Damien Love reviews Lost in Space plus seven-day TV highlights
IT’S a Friday the 13th week, and for some, there will be bad luck. Take the Robinson family – a slightly broken bunch, but still soldiering ahead together, because, although frayed, the bonds between them remain strong. And they’ll need each other, because they’re having some very bad luck indeed.
For starters, they’ve been forced to abandon Earth, and strike out to build a new life on a planet far, far away.
The reasons for this will become clearer as time goes on, but, suffice to say, Earth was looking like toast. As if that were not enough, during the interstellar journey, they’re forced to abandon the mothership that was transporting them and their fellow colonists to the new promised land, while still several trillion miles short of the intended destination. Suffice to say, the mothership was looking like toast. Scrabbling aboard a family-sized lifeboat saucer, the Robinsons crash-land on the nearest planet, where, for a moment, things look up: against heavy odds, the atmosphere turns out to be breathable. Joy at this discovery is shortlived, however, because, in rapid succession: they lose their ship; break a leg; realise temperatures are about to plummet and kill them all;
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see one of their clan become trapped in ice; and lose the youngest when he plunges down a crevasse and encounters a rampaging giant alien robot packed with handy gizmos, most of which seem designed specifically for killing small humanoids. Danger, Will Robinson, indeed.
Netflix’s 10-part Lost In Space, is, of course, a remake of the 1960s American show beloved by almost anyone who saw it as a kid back then, or in repeat across the following decades. Except…is it? In many ways, the new series feels less a return to that original than a – largely successful – attempt to reboot the 1998 movie remake that almost nobody loved at all.
A space age update of The Swiss Family Robinson, the sixties series was one of the plastic gems from Irwin Allen, who created great, daft pop TV shows about small crews in peril in strange environments and eye-popping colours: Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea; The Time Tunnel; and the mad masterpiece, Land Of The Giants.
Even among these comic-book sagas, Lost In Space, with its helpful bulbous robot and unfeasibly snooty villain, Zachary Smith (a performance for the ages by Jonathan Harris) stood out as one for the kids. The blundering 1998 movie, however, sought slightly harder sci-fi, darker troubles, and a more serious presentation of a family thrown together under stress and attacks from mechanical spiders.
The new series likewise ditches wide-eyed fun and for similar ends, but does a far better job of knitting them together and working as a new take on an old-fashioned family-friendly adventure.
At times, it can be a little too squarejawed and emotional. As we learn in flashbacks, before blast-off, Mum and Dad (Molly Parker and Toby Stephens) separated, an interesting kink to the family dynamic, but one that renders the characters overly burdened. Meanwhile, explaining how they all tick, and all wound up stranded, the revelatory flashbacks come frequently, leaving it feeling less like Lost In Space, and more like Lost, in space.
But the younger Robinsons – particularly Maxwell Jenkins as little Will – are winning, the thrills and spills piles up so relentlessly you get swept along, and even though, in my heart, I’ll always prefer the clunky 1960s model, the souped-up new robot is pretty impressive. Meanwhile, in the shadows, lurks the new Zachary Smith, Parker Posey. Playing the devious character very straight, but with things beneath the surface, Posey, as always, brings the faint air of being lost in time: a woman made for 1930s classics, making do with the scripts she finds here. Any series that gives her something to do is doing something right.
DESPITE claims it brings new layers of deep resounding darkness to Agatha Christie’s story, this adaptation is pretty much in the traditional mode of “serious” British Christie adaptations – heavy on stars and period budget, but chokingly tasteful beneath any surface nastiness. If it had gone out at Christmas over successive nights, as originally planned, it would have made a decent panto but, spread over three weeks like this, it gets a wee bit hard to keep caring. On the plus side, there are some fine performances to soak up: Bill Nighy’s impeccably effortless glide through the centre of it all, and, tonight, some enthusiastic malevolence from Matthew Goode as Philip, the sly and bitter wheelchairbound son-in-law of the murdered matriarch, Rachel. As the family learns beyond doubt that Jack (Anthony Boyle) – the adopted son charged with the killing, who died in jail – was innocent of the crime, tensions rise in their isolated country house, as the penny drops that the killer may still be among them.
