family than with them, and whose children have all been damaged by the space he’s left.
In fact, so much of what Lost in Space is exploring in its first episode alone is our parents and the havoc they wreak on us with their choices. Whether it’s John’s absence or Maureen’s dedication to getting the family included in the space program, all of the children are affected by the questionable decisions of the people who’re meant to be protecting them.
The first episode plays heavily with the tropes of family television dramas. Teenage sisters Judy and Penny don’t get along. One is stubborn and willful and angry with her absent father, while the other dotes on him, ever forgiving and ready to bask in what minimal attention he can spare. Will Robinson is a precocious young boy who’s riddled with insecurities, and who in a lesser adaptation would be thede facto avatar character. Here, the show’s strength lies in the ensemble cast and the careful balance that the creative team has struck in splitting time between them, so that by the end of the premiere we already have a firm idea of just where each Robinson stands, and that ultimately they all stand together.
Toby Stephens’ John is an archetypal strict yet impulsive father, and within an hour of landing on the alien planet his demanding nature has put two of his children’s lives in grave danger. It’s rare that we really get to see men dealing with the immediate ramifications of their actions, let alone in the context of their children. This in itself is an interesting (if slightly on the nose) way of exploring John’s relationship with parental responsibility that he’s suddenly having to face after years away from his kids. And from what we see in the first episode, he’s not really dealing with it very well.
It’s not just John who’s struggling to deal with the new status quo, though, as Molly Parker’s Maureen is immediately injured, with her two daughters taking care of her rapidly deteriorating health as her husband endangers their lives as quickly as possible. We don’t learn much about Maureen in the first episode, but Parker instills her with enough quiet, introverted, and intriguing moments that we want to know more. It seems like Maureen’s dedication to getting herself and the children accepted onto the colonization program was driven either by familial self-preservation or a need to escape her estranged husband, who wasn’t originally meant to be taking the trip with them. Although we don’t know why that is yet, I’m sure we’ll discover soon enough, especially as daughter Judy is clearly very unhappy with his new presence in their lives.
The kick-off to Lost in Space does a great job of reimagining the world of the Robinsons with more of a focus on the family at the core. The use of scoring and smart direction creates an atmosphere that leaves it feeling almost like a horror-tinged thriller. The younger members of your family will enjoy the epic visuals and young heroes, while there’s enough drama, intrigue, and conflict to keep the older contingent satisfied.