Crossing the Stream: Part 20 - "Lost in Space" Sn 1, Ep 1

Hey, hey, it's somebody else's birthday! As part of my duties as sovereign Birthday Buddy, it was my task to procure treats for a coworker, and I can't express how hard it is to fill two boxes with my very favorite doughnuts and not ever eat one. But I did it. It's so counter-intuitive to handle food and not eat it, how does anyone in the food service industry do that? So, you know what? Those people deserve the noble, admirable approval given to doctors and clergy.

I feel like death today. I woke up with a headache usually reserved for the most exquisite of hangovers, though I ingested no intoxicants whatsoever. The headache has persisted throughout the day, making it impossible for me to focus on anything. That's actually kind of amusing, because I got a decent amount of work done despite it. But the gym was rough going, and I felt like my "low fuel" light was on from the moment I got up. I'm sore pretty much from the waist down, and never quite found a rhythm for my breathing. It might just be that the family and I got home late last night, or it might be that I picked up a bug from the various children and hospital denizens that I traded air with over the last few days. Boy, hospitals would be great if we could get rid of all the sick people in them.

On the plus side, this headache has caused me to up my fluids quite a bit, and since I'm sticking to black coffee, water, seltzers, and the occasional unsweetened ice tea, it's helping me stave off any quest for comfort food. As much as I'd really enjoy some sushi right now, I get the feeling it would also kill me. Don't ask me how. Maybe the wasabi would do something about my headache, something good or bad. But I'm good. I just need to find another form of entertainment that walks the fine line of "occupy my brain" and "don't bug my senses too much." Hmmm, would the Food Network be out of the question? It might make me hungry, but it will give me the sensation of really good food without any calories or guilt, so that sounds like a decent deal.

Man, my mind is starting to drift. Let's get to the new show, maybe that will help me reboot.

"Lost in Space" Season 1, Episode 1 "Impact"

Sci-fi writers always think spaceships need a conference table, for some reason.

Netflix continues their newfound fascination with hurling wads of cash at a genre television project with the abandon of a "Game of Thrones"-flushed HBO budget. This is yet another eight-hour series that must have cost upwards of $100-150 million, and just like "Altered Carbon" before it, this show appears ready to get really silly at the drop of a hat.

I have more than a passing knowledge of the original "Lost in Space" show, as well as the doofy film adaptation from 1998, so I was cautiously optimistic about the new Netflix era of the intellectual property. My chief worry was that it would take itself far to seriously trying to meld the premise to a "Lost" style of pulpy pontification. Even after watching the opening episode, I'm still weary it might head that way. But for now, the third iteration of the Space Family Robinson is content with just being a glitzy adventure show with a little bit of personal intrigue.

On a technical level, the show is a lot of fun to watch. The costuming is nerdy fun, sort of a cross between NASA's proposed Mars mission suits and a Wrath of Khan style excusion jacket. The spaceship designs and effects are admirably rendered, though some of them skew toward being too generic. The Robot design is also something I expected a little more from. I'm not a fan, really. I much prefer a big ol' chunky robot. Give me something like the robots from Interstellar, that's far more interesting than this insectoid, scalloped thingy. The whole light-up face works better than it should, but the General Grievous/Baxter Stockman body ain't blowing my skirt up. He switches it up to a more humanoid look, and now it's just Klaathu from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Narratively, there's plenty to chew on just from this first episode. While I found it commendable that the show begins directly into the action when the Jupiter 2 is crashing onto a strange planet, the flashback formula being used for all the exposition feels quite rushed and disconnected. It reminds me a lot of The Cloverfield Paradox, which featured a polished production of the space station plot and a last-minute, cheap, overly expository B-plot taking place on Earth. If the flashbacks are this numerous throughout all eight episodes, it's going to drag down the rest of the show. But the biggest plot points are given in these flashbacks: Earth has been ravaged by a collision with a large space object, and the Robinsons were chosen to be a part of the twenty-fourth trip to an off-world colony. Except young Will did not pass his training; Maureen traded something significant to doctor his results and get him approved, because "the Robinsons stick together, always." Also, in this version of the story, Maureen and John are estranged due to his frequent classified missions abroad.

