The first season of Netflix’s new reboot of the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space, which screened at Wondercon 2018 in Anaheim, California today, starts off strong. That should come as a relief if you’ve seen the 1998 remake. Phew.
Lost in Space follows the Robinson family as their colony ship crashes into a strange and inhospitable planet. It’s like The Swiss Family Robinson, but in space. That’s an inherently strong premise–sci-fi adventure mixed with relatable family dynamics–and Lost in Space might actually be able to deliver on it, if the first episode is anything to go by. Netflix’s shows have been stronger than the streaming service’s movies, especially lately, and Lost in Space is no exception.
Somewhat fresh off his excellent stint as the lead pirate on Starz’s underrated seafaring series Black Sails, Toby Stephens heads the family as John Robinson. His wife Maureen (House of Cards‘ Molly Parker), daughter Penny (Mina Sundwall), son Will (Max Jenkins), and adopted daughter Judy (Taylor Russell) make up the rest of the crew on which the series’ first episode focuses.
Netflix’s Lost in Space is far from an exact remake. John is an Army vet who, as the episode reveals, was more or less estranged from the rest of the Robinsons before they left together on a gigantic colony ship. Predictably, the episode uses flashbacks to continuously flesh out the main characters’ relationships, though it doesn’t overdo it. There’s plenty more family drama to unpack, which Lost in Space will no doubt do over its ten-episode first season, but for the premiere the action is mostly in the present with the family.
If this episode has a single glaring flaw, it’s an overreliance on Murphy’s Law. Anything that could possibly go wrong for the Robinsons does–and that’s after they crash on an inhospitable, icy, alien planet. One family member gets stuck in a dangerous spot with a ticking clock, and in their attempts at rescue, another plummets down a deep hole. Another breaks their leg in the crash, requiring a tricky emergency surgery.
The episode does a decent job establishing who the characters are, if not exactly why they left Earth in the first place. Will, the youngest, is unsure of himself, eager to help but not confident that he belongs there at all. Judy, the adopted daughter, is reckless and wants to prove herself useful. Her relationship with her sister, the book-loving Penny, isn’t great, but they love each other deep down. They all–especially Maureen–still harbor some resentment toward John, and the episode gives the sense they might have a good reason, though it’s not totally evident yet exactly what it is.
There are moments in Lost in Space Episode 1 where it legitimately feels like one or more of these core characters might actually be lost, whether through dying or becoming long term separated from the family. That’s testament to how well the show establishes the danger they’re in, even though you know deep down it’s unlikely one of the main characters will die in the first episode.
The show’s production value is excellent; the planet’s surface, the crashed ship, and the Robinsons’ space suits all look like they’re from a big budget sci-fi movie. That also extends to the show’s iconic robot, which in this incarnation is significantly different–and more interesting–than the original’s cheesy beep-boop companion to the Robinsons.
It’s not just that the robot is now some kind of bio-robotic alien. There are some surprising added wrinkles toward the episode’s end, especially when the show briefly turns the clock back to show exactly what happened to cause the colony ship to crash in the first place. That’s also when some of the show’s other characters are introduced, including Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith–another returning character who’s different from the original in major ways.
It all adds up to a promising start to a show that, over its previous incarnations, has ranged from campy fun to cartoonishly bad. Netflix doesn’t always knock it out of the park with its originals, but with the sheer, unbelievable number of Netflix original shows and Netflix original movies that hit the platform in a constant stream, it’s bound to have some home runs now and then. Lost in Space might be one of them.
Lost in Space‘s release date comes April 13, when all ten episodes in its first season will arrive exclusively on Netflix.