Saturday, December 18, 2021

Review of Lost in Space, S1, E1: "No Place to Hide"

To clarify before I begin, this is a review of the pilot of the original Lost in Space. This is not a review of the Netflix show that actually tries to make sense of the concept and do justice to the idea of colonizing space. Like, you know, actually sending an entire colony of families to the destination instead of one lousy family who apparently forgot to turn on the auto-pilot so their ship immediately¹ flies directly into an asteroid field, catches fire, and crashes on the most dangerous yet boring planet in the entire universe.

This is also not a review of the second episode which became the actual first episode of the entire series and introduced the first explicitly² gay couple in television history: Doctor Smith and the Robot.

The series begins with the most frightening font they could come up with in 1965.

I imagine adults in 1965 had to change their underwear after seeing this. It's like a Hippie scrawled it!

The premise of the show is that Earth has become overcrowded in the year 1997. And since the only solution Western Civilization has ever come up with when problems crop up in our civilization is to flee from the problems and start up a new civilization on land where other people already live, mankind has scoured space for the closest viable planet to ship a bunch of loser, probably poor, families to. So now you know where Elon Musk got his greatest idea³.

The Robinson family is the only family introduced or focused on because they're the most talented, I think. It's also possible that's just the way stories work. The show was called Lost in Space so why would follow the competent families who managed to make it to Alpha Centauri? Anyway, they're all introduced: the father, a brilliant astrophysicist; the mother, a brilliant biochemist; the son, a brilliant engineer; the youngest daughter, the most brilliant daughter ever; and the eldest daughter, a musical comedian. Judy is introduced like this⁴: "Their daughter Judith, nineteen, who has heroically postponed all hopes for a career in the musical comedy field for the next two centuries at least." Is the narrator being a passive aggressive dick by using the adverb "heroically"? And what does he mean by "two centuries at least"? Does he not know a century is 100 years long? The trip is only going to take 98 years! Does he have that little faith in her ability that she won't make it big until she's 119? Or is he admitting that the colonists are going to wind up having to head right back home after getting to Alpha Centauri?! The only thing I can surmise by this introduction was that the show had planned to do a musical number every episode. It's too bad the only performance we get in the pilot is Billy Mumy singing "Greensleeves" while Judith makes out with Don West.

Don West is an interesting character to add to the family dynamic because it screams, "Irwin Allen, the creator of the show, didn't want people thinking about incest in a group heading out to space to save the human population." And yet, why is it that every time I see Don West and Judith playing kissy face, all I can think is, "Good thing Don's here or else things would get Biblical⁵." Don West's bio, according to the crackly voiced narration, is a young man who "rocked" the world with his theory about human habitation on other planets. Really? What was his thesis? "Some planets are probably like Earth and humans could live on those planets. But we must be careful! Because some planets, we won't be able to live on! Although if we want to make a long running television show, most of them will be okay to live on."

Will Robinson is introduced as a college graduate from some made-up science school who had the highest scores ever and he's only nine years old. His sister, whose IQ is given as 147, simply has zoology as a "hobby." What are her real passions? Washing the dishes and perfecting toast?

Eventually the Robinsons crash on a planet where, as Don West surmised, humans can survive without having to wear space suits for the entire 52 minutes. They live there for six months, domesticating the local wildlife which appear to be Ostriches wearing feather boas and Super Mario Koopas and chimpanzees wearing papakhas. The men go out exploring every day while the women stay home picking vegetables and laminating their clothing. Will just toys with electronics.

While exploring, Don and John encounter a giant cyclops. Weird that they never saw these creatures from a distance the whole six months they've been there. Sorry, that's just nitpicking. There are all kinds of reasons somebody who thought the show was fabulous could come up with as to why they never saw these giants before this. The point is, Will rescues them by murdering⁶ the giant.

Thus the show kicks off to show just how dangerous and exciting the series will be! Along with attacks by giants, the Robinsons must also deal with runaway turtles, lost daughters, freezing temperatures, mummies, earthquakes, lightning storms, and whirlpools. I'm guessing the quicksand scene was cut for time or because it was too similar to the whirlpool scene. The entire episode is just a bunch of adventure tropes strung together and presented as a week in the life of a family lost in space. It's so exciting and dangerous!

One of their adventures, while running from the lightning storm, involves destroying the final resting place of some native population. This is important because by the end of the show, it's apparent the entire series is going to be a condemnation of missionaries and colonialism. At least that's how I viewed it from a modern perspective. Maybe in 1965, it was just a celebration of those things! Manifest Destiny and what not. See, the episode ends with Robinsons, finally arriving at a safe place, kneeling down and beginning to pray. As they do this, some bald-headed alien natives observe them through the tall grass. This is probably meant to be menacing in 1965, a sort of admission that this show is just a western in space and the savage indians are just being played by people in gaudy costumes and chimpanzees in Russian hats. But the way I saw it was that these white settlers had landed on this planet and immediately taken it for their own. They desecrated the burial grounds of these aliens and chose to kill the first sentient creatures they ever encountered in space instead of trying to find a peaceful solution⁷.

What we end with, at least with this first try at a pilot, is a show about expansionism, colonialism, and missionaries. We've got white settlers using violence to solve problems when first encountering new civilizations, white settlers treating other people's burial grounds and artifacts as mild entertainment to explore and riches to loot, and ending the entire adventure in prayer, a solid condemnation of Christian expansionism!

Maybe that was the problem with this pilot and that's why it had to go back to the drawing board. It wasn't as subtle as maybe Irwin Allen thought. The powers that be decided they needed to send the Robinsons out for different reasons, maybe to just explore and not colonize, as the initial episode opened up far too many critiques for questioning Western Civilization's awful yet accepted traditions. The Robinsons could easily be seen as the bad guys, landing on a planet and immediately murdering everybody they meet. That doesn't make for happy white people television! Instead, they needed a villain! They needed somebody who was so cretinous and vile that nobody would question the upstanding Robinsons and their kindness and charity! And boy were they right! Lost in Space fucking sucked without Doctor Smith! ______________________________________________________________
¹"Immediately" in the sense that it happened 3 to 4 years into their 98 year long mission.
²I'm willing to concede that it wasn't as explicit as a modern audience finds it. I am willing to downgrade "explicit" to "queerbaiting."
³I'm not using "greatest" sarcastically here. I'm dunking on Elon Musk by expressing that all of his ideas are so shit that his shit idea of colonizing Mars to save mankind is the best of them all.
⁴After her parents have an uncomfortably long and passionate kiss while dressed like toaster strudels.
⁵And, yes, I'm using "Biblical" to mean "incestuous."
⁶Sorry. They're a white family. I should have said "self-defensing the giant."
⁷It's even kind of played as a joke after the death of the second giant. While the women and children find it hard to look at the death brought on by their, um, self-defense, the alien chimpanzee looks at the dead body and then sticks his tongue out in a mockery of the corpse.