The second season of Netflix’s reimagined “Lost in Space” is now streaming, and it ups the stakes, both dramatically and cinematically, looking better than many current science fiction films, and providing a family drama series that isn’t hokey, corny or condescending.
To say it surpasses this series surpasses both the original 1965-8 TV series and 1998 feature film is a given. I’d go so far to say that this newest incarnation is the best possible version of the “Lost in Space” concept; a concept loosely based on Johann David Wyss’ original 1812 novel, “Swiss Family Robinson.” The family last name of ‘Robinson’ and the son’s first name of ‘William’ were about the only original elements remaining when producer Irwin Allen first updated the novel for the heady early days of the Space Age.
*****JUPITER-2 SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD****
Lost Characters Found.
Unlike the 1965 original series, the new “Lost in Space” (reimagined by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless) puts characters first and foremost over action. In the original series, Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams), copilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard), John’s son Will (Billy Mumy) and bumbling villain Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) got the lions’ share of the action. The women of the series, mother Maureen (June Lockhart), daughters Judy (Marta Kristen) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) were usually seen preparing meals, doing laundry, or other things that were “acceptable” for women to do on TV in those days (despite their own status as fellow astronauts). Even the Robot (Bob May, voice of Dick Tufeld) got more interesting storylines than the women of the show. Soon the series boiled down to more and more storylines involving Will, Robot and Dr. Smith, with most of the other characters being little more than background as the trio’s adventures became increasingly camp and outrageous.
Luckily, none of that is true in this latest incarnation of the series, as the entire ensemble cast is well-served. The primary challenge of the original concept has been overcome, as the characters in this newer “Lost in Space” have become genuinely complex people, and not just brightly uniformed Ken and Barbie dolls aboard a toy spaceship. The current “Lost in Space” has as much in common with its predecessor as 2003’s “Battlestar Galactica” had with its own campy 1978 parent series.
Jonathan Robinson (Toby Stephens)
John Robinson of the 1960s TV series was the stalwart hero; good husband, father, and fearless leader. A cross between Ward Cleaver and Jack Kennedy; a typical TV patriarch of the time. 21st century John Robinson (well-played by Toby Stephens) is a lot more complicated. A former Navy SEAL and former absentee father who is reconnecting with his family after much time away, this John doesn’t always say or do the right things, but he desperately tries. Season 2 begins with he and his wife Maureen at odds over whether or not to leave the planet they’ve been stranded on for the past seven months (“Shipwrecked” “Precipice”). The planet has unbreathable air and non-potable water, but risk-averse John wants to stay put. Things get complicated when they discover that the inhospitable planet is home to the same dangerous cybernetic species as the Robot (Brian Steele). Long story short, they have to leave, immediately.
Season 2 also sees Navy SEAL John forced to become an old-fashioned sailor (“Shipwrecked”) as the Jupiter 2 is temporarily converted into a futuristic version of a clipper ship. We also see John gravely injured as he’s impaled at the bottom of a mineshaft (“Run”). John and Maureen (Molly Parker) are also stranded in a pair of maintenance pods after being locked out of the mothership Resolute by the villainous Hastings (Douglas Hodge), following Maureen’s necessary mutiny of the ship (“Shell Game”). The end of the season sees John forced to make his most difficult decision yet; allowing his daughter Judy lead the surviving children of the Resolute to safety, as the adults are forced to remain behind and fight off the attacking members of Robot’s cybernetic species. Toby Stephens plays John less as two-dimensional stalwart patriarch and more the complex, partner-in-shared-responsibilities that is recognizable to many families.
Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker)
The reimagined Maureen Robinson has very little in common with the ‘Mrs. Cleaver in Space’ version of Maureen we saw in the original “Lost In Space” (June Lockhart), other than both caring very much for their respective families. Like husband John, Maureen isn’t perfect. She’s a bit of a tiger mom, often expecting everyone in the family to rise to her own higher-than-average standards. She also tends to gloss over some of the finer points of parenting, such as reading daughter Penny’s chronicles of their adventures (a fact revealed later on in the season). She sometimes makes impulsive, even dangerous decisions without consultation (“Unknown”), but more often than not, she is usually right. Last season’s revelation that she fudged the numbers to admit otherwise unqualified son Will into the colonist program also came to light this season. That act, borne from her desire to keep the family together, didn’t hurt her relationship with John. These are the sorts of morally murky things that, right or wrong, family members often do for each other.
Season 2 sees Maureen trying to better connect with her sensitive, smart-ass daughter Penny (wonderfully played by Mina Sundwall), dissuade son Will (Maxwell Jenkins) from placing too much faith in the Robot (Brian Steele), and in one of her typically impulsive (though ultimately correct) decisions, take control of the Resolute through mutiny (“Unknown”). Maureen takes command in order to lower the Resolute’s orbit, scoop up much needed elements from the planet’s upper atmosphere, and use them to flush out the titanium-eating virus infecting the mothership.
Her actions alienate her from Jenkins (Douglas Hodge), who locks Maureen out of the ship in her maintenance pod (shades of HAL9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) and temporarily retakes control of the vessel, forcing the Robinson kids to become mutineers (and fugitives) from the other colonists in order to aid their parents (“Shell Game”). While the Maureen we saw in season 1 wasn’t exactly a slouch when it came to shouldering responsibility, season 2 sees her doing so even more forcefully than before (“Unknown”), no doubt fueled by her experiences gained struggling to survive with her family on an inhospitable planet for 7 months. Molly Parker accepts the character Maureen’s challenges and runs with them.
Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell)
The episode “Run” fills in some backstory between John and his oldest daughter Judy. Judy’s biological father is (presumed) dead astronaut Grant Kelly. John later married Kelly’s widow Maureen, with whom he fathered Penny and Will. “Run” sees John injured at the bottom of a mineshaft on an alien planet after the Robinsons reunite with their mothership Resolute with the other colonists on an alien planet. The planet has an infectious substance that dissolves titanium, and the mineshaft’s infrastructure has collapsed. John is impaled at the bottom of the shaft, unable to get out on his own.
Hearing from her dad via his comm device, Judy defies the colony’s temporary ban on usage of titanium objects (such as the Chariot ground vehicles). Judy’s vehicle predictably corrodes and breaks down, stranding her kilometers from the mining site. She literally runs for her father’s life, avoiding dangerous indigenous life of the planet, trying to get to him before he bleeds out. They stay in touch via comms, and we see much of their backstory unfold in flashback. We also see how John helped to push Judy into becoming the ambitious prodigal daughter that she became. “Run” is definitely Judy’s episode, as it not only answers questions of her biological parentage, but it also fills the audience in on the very close bond she shares with her adoptive father John.
The end of the season sees Judy forced to take command of the other children from the Resolute (“Ninety Seven”), as the adults are forced to remain behind for their children’s sake. We then see the Resolute space-warp into Alpha Centauri space, with a shattered planet and an old lost spaceship…the lost spaceship commanded by Grant Kelly, Judy’s biological father. Yes, perhaps that last twist is a little too soap opera, but given how refreshing it is to see a family science fiction series that genuinely values character drama over mindless spectacle, I kinda welcome it. Taylor Russell gives Judy the right balance of intelligence and naiveté to be believable as both a budding doctor and a 19 year old thrust into far more adult positions of responsibility.
Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall)
Penny often feels like the outsider of the brilliant Robinson family; not specifically oriented towards science like the others, her knowledge is more of a literary and philosophical bent. For Christmas, her kid brother Will (Maxwell Jenkins) publishes her memoirs about the family’s struggles and titles it “Lost in Space” (“Shipwrecked”). Each family member received a copy, and all-too busy alpha mother Maureen lied in telling her daughter that she’d read it, when in fact she hadn’t. Season 2 also saw Penny briefly bonding with the hopelessly self-servicing Smith (much in the same way that Smith and Will bonded in the original series), as Penny was simply looking for a confidante (“Echoes”). Luckily, Penny was smart enough to realize that she was being used, and soon deduces that Smith’s real motive was to free herself from confinement. Penny, Smith and several other colonists also faced a dangerous challenge when they’re forced to evacuate from a rapidly disintegrating section of the Resolute into the vacuum of space sealed inside of a storage bin (“Severed”).
We also see Penny’s season 1 crush on colonist teenage boy Vijay (Ajay Friese) reignite when the Robinson family reunites with the mothership Resolute, and Penny puts that budding teenage romance to the test when she asks Vijay to aid her in helping her fugitive parents (“Shell Game”). Unlike the sometimes bratty Penny seen in previous incarnations, this newest version is a complex teenager; full of the contradictory impulses that simmer inside of raging adolescence, especially one with the sensitivity and intelligence that Sundwall effortlessly brings to the character. She is arguably the most interesting (and relatable) of the Robinson offspring.
Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins)
Young Will Robinson begins the 2nd season in mourning over the loss of his beloved alien Robot, whom he befriended in season 1 (“Shipwrecked”). When it was revealed that the Robot was a member of the cybernetic race that attacked the Resolute, Will stood by the Robot’s side; convinced that the being understood the concept of friendship, and it did, alerting the young boy (in its limited vocabulary) whenever harm was imminent, using the classic series’ tagline, “Danger, Will Robinson.”
Always looking for clues to find his beloved cybernetic friend, he ultimately finds a kindred spirit in Ben Adler (JJ Feild), an initially untrustworthy sort who’s been using an injured member of Robot’s species (“Scarecrow”) for many years to power the Resolute’s ‘miraculous’ (i.e. stolen) hyperspace technologies. Adler sees himself in young Will, which causes the previously unethical researcher to take up the Robinson’s cause (“Unknown” “Shell Game”) and aid Will in reuniting ‘Scarecrow’ with Robot, hoping the act of kindness might spark some trust between the feuding races.
Will’s seemingly unique gift in communicating with Robot was initially something seen as exploitable, but was later recognized as a potential olive branch. As the robots board the Resolute at the end of season 2 (“Ninety Seven”), Will notices that one of the robots, possibly a restored Scarecrow, turned against its brethren and aided the colonists. Young Maxwell Jenkins takes the iconic role of Will Robinson (one of the more popular characters of the original) and reinvents him as a sensitive, empathetic boy whose greatest gift lies more with his compassion for others (even robots) than in his considerable technical acumen.
Don West (Ignacio Serricchio)
No longer the astronaut Major Don West of the original, this newly minted Don West (played with great charm by Ignacio Serricchio), and his pet chicken Debbie (formerly the name of Penny’s pet alien monkey in the original series and 1998 feature film) is now reimagined as more of a Han Solo-type; a former smuggler with a heart of gold. Don has many shady connections and ill-begotten skills that wind up serving him well in the series. For instance, his smuggler’s knowledge of the vacuum-proof nature of cargo containers aboard the Resolute came in handy when one of them had to briefly carry Penny, Smith and others into the vacuum of space (“Severed”).
Don is probably the character least explored in depth in the series to date, as he is often the wisecracking comic relief, unofficial morale officer, and, at times, audience surrogate. His humorous barbs are usually harmlessly aimed at the infamously overachieving Robinson clan, whom he often teases, but would lay down his life for in an instant; in fact, he is nearly killed when he is attacked by a tentacled sea creature when helping the Robinsons sail the Jupiter 2 across an ocean (“Shipwrecked” “Precipice”). His earlier attraction to Judy in season 1 has been downplayed in season 2, as he became something of older brother figure to the kids. Don’s relationship with Zoe Smith is that of a reformed con artist recognizing another who is still in the game.
