The first two hours of Netflix’ uneven “Lost in Space” series are scripted by the team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who also wrote three big-screen projects: 2014’s “Dracula Untold” (17% positive reviews from “top critics” polled by the Rotten Tomatoes website), 2015’s “The Last Witch Hunter” (25%) and 2016’s “Gods of Egypt” (10%). I’m not sure any of these films turned a profit, and I’m not sure Sazama & Sharpless are going to get to write any more movies.
And if the first two hours of “Lost in Space,” which are full of poorly crafted wisecracks, were released to cinemas, I would not be surprised if they garnered another very low RT score.
With the third hour, showrunner Zack Estrin (creator of ABC’s “Once Upon A Time In Wonderland”) and his seasoned TV-writing staff step in – and “Lost In Space” transforms into a compelling and addictive hourlong adventure for seven episodes.
Fans of the original should recognize the seven main characters: spacefaring parents John and Maureen Robinson, their spacefaring kids Will, Penny and Judy, spacefaring outsider Dr. Smith, and spacefaring mechanical man Robot. They also brought back family spaceship Jupiter 2, and the theme music composed by one Johnny Williams*.
(*who went to score “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Home Alone,” “The Last Jedi” and a zillion other movie blockbusters).
Creator and special-effects maven Irwin Allen poured an unusual amount of money into the original series, and the new series doesn’t disappoint in this department either. Everything from the futuretech to the exotic landscapes look fantastic; one senses pricey production design and effects budgets, and those budgets suggest Netflix considers “Lost in Space” one of its more important franchises.
The 2018 series also sports a number of elements we never saw in the 1965 version. Some highlights:
. DR. SMITH IS NOW A LADY. Parker Posey, component of many a Christopher Guest mockumentary, ably steps into very big shoes, taking over the all-important Jonathan Harris role.* Like Harris’ Smith, Posey’s Smith is not beyond occasionally generating laughs.
(*Recall that Ron Moore removed the penises of Starbuck and Boomer when he forged the 21st century version of “Battlestar Galactica.”)
. THE ROBOT IS NOT MAN-MADE. Moore’s “Galactica” changed the alien-created Cylons into human-created androids. The new “Lost In Space” does exactly the opposite, transforming the Space Family Robinson’s man of steel into something built by non-humans. Like fellow extraterrestrial Groot, this Robot speaks only three words, over and over again. I’m fairly certain he (it?) is the reason I ended up binging all 10 first season episodes; I grew terribly invested in learning more about this metal mystery.
. THE ROBINSONS ARE NO LONGER FAMOUS AND SPECIAL. In the 1965 version the Robinsons were destined to become the first inhabitants of Another Star System. In the 2018 version the Robinsons are merely destined to join a thriving and well-populated Alpha Centauri first colonized by humans years earlier. The Robinsons are also travelling in the company of many other space-faring families; Jupiters 3, 4, 5, 11, 14 and so on* are docked alongside the Jupiter 2 on a gigantic spacecraft carrier dubbed The Resolute.
(*Each Jupiter seems to represent a different region of Earth. One is full of Britishers, another Australians. There's a Japanese Jupiter captained by a character played by “Man In The High Castle” lynchpin Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.)
. WILL ISN’T THE ONLY ROBINSON WHO GETS SERIOUS SCREENTIME. The series is full of agreeable flashbacks exploring the family’s former Earthbound lives, and it’s hard to shake the moving memory of Maureen (“Deadwood” icon Molly Parker) fretting over her newborn son. Feuding teen sisters Judy (luminous “Falling Skies” vet Taylor Russell) and Penny (Mina Sundwall, who was also great daughtering-up the 2015 Greta Gerwig vehicle “Maggie’s Plan”), who have inherited their scientist mother’s supergenius, also make big impressions.*
(*As does “Bones” recurring player Ignacio Serricchio, who adds a lot of Han Solo to Don West, the mercenary pilot who serves as Judy's potential romantic interest.)
Alas, Sazama & Sharpless return to script the sloppy, low-IQ season finale, and a mostly solid first season falters and bumbles and fails to stick a landing. Just the same, there’s more great than bad in this new “Lost In Space,” and I’d encourage anyone to jump aboard.
The trades are divided:
... A better title for “Lost in Space” would be “Mired in Mediocrity.” … After five episodes of frequently slack pacing, meandering character development and derivative adventures, the only truly intriguing character around is the Robot, who, unlike a number of other “Lost in Space” characters, rarely does anything dumb. …
... Lost in Space wants to be Netflix's biggest tent show yet — so far with entertaining, popcorn-series results. …
11:59 p.m. Thursday. Netflix.