LOOSELY but cleverly adapted and expanded from Lottie Moggach’s novel by Skins cocreator Bryan Elsley, the second episode of this six-part drama builds nicely on the intrigue and atmosphere of last week’s opening. We get a deeper glimpse into the life of our tentative protagonist, Leila (Tallulah Haddon), and her recent experiences caring for her late mother. At the same time, we learn more about Tess (Simona Brown), the girl she met in the online world of Azana as “Mania”, whose chaotic, hard-partying front hides a more fragile and troubled personality. Meanwhile, Leila and her online alter-ego Shadowfax seek to discover more about “Red Pill”, the group occupying a secret, hidden zone within the virtual reality world. The show does a good job of shifting between Leila’s two “realities”: both are spacey and almost dreamlike, yet in very different ways. And there’s a sinister quality echoing between both, as, in the real world, two older characters briefly appear, a psychiatrist called Beam (Ben Chaplin), and a former teacher of Leila’s, Mr Adams (Mark Straker).
ONE of the most interesting things about Danny Brocklehurst’s sad, grown-up drama has been how messy and unresolved he has been happy to leave it in places. Perhaps inevitably, this final episode does some tidying up: we learn more about the tangled knot of reasons that made Marie (Paula Malcomson) decide to leave her husband, Greg (Christopher Eccleston), and the trap she felt she was in. But as the two parents enter into a court battle for custody of their children, things begin getting slotted away into easier boxes. Marie seemed a far more complicated character in previous weeks, when it seemed like she just didn’t really want to have much to do with her kids – but maybe presenting a mother like that is still a “taboo” too far. As it is, the ending is inconsequential enough to make you wonder what the point of the whole thing was. But maybe that’s just life. It’s carefully written by Brocklehurst, however, and played superbly by the entire cast.
THIS fascinating, backwards-running series does something quite unexpected tonight. Over the previous six episodes, we have seen Andrew Cunanan (an incredible portrayal by Darren Criss) as a callous, cold-blooded murderer, killing his five victims with guns, hammers, screwdrivers and whatever else came to hand. Simultaneously, we have seen the serial killer as a serial fantasist, a liar, a narcissist, a cheat and a user. So it’s remarkable that, tonight, we catch just a flicker of something else – it’s not that this episode makes Cunanan sympathetic, but it lays out his life in such unforgiving detail it’s hard not to feel a vague pity. It is 1992, and Cunanan is attempting to find work as a gay escort for older men, but, despite his desperate attempts, the agency has no use for him. And so he goes it alone, charming his way into a relationship with the wealthy Lincoln Aston. Simultaneously, Cunanan becomes friends with a young architect: his future victim David Madson. Elsewhere, Versace and Donatella discuss the future of the company, should he die.
NOTHING to do with the long-running American cops and lawyers franchise, but a welcome repeat for a brilliantly bleak four-part BBC drama, originally broadcast back in 1978, when it caused a major stink. Written by GF Newman (who would later create Judge John Deed), the series follows an investigation from the perspectives of the police, the criminal, the barrister and the prison system. A grim, grimy tale of violence and corruption, the first episode, devoted to the detective, stars future EastEnders Derek Martin and Peter Dean as the cop and villain, but don’t let that put you off. Ken Campbell, who specialised in seedy, amused, obnoxious types, is excellent as the crooked, jaded lawyer. The series sparked massive controversy, drawing complaints from the police, the prison service and provoking fury in the House – it wasn’t repeated for three decades. It’s showing its age a bit, but remains raw enough in places. If something like The Wire had been attempted in late 1970s Britain, it might have looked a little like this.
HE’S BACK! It’s been four years since we first met inspector Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters), the plucky lone wolf Belgian cop who’s never content to let things lie, nor afraid to bend rules, go out on his own, and be damned maverick. The first series of Salamander was never actually very good: beyond the fact that the opening robbery was later faithfully adapted by the Hatton Gardens mob for their real-life heist and … eh … something about Nazis, maybe, no one alive today can remember anything about the plot, or, indeed, why it was called Salamander. But with Peeters running through it like a cocky 1980s straightto-VHS cop it was winningly crazy – just say “the guy with the beard”, and fans know exactly what you’re talking about. For this belated second series, Gerardi gets involved when a political refugee is murdered in Brussels, and becomes entangled in an investigation into a blood diamonds network whose tentacles reach from bloody foreign streets to the highest echelons of Belgian society.
Tuesday Come Home 9pm, BBC One
Sunday Ordeal By Innocence 9pm, BBC One
Monday Kiss Me First 10pm, Channel 4
Wednesday American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace 9pm, BBC Two
Saturday Salamander 9pm, BBC Four
Thursday Law And Order (BBC series from 1978) 10pm, BBC Four