If you’re somehow not absolutely tired of “classic” sci-fi concepts being repackaged, rebooted, and regurgitated into the mouths of grown-up baby-birds hungry for warmed-over nostalgia, then you’re probably really excited about the announcement that the camp-tastic Lost in Space will be relaunched as a television series by Netflix, with a 2018 release date. If you’re sane and normal, you might be feeling like this retread could be the straw that breaks the robot-camel’s back. In the following, I’ll arm you with all the laser pistols you need to throw-down should someone try to convince you that a new Lost in Space might actually be good. And it all starts with the fact that Lost in Space was never good.
Writing in her excellent nonfiction book In Other Worlds, Margaret Atwood jabs that the genre of science fiction has a “sluttish reputation,” meaning the trappings of sci-fi often produce low-hanging fruit of absolutely zero intellectual value. I believe the past, present and future of Lost in Space falls right into that category. Look, I like that silly robot as much as the next person, but I’d prefer to leave him and those bratty space kids firmly in the 1960’s. Do I need a “hardcore” or “gritty” version of a robot saying “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” I do not. And neither do you.
Lost in Space was basically “The Swiss Family Robinson in Space.” In case that concept was too nuanced for some viewers, the show’s creator, Irwin Allen decided to just name the family in his show the Robinsons. As an extra helping hand, the title of the show is also a clue as to what they basic premise is about: THEY’RE LOST! Guess where? A patronizing American family is loose on the new frontier of outer space, armed only with their good-nature and quick-wits. Come on. This was a bad idea then.
Nothing about the original Lost in Space remotely approaches the futuristic societal soul-searching science fiction is capable of when it’s done well. Obviously, if you watch three seconds of Lost in Space you can tell this isn’t something you’re supposed to take seriously; it’s basically a sitcom in outer space, and not a very good one either. Most of the plots involve the selfish Dr. Smith (Johnathan Harris) trying to fuck over the Robinsons, who are just squeaky-clean good-to-the-core. You may think me unfair to hold Lost in Space up to standard it never set out to achieve: if it was supposed to be an Outer Space family-friendly romp, then who cares? Why get so worked-up? Irwin Allen – the man who made The Poseidon Adventure and Land of the Giants was just having fun with Lost in Space. So who cares? It’s harmless trash, right?
Well, no. Because the attempt to remake Lost in Space will certainly dishonor its shitty roots by trying to make this non-legitimate concept, contemporarily relevant. Keep in mind, Lost in Space has already been rebooted twice before. The first reboot happened in 1998, with a pseudo-serious science fiction film starring William Hurt, Heather Graham, and horrifically, Joey from Friends. This version actually attempted to take the conceit of Lost in Space seriously, which makes it even more irrelevant than the original series, whose saving grace was that it was a massive joke.
In 2003, history repeated itself. The WB got director John Woo to do a pilot for a new show called The Robinsons: Lost in Space. I dare you to get through more than 10 minutes of this without getting bored or irritated. (Side note: this unaired pilot also features Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights fame. She’s great, but her presence in various nerdy pilot episodes is somehow the kiss-of-death. She was in the un-aired pilots for the CW’s AquamanAND Wonder Woman. WTF.)
Now, the latest impending Lost in Space reboot is being written by Matt Sazma and Burk Sharpless, who also wrote Dracula: Untold. In fairness, I actually kind of like that movie, but I wouldn’t call it funny. Personally, I don’t think the originalLost in Space is funny, but the original series was at the very least trying to be funny. The remake in 1998 was funny, but only because it’s a disaster, while the 2003 un-aired reboot is funny the way falling down in front of people you’re trying to impress is funny. Diminishing returns anyone? The only reason Netflix is doing this is because of some kind of bizarre brand-recognition.
Here’s why that makes no sense: the concept of Lost in Space is inherently out-dated, even more so than when the first show ran. Audiences don’t think of science fiction as being silly or ridiculous anymore. Meaning, the only way to make a “good” version of Lost in Space is to make it nothing like the original show. Obviously, such a move would mess up the brand of Lost in Space, which makes a sane person ask why they’re doing this in the first place.
Here, someone might mention the famously critically acclaimed 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galatica. The SyFy Channel (then still The Sci-Fi Chanel) took a “cheesy” old 70’s show and made it super-smart and politically relevant. Old BSG is barely anything like new BSG, meaning a total retooling of a troubled old sci-fi concept sometimes can work, particularly if fans have a spark of nostalgia for the old show to begin with, right?
I’ll admit that there’s an outside chance the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space could accomplish what showrunners Ronald D. Moore and David Eick did with Battlestar Galactica. But, I feel like placing that bet is like putting money on a horse with no legs. Battlestar Galactica, even in it’s original form, had some really provocative concepts; a race of robots hell-bent on destroying humanity, a group of humans who do not originate on Earth, those same humans looking for Earth, and so on. All of that has the seeds of a thought-provoking original TV series.
Lost in Space meanwhile, has a funny robot, a cookie-cutter “All-American” family, armed with shitty ray-guns and a completely outdated idea of how to use science fiction dramatically. Here’s hoping this project stays where it belongs: utterly lost.