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Familiar yet lacking nostalgia

One might think that being in the backburner of people’s consciousness would be a disadvantage for a reboot of a decades-old show, but in the case of Netflix’s newest iteration, "Lost In Space," it may just be a boon.

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TV REVIEW:

For many viewers in the Philippines, “Lost In Space” is a fixture in popular culture that they’ve come across but never fully got to know. In the same manner that everyone can quote, ”With great power comes great responsibility,” and know it was from “Spider-man” even if they’ve never read a single issue of the originating comic, it’s not hard to find someone who’s heard or used the phrase, “Danger, Will Robinson!”—and yet it’s a lot harder to find someone who saw the original 1960’s show.

Molly Parker, Maxwell Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, Parker Posey, and Toby Stephens in Netflix’s ‘Lost In Space.’ (mb.com.ph)

Molly Parker, Maxwell Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, Parker Posey, and Toby Stephens in Netflix’s ‘Lost In Space.’

I myself only know of “Lost In Space” from the 1998 movie starring “Friends’” Matt LaBlanc, along with Gary Oldman and William Hurt. That and a few random episodes I caught back in the pre-cable era, when my family would stay-cation in a hotel that had the now defunct Far Eastern Network, the US Military’s network of television and radio stations.

There’s a familiarity to it but a distinct lack of nostalgia about it for most people.

One might think that being in the backburner of people’s consciousness would be a disadvantage for a rebooting of a decades-old show, but in the case of Netflix’s newest iteration, it may just be a boon. There’s a bit more wiggle-room to play with the adaptation when your audience isn’t bringing any baggage of expectations, after all.

The premise of course is that the Robinson’s family while on a mission out in space, well, gets lost. The particulars have changed, but that core of exploration and discovery remains.

To be honest, the original show does have a lot that of baggage that would never hold up to today’s discerning audiences. It was cheesy and campy, sort of like the “Adam West Batman” of the sci-fi world. Reimaging the “Robinson Family’s” adventures for today’s TV is a necessity.

The family unit itself is pretty much intact as well. Molly Parker of Netflix’s own “House of Cards” plays Maureen Robinson, the family matriarch. Toby Stephens plays John, her husband and father to their three children, Judy (Taylor Russell), Penny (Mina Sundwal) and Will (Maxwell Jenkins)

They jettisoned all the camp in favor of a bit more drama, meaning mom and dad are less idealized and don’t always get along. There’s a palpable authenticity to their disagreements that any married couple who’s ever gotten into a fight can relate to.

The children hold their own as well, with good chemistry between them, particularly between the sisters, with Judy being the straight-A student type and Penny the fun-lover. Being the blithesome one, Penny carries the burden of being the comic relief, which Mina Sundwal plays with the perfect mix of old-school charm and modern-day sass.

A major change in the treatment is that now Dr. Smith is a female, played by Parker Posey. As always Dr. Smith is a shadowy figure, a free radical with a self-serving and unknown agenda. Posey does a marvellous job of toeing the line between misunderstood and downright malevolent.

Then there is, of course, the robot. Gone are the boxy shapes and clunky parts of the original, and even the bulky automoton of the movie. This robot is sleek, almost organic in design and feel. And yes, “Danger, Will Robinson!” is still in there.

If there is anything wrong with this version, strangely enough, it is that it’s a victim of comparison to other sci-fi stories, and not its earlier self. The Jupiter 2, the family’s home-slash-ship, while an update from the simple blocky disc-shape of the 1960’s, shares a similar silhouette to “Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s” Defiant warship. The design of the robot, while streamlined and more in-line with today’s technological aesthetic, looks very much like the Geth character from the Mass Effect game series, and the whole subplot of a selfish, secret antagonist in Dr. Smith shares a far too similar vibe the subplot of Gaius Baltar from the remake of Battlestar Galactica.

What the cast and crew did get right, is the tone. Reimaginings of old material tend to be either a more comedic version of the original, bordering on mockery, such as Chips or 21 Jump Street, or gritty and dark, as was the case of the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica reboot and the more recent Archie comics adaptation, Riverdale. Lost In Space, thankfully steers clear from either. It’s not a farce of the original nor does it swing toward the extremely edgy.

Instead, it has something that you don’t find often in today’s shows: Optimism. The cheesy, everything-is-going-to-be-alright feel is not thrown out completely, but just set aside. Because after everything is said and done, Lost In Space is and always has been about family, and to tear away that driving force in favour of shock and awe and drama is to do the fans of the original as well as the newer fans a disservice.

The Robinsons is the family we need on television, problematic like ours but just as capable of rising above the difficulties as well. It’s not all sunshine, but in the end it’s still makes you cheer for the heroes and leaves you feeling positive about what you just watched. Here’s to Netflix for keeping it that way.

Netflix begins streaming “Lost In Space,” April 13.

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