‘Aspirational but unsentimental’ sci-fi series proves bigger isn’t always better
TOKYO—The latest incarnation of the ’60s sci-fi series “Lost in Space” is no match for the stellar wattage of its 1998 big-screen version, whose cast included Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Mimi Rogers and Matt LeBlanc.
But, if we go by how well the show’s latest reboot has been received by fans and critics alike after its April 13 premiere, it proves an instructive point that other filmmakers can learn from: Bigger isn’t always better.
While the star-studded 1998 film adaptation could only muster a 27-percent approval rating from the 20-year-old review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the newly minted web series has earned a 73-percent rating—which is an impressive feat for a program that aims to cater to viewers “from 1 to 90, too.” It’s a wholesome show that tackles closer-to-home themes.
Set 30 years in the future, it’s about members of the Robinson family who get stranded on a strange but lovely Goldilocks planet before reaching their new home on Alpha Centauri, an Earth-like planet located 26 trillion miles away from home, now war-torn and overpolluted.
We spent our Easter breather from work chatting with the revival’s affable cast, made up of Molly Parker (as the Robinsons’ matriarch, Maureen), Toby Stephens (as her estranged husband, John), and the young actors playing their teenage children, Taylor Russell (Judy), Mina Sundwall (Penny) and Maxwell Jenkins (as Will).
When asked why he thought the show would play well to a diverse audience, Toby replied, “One of the things I love about the series is the fact that it’s aspirational without being sentimental. It isn’t just about characters who are trying to survive, it’s also about people working hard to become better individuals.
“That’s such a positive thing these days, because there are times when you feel like the world has become such a dark place.
“When you turn on the TV set, you see a lot of shows that are brilliant but depressing. I’m hoping that people would tune in to this and say, ‘What a relief to have something I can watch with my family.’ It’d make people feel good about humanity.”
Toby said that shooting “Lost in Space” was a breeze, compared to his stint with “Black Sails,” the “Treasure Island” prequel, where he starred as pirate captain Flint.
“After doing ‘Black Sails’ for four years, there’s nothing anybody can throw at me that I can’t handle,” he enthused with a big grin. “‘Lost in Space’ is a lovely counterpoint to having done such a dark character.”
More than its astutely realized concept, Molly said that the sci-fi show also benefited from cast members who genuinely liked one another: “We’re lucky because, sometimes, you work with kids who don’t really want to be there—only their parents want them there.
“But, our young cast consists of extraordinary people from wonderful families. They’re not Hollywood kids—they’re real. Both Toby and I have children about the same age, so it was an easy fit for us to have them around.”
Toby interjected, “Yes, I’ve had experiences where kids were cast in certain roles because they ‘looked right.’ Problem was, they couldn’t act (laughs). It’s difficult when you’re stuck with those types, and the director is trying to elicit a credible performance from them, and there’s just no way it’s going to happen!
“But, Taylor, Mina and Maxwell are naturally talented. They’re good at what they do. There’s the fact that they’re great people, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that they can also act well. When you mesh those two together, you have a potent combination.”
It also helps that the family is depicted as “real” people with problems the audience can relate to. “The Robinsons aren’t a perfect nuclear family,” Molly said. “It’s a fractured family that manages to find its way back together. Beyond the big adventure that the show is, these people have flaws, challenges and issues they have to overcome. Hopefully, viewers will be able to relate to them on a human level.
“As a parent, I know there aren’t many shows out there that you can watch with your middle school-age child that’s also fun for adults.”
Aside from Penny getting her heart broken, the show likewise benefits from its “unconventional” take on romance—which comes to the fore in life-or-death situations, like when John decides to sacrifice himself to save his wife while they’re sinking in a pool of tar.
“It shows the [unforced] romance of the Robinsons’ parents, which is rare,” Molly noted. “Our writers have set up a tense situation where John and Maureen are estranged, so there’s somewhere for their relationship to go. Their reunion comes out of that struggle.”
The season’s shocking finale opens up the possibility for a grittier second season. Do they see the show getting “darker”?
Toby mused, “I think it needs to have a certain amount of darkness—but, it’s got to be appealing.”
“Our writers do a good job at creating an atypical tone that makes the series exciting-slash-scary, but it’s not dark in terms of outlook, attitude or perspective—that’s why it works for a wider audience,” Molly quipped. “It’s what makes the show as exciting to my 11-year-old as it is to my mother.”