This is a golden age for television science fiction, thanks to the popularisation of long-running stories and the new economics that have resulted from cable/ streaming originals. Watch a ‘regular’ TV pilot from America and you can immediately see why—every interesting thing that’s going to happen in the season has to be packed into the first 40 minutes.
That’s because in advertisingsupported broadcast TV, if you don’t win enough eyeballs with your first episode, you’re on track for cancellation before your story even gets off the ground. In the new, subscriptionbased system, cable and streaming channels (HBO, Showtime, Netflix and Hulu are the big guns) go all-in when they buy a series. And they’re content to grab a niche piece of the market to build their overall subscriber base. The result: Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Expanse, even the off-kilter Into the Badlands. What’s disturbing is that both HBO and Netflix, arguably the biggest innovators, are already experimenting with the sort of bland material that originates in the marketing department before it’s farmed out to writers. Close on the heels of HBO’s sententious reboot of Westworld, Netflix pushed out “summer blockbuster” style films on the small screen in the form of the terrible Will Smith-starrer Bright, the Sam Worthington-starrer The Titan, and now a slick but soulless reboot of Lost in Space—a campy 1960s series that capitalised on the rocketry craze of the so-called ‘Space Age’.
Like all these reboots— from TV’s ultra-serious Battlestar Galactica to the big screen’s by-thenumbers Star Wars: Rogue One—it’s barely watchable. The idea of seeing whether or not writers can make something interesting out of a dated, ridiculous concept is enough to generate endless internet articles and get people to check out a few episodes. But trying to hang a serious show on a ridiculous frame is needlessly difficult, forcing the creators to bust out the big special effects and bombastic score. (As in Rogue One, the uberdramatic Star Wars-like score here just underlines the familiarity of the territory we’re treading.) Though casting Parker Posey as the Machiavellian Dr Smith was inspired, every moment of Lost in Space looks and feels like a moment we’ve seen done better before. They even did it better in the ridiculous but charming original series; it’s clear from the iconic robot’s final line of episode one: “Danger, Will Robinson!”