When it comes to rebooting or reinventing an old property, be that a movie or TV show, it takes some deft handling to try and deliver something satisfying, which manages not to alienate either fans of the original, or any potential brand new audience.
If it’s too slavish to what came before, you face the risk of being too derivative; however, if it’s too far removed, then you may end up losing what made it so special or beloved in the first place. Worst case scenario, you end up pushing everyone away, pleasing nobody with something which is neither fish nor fowl; however, if you get that alchemy just right, you might have something rather wonderful on your hands.
A relatively modern example of where the (re)makers of a show manage to respect what went before, yet still tread a distinctive new path was Battlestar Galactica – it kept the basic core premise of the series, with humanity seeking out Earth while on the run from the robot Cylons, yet brought it right up to date, stripping away some of the disco-ness, and taking the opportunity to speak about more contemporary issues, like the difference in perception between terrorists and freedom fighters.
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However, somewhat less successful were two attempts to relaunch the 1960s Irwin Allen series Lost In Space. 1998’s big screen adaptation was something of a clunker, as it fell uncomfortably between two stools by hanging onto all the most kitschy elements, yet failing to understand what made them work so well in the first place; at the same time, it also managed to try and do something different with the characters and basic premise which was sadly anything but engaging or compelling.
And the least said about John Woo’s unsold 2004 pilot The Robinsons: Lost In Space, the better, particularly if you happen to have been one of the people unlucky enough to see a copy. It just goes to show that it can be something of a poisoned chalice to try and reinterpret something, rather than just creating something original. Thankfully, Netflix’s retooling of the show last year worked well – surprisingly so, in fact – and was a genuine genre highlight; so much so, in fact, that the twenty month wait for the continuation has seemed almost cruel.
Christmas Eve brought us an early present from Netflix, as all ten episodes of Season 2 ‘dropped’ (as the young folk of today say), providing a blessed and much-needed antidote to the ever-increasing dullness of festive telly. Although there’s been a backlash about streaming shows putting out all their episodes in one go, The Mandalorian proving that weekly releases can still build an audience, Lost In Space has provided some bingeworthy material at just the right time.
When we last saw the Space Family Robinson, they’d just been separated from the rest of the human colonists from The Resolute, a vessel carrying them to the promised land of Alpha Centauri. Having isolated the Robinsons and left them to fend for themselves, it looked as though Season 2 was going to more closely follow the format of the Irwin Allen original by stranding them on a hostile alien world. It’s something of a masterstroke that the writers start to lead you in that direction with the first two episodes, and then suddenly upend your expectations.
Family is a strong theme throughout this modern iteration of Lost In Space, defining it not just in terms of biology, but in the wider ‘extended’ sense by including those who come into your life, and come to mean as much to you as your own flesh and blood. As well as the Robot (Brian Steele) and Dr. Smith (Parker Posey), the series introduced us to a wider ensemble by bringing in some of the crew and other families from The Resolute; Season 2 unexpectedly brings them back into play, and by featuring them in this way, it helps distinguish this from the original series, giving it a distinctive identity of its own.
This new season is also high on incident, and it takes every opportunity to place not just the Robinsons but everyone on The Resolute in jeopardy. However, each incident manages to feel organic, rather than just throwing in more and more peril on an ad hoc basis purely for the sake of spectacle, and it all builds up beautifully to an absolutely barnstormer of a finale. Hopefully, Season 2 will perform sufficiently well for Netflix to bring Lost In Space back yet again, as it feels as though there’s plenty of mileage in the show, and a lot of possible directions for it to take.
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Bringing back The Resolute could have felt like something of a retrograde step, but it cleverly stops the new Lost In Space becoming just a retread of its precursor, by giving a much broader tapestry on which to tell its stories. It helps to illustrate that Season 2 is very much about one’s actions having consequences, whether it’s past choices coming home to roost, or decisions made in the moment having ramifications which come to bear further down the line. There are a lot of grey areas in the characters’ morality, with ostensibly good people doing questionable things at times, albeit for (mostly) the right reasons.
Some of the threads laid down in Season 1 pay off here, and in some particularly uncomfortable ways. Nobody gets out truly unscathed, either by dint of what they choose to do, or those around them being caught up in the aftermath. When it comes to issues of morality, of course, the character who gets the biggest focus in that regard is inevitably Dr. Smith. With Season 1 having established her as a manipulator and murderer, this latest run tests both her and the audience, by seeing how far she’ll go, and keeping us guessing about her true motives, as there’s as many hints that she could redeem herself as there are that she’s just playing everyone.
It takes real effort to transform what was a joke character in the 1960s version into a genuine menace, and Parker Posey is quite simply magnetic whenever she’s on screen, making Smith feel like a living, breathing person, not just a fictional construct. That’s not to say that the others don’t feel fleshed out, but Posey is simply remarkable in what she does with the material she’s given. The Robinsons also get their own fair share of the action here, and all of them are stretched in new and interesting ways, giving them greater depth than we saw previously.
Even if the whole enterprise had proved to be something of a monumental calamity, at least the makers chose to use some familiar and much-loved touchstones; it’s hard not to get an emotional reaction when John Williams’ theme kicks in, or the Robot says “Danger, Will Robinson”. However, the series is thankfully strong enough that it doesn’t need to rely on delivering a nostalgia trip, and is confident enough to be its own thing. It would be a crying shame if we don’t get more of this, as the story of the Robinsons deserves to continue.
If you haven’t seen if yet, make sure that you get yourself lost in Lost In Space.