Serricchio’s personal charm, which I witnessed firsthand onstage at 2018’s WonderCon convention in Anaheim, fuels much of the character’s charisma as well.
Dr. Zoe Smith/June Harris (Parker Posey)
The original character of Dr. Zachariah Smith (the late Jonathan Harris) is smartly reimagined as a sociopathic would-be therapist named June Harris (her name being a mix of original series’ costars June Lockhart & Jonathan Harris), who, in season 2, has (via hacking the Resolute’s mainframe) changed her name to a Dr. Zoe Smith, stealing her identity from a real Dr. Zachariah Smith (played in brief cameos by former series “Will Robinson” star Billy Mumy), who is in cryogenic stasis. Zoe Smith goes through a few interesting arcs in season 2, alternating from hero to confidante to traitor and back to hero (watch her dextrous leaping from one to the next in “Shell Game” to the end of “Ninety Seven”). Her bottom line is that she constantly allies herself with whomever she perceives to be in power, be it the Robinsons, the Robot, or the authorities aboard the mothership Resolute (“Shell Game”). She is a born survivor, who, surprisingly, knows how to sail (“Shipwrecked” “Precipice”). Her innate instinct for her own survival is one trait this more sociopathic version of Smith shares with her far more timid and ineffective predecessor.
If the character of Dr. Smith were still a man, one would have to wonder why John Robinson (Toby Stephens) or even fellow conman Don West (Ignaccio Serricchio) wouldn’t simply beat the stuffing out of him. But having Smith as a woman changes the character’s dynamic. It’s much easier in pop entertainment to imagine mano-a-mano violence between two squabbling alpha males, but it’s quite another thing to see such violence inflicted from a strapping, 6 ft. former Navy seal like John Robinson onto a petite, 5 ft. 5” woman. That would never be justified, no matter what her offenses, and it would be an ugly thing to witness in ‘family entertainment.’ By her being female, the Robinson family are now forced to seek other means to deal with her beyond violence, and that makes Smith’s weekly forays into selfishness work. Parker Posey, with her ingratiating sociopathic charm (a timely trait to see in the age of flattery-prone president Trump) , also goes a long way towards making the character work.
As for Zoe Smith’s seeming self-sacrifice for the Robinson family that we witness in season 2’s finale “Ninety Seven”? Well, as they say about death in science fiction, ‘If you don’t see a body…‘
The Robot (Brian Steele)
The character that has undergone the greatest change from the original series to the current incarnation would have to be the Robot. Formerly a piece of the Robinson family’s luggage, a piece of hardware developed by the US space program, the new Robot is a member of a cybernetic alien race (first seen in season 1’s “Impact”). Will befriends the tall machine, which he discovers is sentient; capable of understanding some human words, and even abstract ideas such as friendship. Season 1 ended with the Robot separated from the Robinson family, and season 2 saw Will in a quest to find him, despite the light years between them.
Will and Robot eventually reunite on the colony world established by the Resolute’s other colonists (“Scarecrow”), where Will learns that humanity is responsible for the Robot race’s attack on humans in season 1, when it kidnapped and tortured another member of Robot’s race, which was recovered after it struck the Earth (reported in the media as a cometary impact) and its hyperdrive technology was quickly exploited, leading to the rapid development of the colony vessel Resolute. Robot’s loyalties were challenged in season 2 when he realizes that humanity was responsible for the torture and exploitation of his race. Will and Adler (JJ Feild) try to make things right by smuggling Scarecrow off of the Resolute, and down to the planet seen in “Shipwrecked” and “Precipice”, a planet belonging to the Robot’s race. That act of kindness doesn’t stop a full-on invasion of the Resolute by an army of rampaging robots, forcing the humans to evacuate their children first, but Will and Adler see what appears to be Scarecrow turning on his own invading army.
