“Danger, Will Robinson.”
If that catchphrase and the robot are all you remember about “Lost in Space” – and frankly, there’s not a whole lot more that’s worth recalling – you should have a pretty good time with the Netflix reboot, which, gives said robot a more menacing, way-cool retrofitting, along with sprucing up other key members of the ensemble.
Granted, there’s some clunkiness in this splashy 21st-century attempt to upgrade the 1960s concept, previously transformed into a 1998 movie after the signature Irwin Allen TV show, which is very much an artifact of its time.
Strains of the original musical theme play over the credits, a nice homage to the past. But the latest version seeks to do more than just improve upon the chintzy special effects, introducing more discord into the central family (including a marital rift between the parents, played by Molly Parker and Toby Stephens), while turning the hiss-able Dr. Smith into a woman (a very good Parker Posey).
The general orbit remains largely intact, with the Robinson family part of a mission to colonize space, before they’re thrown off course and shipwrecked on a desolate planet (as usual, much of it resembles the outskirts of Vancouver). There, the survivors are forced to struggle against the elements, and much more.
The youngest and aforementioned Will (Max Jenkins), meanwhile, encounters a strange robot, forging a bond that makes the mechanized figure – complete with a pulsating visage – want to protect the child, while fostering suspicions on his father’s part.
The producers pretty shrewdly employ flashbacks to spoon out details about how everyone got there, including Posey’s Smith, who is a lot less trustworthy than the robot. Layering on those character beats helps flesh out the show, though the emphasis sticks to plenty last-second escapes and perilous situations.
Even with those wrinkles, the central family proves serviceable but still a pretty bland bunch, including a pair of squabbling daughters (Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall) who occasionally fall victim to “dumb TV teenager” syndrome – only in space.
Indeed, beyond the obvious technical improvements, the changes designed to make the show more contemporary and relevant – including glimpses of a smog-choked Earth – only mildly enhance this family adventure.
The show fares somewhat better with Posey’s character, whose ability to psychologically manipulate her companions adds much-needed edge and suspense. The first season (all 10 episodes were made available) does sag a bit in the middle but finishes stronger, including a clever twist to set the stage for season two.
Even amid a spate of revivals and reboots, Netflix has been inordinately aggressive about leveraging such built-in equity to garner attention. But the evolving nature of TV drama makes the challenge more daunting when dealing with a concept this simple – one inspired itself by “The Swiss Family Robinson.” (It’s worth noting that Fox tried a similar formula a few years ago with “Terra Nova,” which proved an expensive disappointment.)
To its credit, “Lost in Space” has taken on that baggage and still achieved a credible liftoff and landing to its first season. The question lingers how long these Robinsons will be able to sustain that creative trajectory.
“Lost in Space” premieres April 13 on Netflix.