‘Lost in Space,’ we have a problem
The robot on the original “Lost in Space,” which ran from 1965 to 1968, looked like a giant spark plug riding a Segway scooter. His arms were like accordion vacuum cleaner hoses and his hands were like broken handcuffs. He talked like a P.A. system on wheels, but he did have personality. The robot on Netflix’s new “Lost in Space,” whose first 10-episode season is available on Friday, has quite a different look. He resembles the fish-man in “The Shape of Water,” but he’s got a headlight for a face, a digitally processed voice, and bluish metal outfitting. He’s sleek and shiny and boring.
And that’s the deal with the whole “Lost in Space” reboot: sleek, shiny, and boring. There’s a ton of action afoot as the space family Robinson struggles for survival out in the cosmos, having left the increasingly toxic Earth to colonize Alpha Centauri. Clearly, there’s plenty of Netflix money afoot, too, as the Robinsons adventure through visually dramatic landscapes in visually dramatic weather, deal with catastrophic crashes, or hang out on their mega-deluxe-super-humongous-ship, the Jupiter. The show looks like a blockbuster space movie, with a soundtrack loaded up with the same wonder-filled strings and horns we hear in those same movies.
But all that action is painfully repetitive and tedious. Every few minutes, something major goes awry — usually soon after someone has yelled out a warning such as “Can this thing run on fumes?” — and close calls and narrow escapes ensue. In the third episode, Maureen Robinson, the mom, yells, “If we don’t get the Jupiter out of here, the whole thing is gonna collapse on us.” But really she could have yelled out the same thing in almost any of the episodes. Problems with the engine, alien creatures, avalanches, fast-freezing water — it’s always something. Everyone runs and panics over and over again, tension peaks, and yet the whole thing feels static. Everything happens, and nothing.
The casting is a problem, except in one case — Parker Posey as Dr. Smith. Molly Parker, a favorite of mine from “Deadwood” and “Swingtown,” is OK as the logic-and-science-loving Maureen — but she can be so much better than OK. The writers try to give her a personal storyline, since she and husband John, played sternly by Toby Stephens, are dealing with a troubled marriage. But it’s hard to care about the fate of their relationship because they’re so bland and heroic. The rest of the Robinsons are bland too, with Will (Maxwell Jenkins) a sweet but dramatically inert presence. I didn’t worry about their safety during all of their dangerous missions because I just didn’t care enough about them. TV’s original Robinson family wasn’t particularly exciting, either, but at least whimpering Jonathan Harris’s Dr. Smith brought enough camp and cowardice to keep things entertaining.
Posey, though, grew on me as Dr. Smith. She’s not over-the-top enough to raise the overall energy level, but she provides a welcome spot of evil and humor. While the Robinsons brave every crisis the CGI whizzes throw at them, always certain they will prevail, her fear and loathing are tons of fun.
LOST IN SPACE
Starring: Toby Stephens, Parker Posey, Molly Parker, Mina Sundwall, Ignacio Serricchio, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell
On: Netflix, season one streams Friday