The Family-Friendly Tone
Despite ads that leaned heavily on exploding space ships and unsettling robotic warnings of danger, Lost In Space went all-in on its TV-PG rating. Avoiding the tedious pitfalls of the typical gritty reboot may have been the series’ biggest accomplishment, but it did so without undermining the universality of its story. Co-creators Mark Sazama and Burk Sharpless took a balanced approach to a tale of survival by mixing sometimes-harrowing and perilous adventure with a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Granted, a lot of (perhaps too much) of that wonder in the first episode came from the robot and its heater hands, but the pleasure is in watching Lost In Space and director Neil Marshall reach for that Spielbergian awe, even it if doesn’t necessarily attain it.
The moment nevertheless sets the tone for the remaining nine episodes of season 1, which remain surprisingly consistent. Even when Parker Posey’s fake Dr. Smith is flushing some poor guy out of an airlock, his actual death isn’t shown on screen. And although the swaggering Don West initially reads like an HR nightmare in the making, he turns out to be a surprisingly stand-up guy, as long as you can look past his interstellar hooch smuggling. Even then, Don’s innate goodness supersedes his love of the almighty and ill-gotten dollar. The show wastes no time in demonstrating as much: His first significant moment onscreen is spent saving a chicken, a severely injured woman, and Dr. Smith. Don may present himself as an unscrupulous opportunist, but in Lost In Space that just means more opportunities to prove himself as a hero.
Though it flirts with a descent into corniness at times, the show’s family-friendly tone is one of its primary attributes, not a hurdle it must overcome. Mostly that has to do with the spirit of adventure and, unsurprisingly, child-like wonder and uncertainty with regard to the family’s new environs and mechanized companion. Had the tone gone a degree more in either a grittier or campier direction, it might not have worked. Instead, like the colony headed for Alpha Centauri, Lost In Space found a tone that was just right for the story.
The Show’s Episodic Structure
Lost In Space is a Netflix series through and through. It’s incredibly expensive looking, has phenomenal production values, and it’s about as bingeable as shows on the streaming service get. But unlike so many of its counterparts, Lost In Space doesn’t really suffer as much from the dreaded streaming drift — that sagging feeling in the middle of the season when it feels like everyone, viewer and those involved in brining the show to life, would much rather jump forward to the end.
One of the reasons the series doesn’t sag as much around episode 5 or 6 is because it’s written less like a 10-hour movie and more like, you know, an actual season of television. Lost In Space is the rare Netflix show that would work great if doled out on a more traditional schedule (i.e., on a weekly basis). The episodes still transition from one to the other almost seamlessly, but that doesn’t prevent them from also feeling like distinct chapters.
As such, mid-season episodes like, say, ‘Transmission’ and ‘Eulogy’ still contribute to the overarching plot of the season, but they also deliver solid individual installments. The result, then, is a season of television that serves up a bingeable feast, as well as easily digestible single servings.
The Robinson Family
This may seem obvious, but if the Robinsons didn’t work, as either a believable family or as individuals, the characters of Lost In Space would have deserved to stay that way. Instead the castaways, led by Molly Parker and Toby Stephens, delivered flawed characters and a fractured family whose immediate concerns extended beyond their crash landing on an alien planet. While martial strife isn’t exactly new territory for a television series to venture into, it does encourage some investment in Maureen and John, as their life-or-death circumstances force them to re-establish a connection with each other for the sake of their kids.
But what makes the Robinsons worth watching, though, isn’t just their characterizations — whether Judy is an 18-year-old genius or Penny can make some blatant snack food product placement seem somehow less gross — but rather the ability of the show to put its characters in a place where their choices have an impact on a greater level than just the plot. Some of those choices are good, a lot of them are bad (mostly in a good way), but they all have consequences that follow them throughout the season.
It adds to a layer of texture to a series that is otherwise very (maybe overly) plot driven. One such example is Judy’s literal dive into action in the premiere. Her choice underlined the contentious relationship she had with her father, as well as her tenacious “my way or the highway” personality, and her subsequent near-death experience also wound up shaping her season 1 arc. The same is mostly true for her fellow Robinsons as well, as Penny, Will, Maureen, and John were shaped by the decisions they made over the course of the first season. Sure, some decisions, like Will helping Dr. Smith out of the closet she’d been locked in and John flying a suicide mission, were more for the benefit of the plot than the character, but Lost In Space still managed to make the Family Robinson the rightful stars of the show.