Despite great performances from Molly Parker, Toby Stephens and Parker Posey, the second season of the 60s TV reboot has yet to figure itself out
LOST IN SPACE: SEASON 2 (Zack Estrin). All 10 episodes streaming on Netflix Tuesday (December 24). Rating: NNN
Netflix’s Lost In Space is back for a second season, and it’s still so damn frustrating.
Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s no-expense-spared reboot of Irwin Allen’s campy 60s TV series – previously updated in a pretty terrible 1998 feature film – has all the elements for a smart, entertaining show, but it just keeps getting the mixture wrong.
You want top-flight actors to sell the intergalactic peril without tipping into silliness? Why, here are Molly Parker and Toby Stephens as Maureen and John Robinson, whose splintering family was made whole by the trials of interstellar travel in season one.
And here’s Parker Posey putting a whole new spin on the scheming, wheedling stowaway Dr. Smith and Ignacio Serricchio finally figuring out that the best way to play pilot/handyman Don West is to just not care and have a good time with it.
But wait, there’s more! Here’s Taylor Russell and Mina Sundwall finding fun, subtle ways to illustrate the respective hyper-competence and prickly neediness of daughters Judy and Penny. Okay, Maxwell Jenkins is maybe a little overmatched as their little brother Will, but that’s because the character’s sole defining traits are “fearful” and “talks to robots.”
These are actors I would happily watch for hours – and reader, I have – and at this point they’re all very good at running around corridors looking alarmed and dodging CG threats. In fact, the third episode of season two is all corridors, which is a fun acknowledgment of the show’s origins and also a nice way to show off the set design.
And yet, for all the frenetic movement and near-constant peril, this new Lost In Space never becomes the propulsive, compulsive entertainment Sazama and Sharpless and showrunner Zack Estrin so clearly want it to be. The story keeps doubling back on itself, slowing down the momentum by dredging up issues the Robinsons should have put behind them.
The first season ended with Will’s alien Robot pal pulling the Jupiter 2 through a stargate or something, separating the Robinsons (and Don and Dr. Smith) from the colony ship Resolute, which was finally en route to Alpha Centauri. What strange new adventures would they face in this new, uncharted quadrant of space?
Well, nothing happened. Season two opens with the Jupiter 2 parked and powerless on a tiny island on a watery planet – which is actually the alien landscapes of Iceland – and everyone making preparations to recharge the ship in a superstorm. Naturally, this involves several different races against time and at least three different life-or-death situations, because that’s when Lost In Space is the best version of itself: fun, busy and clever, with the characters working together to avoid electrocution, drowning and/or being eaten by poisonous space kelp.
The escalating threats are both credible and slightly ridiculous, as they should be. We know the Robinsons will survive, because it’s that kind of show, but we also have to believe the Robinsons themselves don’t know that. So much of this comes down to Parker and Stephens playing Maureen and John’s fear as being entirely for their children’s safety, rather than for their own: John gets to make a face and mutter “What now?” when he’s in trouble, but when the kids are involved it’s no joke.
And then, after two very strong episodes, the Robinsons end up finding the Resolute (and all of its lovely corridors), and after that… well, then the show’s vision collapses down into what it was in season one, and that’s less fun. If you missed all the interplay with the other colonists and the lashings of sinister intrigue in the science deck, season two is ready to serve another helping. But after showing us that the core cast can easily carry the show on their own, watching Lost In Space go back to its comfort zone feels like a mistake.
Also annoying: watching the writers continue to insist that Will’s Robot is the coolest, most fascinating thing in the entire universe without ever really doing anything to substantiate that claim. The CG bodyguard/buddy has become the Poochie of the series, with everyone constantly wondering where it is and what it’s doing when there are far more pressing issues at hand.
And maybe that was Irwin Allen’s greatest accomplishment: with the Space Family Robinson, he created a premise so simple and self-contained that any attempt to expand on it feels not just unnecessary but actively annoying. I keep watching this show hoping someone will figure that out and finally put Lost In Space back on course.