The decision to make John Robinson a stoic Marine is...well, I'm not a really big fan of Bad Dad, Military Dad stories, and it looks like this was done to excise the Major Don West character by merging him with the father/professor of the original. Toby Stephens is doing his best with it, including a classic Hugh Laurie gruff American accent, but I already kind of miss the dad being an egghead who has to spar with the hotshot military man. That was a lot of ready-made conflict they seem to be jettisoning. Will Robinson, the character that the show inevitably pivots on, has been given a refreshing amount of depth for an opening episode. He's incredibly intelligent without being sickeningly precocious, and though his childhood has been robbed from him as baseball and model-building have been replaced by physics programs and pressure suit training, he shows a vulnerability that might prove to be the emotional anchor of the series. Although, the relationship between Judy and Penny boasts the most investment so far. The scene between sisters, with one trapped in a layer of ice and running out of air and the other powerless to help, reveals a lot about both characters without being terribly heavy-handed. The Moby Dick discussion firmly establishes Penny as kind of the dreamer, the bookworm, the philosopher, and Judy as the practical one, the sarcastic, the real engineering mind.

I have to stand on a soapbox for just a moment and talk about the genuinely irritating things happening in this first episode, though. For starters, ugh, the old "Let's take off our helmets without actually testing the atmosphere, because that's responsible thinking" chestnut. I fucking hate this trope, and it gets used in basically everything. Lookit, writers, I get that you want your actors to take off those bulky helmets and emote, but just write one line of dialogue, that's all it takes. Just, "Okay, the air is a little high in nitrogen, but nothing too dangerous." That's it.

And let this be the moment where I somehow complain about the famous catchphrase "Danger, Will Robinson!" When the Robot says it, it kind of stinks. Only because there's no proper context for it. The Robot says "Danger, Will Robinson" in response to Judy's predicament frozen under the ice. It just felt like they really needed to get it in there, by contract. And the "Danger" stuff had already been beaten with a stick when Will narrates into his radio "I'm kinda in danger here, not as much danger as before, but definitely still in danger." I. Get. It. Let's move on from this and let this show be its own thing.

A major step in that direction is the last five minutes, wherein we finally meet Parker Posey's new Dr. Smith, who in fact is not actually Dr. Smith but uses his encryption to escape the doomed Resolute, the gigantic colony craft to which the Jupiter 2 is one of a series of lifeboats. Posey seems to be playing this role kosher (that is, devoid of the amount of ham that Gary Oldman and Jonathan Harris brought to it). This "12 hours earlier" flashback in the last five minutes of the episode is a device I despise, but at least it provides us with some interesting breadcrumbs. For instance, Dr. Smith's mysterious actual background will be a source of intrigue from here, and just as in the original 1960s series and the 1998 film, the source of the spaceship's disaster that turns our heroes into castaways is none other than their new miraculous Robot pal.

I like it so far, but man, we need more time with these characters. Will, Penny, and Judy are surprisingly the ones that resonate more, whereas John seems like Stoic Hero Man, and Maureen's (sometimes literally) sedated first outing leaves something to be desired. The Robot seems to be giving off more of a faithful dog vibe, which I'm cool with. I hope he doesn't speak very much. Too many overused tropes, just a few too many artificial layers of peril, and I'm not sold on some of the acting. But altogether the production looks really slick and cool, the plot has plenty of room to roam around, and thankfully it doesn't seem to be leaning too far into goofy camp or try-hard edginess. This ain't your daddy's "Lost in Space" to an extent, but just like their new Goldilocks planet, the Robinsons and their adventure seems just about right.

Random Notes:

-Technobabble: Magnesium burns as high as 5100 degrees, and when burning magnesium reacts with water (or ice) it burns even hotter. Good sciencing, Robinsons.

-So, Judy, despite appearing to be no older than a teen, is still the mission's physician. Are all the kids prodigies? Seems that way.

-Penny really likes buying gifts for everyone, whereas Judy chooses to make a forgotten family cookie recipe as a gift, and also asks that her gift be given to charity. I'm really enjoying how detailed these two are already compared to previous incarnations.

-Much like "Lost," I suspect those other Jupiter lifeboats will have a fresh batch of side characters to reinvigorate the personal conflicts that are bound to brew between castaways. We've already got our "Tail Section" setup, but I'm worried Robot's alien origin might function as our "Others" on this particular television purgatory.

Rating: B-


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