Monday, 27 January 2020

TV review: Lost in Space, season 1, Netflix (2018)

Presumably the makers of this series thought they needed all the help they could get going by the tired tropes employed to keep the viewer’s interest in episode 7 (an escape by chariot through a field explosive with seismic events) and in episode 9 (blind, winged reptiles). Without Dr Smith (Parker Posey) these episodes would have been far less attractive.

Smith is a minstrel and a magician who, posing as a psychologist, tricks people into doing what she wants. I found her conception to be fabulous and Posey does a good job of walking a fine line between despicable and annoying. The long format this Netflix series is packaged in allows for solid character development and there are also good performances by Taylor Russell as Judy Robinson and Mina Sundwall as Penny Robinson.

As well as Posey, spice is added to a dour mix by Ignacio Serricchio as ship mechanic Don West, who flirts with Judy, a doctor. Romantic interest in Penny’s orbit is provided by Vijay (Ajay Friese), the son of mission commander Victor Dhar (Raza Jaffrey). Victor runs a moderate line in unimaginative selfishness that doesn’t rival Dr Smith’s positive evil, but that acts as a kind of foil for it. West is right when he says at one point that people take their problems with them wherever they venture. It is a wise comment to keep in mind when watching this series.

Both of the Robinson girls are interesting in their own ways and both help to keep things ticking over but sometimes the long format detracts from the charm of the production. I have already mentioned two low points, but from what I can see the only blessing deriving from the long format is the extra time available to build character.

The directors and writers try to make each scene count but it’s not always possible to achieve this aim; some scenes appear to do nothing other than provide the filmmakers with an opportunity to build suspense by allowing the viewer to contemplate the vastness of space, the beauty of the planet the migrants find themselves on, or else to create a sense of fear at the contingent nature of existence. I wonder if future generations will laud this as great art; I suspect they won’t.

This series has a lot in common with TV soap operas. Not that there’s necessarily anything to sniff at when it comes to soaps. I’ve been watching and enjoying ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’, for example. The way that soapies use close-ups to add relevance to otherwise dead scenes has a lot to recommend it, and the makers of ‘Lost in Space’ have clearly taken a leaf out of the book of the commercial television scriptwriter.

The weaker episodes of this intergalactic drama seemed to me to be the ones directed by Tim Southern, who appears to like odd critters and splodey bits. What the whole edifice is all meant to be in aid of, I’m not sure, but perhaps season 2 will provide more answers.

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