Classic Sci Fi TV: Lost in Space

By | February 28, 2017

Classic Sci Fi TV: Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.

What Is It? In this 1965 space adventure series, the Robinson family set off on a journey to colonize Alpha Centauri, but the sinister Dr. Smith sabotages the ship which sends it far off course with him along as a reluctant stowaway.

When Did It Air? CBS, 1965-68, 3 Seasons Totaling 83 Episodes

Starring: Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Jonathan Harris, Bill Mumy, Angela Cartwright

Created By: Irwin Allen

Is it Must-Watch Sci Fi? Not Necessarily. It is worth sampling some episodes to get an understanding of its camp take on sci fi, but a little of this show goes a long way.

The Skinny: Irwin Allen already had a hit sci fi show on television in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea when this show debuted and Lost in Space followed a similar trend to Allen’s first TV entry. The early episodes had a more series action-adventure tone, and the show would have had a very different legacy if it had remained on that course. But the shift to camp had begun by the middle of the show’s first season (Voyage didn’t slip into high-camp until its second year), and there was no turning back. The shift began with a heavier focus on Dr. Smith which included a notable change in his personality. Whereas Smith was a much more sinister villain in the early episodes, he turned into a buffoonish ne’er-do-well as the first year progressed, and the stories became ever more bombastic in the process. Instead of focusing on the full cast (or at least offering equal time to the multiple actors), Smith, Will Robinson, and the Robot became the center of most episodes, and the camp level was amped up each season. In all fairness, the show did still manage to deliver some fun episodes and some classic lines (“Danger, Will Robinson!”) and the special effects (especially the shots of the Jupiter 2 in flight) could be quite good at times. But by the time it was offering humans in ridiculous-looking dragon customs and a giant, talking carrot menacing Dr. Smith, you know that all hope was lost for the show. This one can still be great late-night viewing fun with a group of friends and plenty of alcoholic beverages, but you’re not going to sit through all of the episodes (or even half) like you might with a marathon of other classic sci fi entries from this era like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, or even The Invaders. A sampling of episodes from each season (which has to include “The Great Vegetable Rebellion”) is a worthwhile endeavor. But if you get much beyond a dozen, any brain damage caused could be permanent.

lost-in-space-giant-carrotCancelled Too Soon? Perhaps. The cast and crew all expected to come back from a fourth season when the show was suddenly cancelled. Supposedly budget concerns in the face of dropping ratings were blamed, and also one or more CBS executives were not too fond of the show. But after facing off with space hillbillies, space vikings, a cosmic toymaker, angry vegetables, and other ludicrous antagonists, where else do you have to go?

Revival: There have been several revival attempts of this franchise, none of which have seen much success, though. In the 90’s Bill Mumy and others worked on a comic book series that checked in on the Robinsons’ adventures in space. In 1998, there was a Lost in Space feature film that tried to revive the franchise on the big screen, but it did not generate enough ticket sales to justify any sequels. In 2003, John Woo directed a pilot that was intended to bring the show back to television. It was a darker re-imagining of the show, but was not picked by the WB as an ongoing series. Currently, Netflix is working on a reboot that will also take a more serious approach to the concept and that is scheduled to hit the streaming service in late 2017 or early 2018.

Interesting Fact: Before Lost in Space hit the air, CBS listened to Gene Rodenberry’s pitch for Star Trek then told him that they were not interested in his show. Seeing as LiS was already in the works, they likely just wanted to get a glimpse at any potentially similar space shows that might be hitting the airwaves on the other networks.

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