Brian Steele’s performance of the Robot in season 1 was limited to voice work (the famous “Danger Will Robinson” line) when the character was rendered in full CGI, but season 2 saw a practical suit built for the character, as it now stays locked in its (more or less) humanoid shape. The suit for the character in season 2 gives the Robot character a slightly more tactile quality that it lacked in the first season of the series, and Brian Steele’s added physical performance gives the creation increased physical presence as well.
Balance of Drama and Spectacle.
While the characters of the reimagined “Lost in Space” are strong and well-delineated in season 2, there is still plenty of action and adventure to go around as well. Looking at some of the spectacular vistas and visual effects of this new 10 episode season, it’s hard to believe that this is a streaming TV series, and not a $200 million motion picture. I honestly enjoyed season 2 of “Lost in Space” far more than I did the derivative and dull “Ad Astra” (a humorless and dry reworking of “Heart of Darkness” in space).
The physical interior sets of the Jupiter 2 and Resolute mothership are spacious and well-appointed (a far cry from the dual-level ‘space camper’ Jupiter 2 of the original series). There were many little moments this season that helped maintain that sense of awe that should come with a series that takes its audience to alien worlds.
I particularly loved the blue whale-sized ‘Betta fish’ that lived in the upper atmosphere of the colony world that Maureen and John see through their maintenance pods (“Shell Game”). That John and Maureen take a moment in their life-and-death struggle to notice a glorious space creature like that adds greatly to the humanity of their characters.
I also appreciated the notion of the Robinsons being forced to turn their Jupiter 2 spacecraft into a sailing vessel. It’s a callback to the original series’ first season episode “The Hungry Sea”, which saw the family’s Chariot similarly used to traverse a hostile ocean. It also references Wyss’ original “Swiss Family Robinson” novel, which originally depicted the Robinsons as a seafaring family. The visual of the family spaceship retrofitted with sails climbing hostile waves was beautifully realized, and greatly added to the already epic scope of the series’ second season. Even this moment is given a strong human element, as newly minted sailor Don is attacked by a tentacled creature and taken off the line, with a surprising Dr. Smith volunteering to work the sails. When asked if she really knows how to work the sails, Smith retorts with the line, “Sometimes I really do tell the truth.”
If I had any minor gripes with the show’s amazing visual FX, it would be the robotic assault on the Resolute (“Ninety Seven”), which saw an army of very CGI-looking robots being lured into a cargo bay for expulsion into the void of space. When the robots were frozen in place, their shiny metallic textures looked great, but their slick CGI movements earlier and afterward tended to look, well… computer-generated. Well done, but computer-generated nevertheless. It can’t be helped really, since no one really knows what armies of invading robots truly look like, so the brain doesn’t have a realistic reference. This is a minor nitpick in an otherwise amazing season, and it certainly didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the season at all. I merely point it out to be thorough.
Space is the Place.
One of the most remarkable things about this reimagined “Lost in Space” is how deftly it expands upon a concept that I initially feared wouldn’t translate well into the 21st century; the idea of a nuclear family of go get ‘em space travelers seemed quaintly 1960s, and the 1998 feature film did not do the concept any favors, either.
But the new series has finally struck a balance between character, action-adventure and family drama. The family drama aspect of it being an increasingly rare thing these days; this isn’t some dumbed-down Disney channel or Nickelodeon series that parents have to endure with their children, nor is it some R-rated reimagining that parents will have to watch while the little ones are asleep. Yes, there are scenes of violence, and even a jump-scare or two, but they’re not overly graphic nor are they too sugar-coated, either. This is a series that families can enjoy and explore together. It may even inspire a few younger kids to seek a career in space someday, just as the original did back in the heady days of Gemini and Apollo.
This second season of the reimagined “Lost in Space” is easily the best incarnation of this core “Space Family Robinson” concept to date. It makes the original series look like a grade-school play by comparison, with upgraded visuals and updated characters that more depict more realistic families and their issues against an epic backdrop of the unknown.
If you already have Netflix, you could do a lot worse than getting “Lost…”