The series about a family in space was popular for decades, but how will a modern audience respond to the ‘Lost in Space’ reboot?
On April 13 Netflix will release its Lost in Space reboot. First airing on CBS in 1965, the series (unlike its contemporary Star Trek) began as a hit whose popularity grew through syndication. And while not as beloved today, it remained hugely successful over multiple decades. But with the tremendous failure of the Lost in Space motion picture in 1998, and John Woo’s 2003 reimagination not going to series, it seemed to be merely a product of its time.
Netflix has a pretty good track record in reboots and has recently earned sci-fi cred — but will audiences look at this reboot more favorably than they did previous attempts? It’s fair to say the political climate now is not unlike that of the mid-to-late ’60s. The original plot was of colonizing pioneers in the “not-too-distant” future, forced to find an answer to the Earth’s pollution and low resources due to overpopulation — issues that have fueled many sci-fi projects.
But will the Lost in Space reboot have the same spirit as the first? The original may have been campy science fiction (which grew campier to compete with Batman) — but it was about intelligence, kindness, perseverance and forgiveness within a harsh existence. And most importantly, even with all the problems in the world, audiences still had hope for the future of humankind. Will these sentiments resonate with current viewers?
The original series may have started as the Swiss Family Robinson in space, but after the network retooled the original pilot to include two new characters — the self-serving Dr. Smith and the Robot — it became so much more. The Robinsons’ youngest child, Will, illustrates the resourcefulness and resiliency of youth, often holding out hope in the face of absolute peril. Dr. Smith begins as an utter villain. However, perhaps seeing a bit of himself in the boy, he comes as close as a villain can to showing empathy and sometimes, begrudgingly, does the right thing by the family. And the Robot, as is often the case in sci-fi, grows more human as the series progresses, allowing the audience to explore what it means to be human as the Robot builds his identity. All of this significance can often get lost amid the hokey sets, colorful costumes and goofy monsters — yet it’s this depth in addition to the light humor that drew 1960s audiences in.
In the trailer for the series reboot, it’s hard to find any of the whimsy, wonder and fun of the original. The need to make everything darker and less innocent can sometimes weaken properties — as seen with Man of Steel and Netflix’s own Iron Fist. Of course, properties have to change with their audiences to stay relevant. After all, the original Lost in Space takes place in the future of 1997, where the scientist mother still has to do all the cooking and laundry. The challenge of any reboot is to update the original while eliciting a similar reaction from the audience.
Netflix’s Lost in Space trailer brings to mind the retooled Battlestar Galactica, one of the most successful and influential reboots ever. Battlestar Galactica’s reboot creators managed to make the show more serious yet still retained some of the fun and also the main draw of the original show — the characters being forced to learn to live together. And by reimagining it for a post-9/11 audience, they made it even more relevant — surpassing the popularity of the original. Will Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot do the same?
One of the most noticeable changes is that Dr. Smith is now a woman, played by Parker Posey. The question will be what the show’s creators choose to change, if anything, by gender-flipping the role. Anyone who plays Dr. Smith will invariably be compared to Jonathan Harris, who made Dr. Smith famous. But Parker Posey has a history of playing similar characters — sometimes delightfully eccentric and often evil. (I was one of the three people who saw the failed Josie and the Pussycats movie…) And she can do hilariously over-the-top, as charmingly illustrated in the series of Christopher Guest films she’s taken part in. However, the indie-film darling has had a number of serious roles as well. The biggest concern is whether the Lost in Space reboot will capture the fantastic dynamic between Smith and Will, but this most important feature to the show’s success will depend on writing and casting — regardless of gender.
Another huge change appears to be the Robot. The teaser trailer provided no glimpse of the Robot at all, something fans were desperate for. The full trailer shows what appears to be the Robot, as he says the beloved line from the original series, “Danger, Will Robinson!” However, it’s referred to as alien life in the voiceover by Will, and his father asks it what it is.
This will change a whole number of things. The Robot was part of the reason they went so far off course, and its relationship with Dr. Smith was part of the leverage he held over the family — something the Robot had to grow out of as the series progressed. What, if anything, will be in its place? If it doesn’t belong to the mission, it can’t affect the ship and can’t have been programmed by Dr. Smith.
The quintessential message of the original series was keeping hope alive while facing dangers together as a family. It would be hard to imagine Lost in Space as a gritty sci-fi dystopia-driven nonstop action fest, but it’s hard to tell much from a trailer, because trailers often vary in tone from the final product.
Doctor Who stands as testament to the fact that a series can be updated for a modern audience, with more impressive sets and special effects, without breaking the spirit that was key to the original’s longevity.
If the Lost in Space reboot stays true to the message of hope and coming together, with what’s going on in the world currently, will audiences embrace the message? It certainly is a time when we need humor, uniting and hope for our collective future. If Netflix delivers, will we be ready?