Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lost In Space (Reprint)

Bill Mumy just tweeted that today is the 51st anniversary of the premiere of Lost in Space. So it is! I wrote a four part essay about the series last year at this time. Here's a short piece of it:

THE ORIGIN STORY "MINISERIES"
Not really a miniseries, of course, but interconnected chapters of one storyline, these five episodes take us from the initial liftoff through the family's first few months on an uncharted planet. Along the way, you'll discover how the Robinsons got lost in the first place, how they reacted to their first close encounter with an alien species, and how the show's best known characters, the villainous Dr. Smith and his odd-couple sidekick, the Robot, came to be on board. Featuring all the best set pieces from the unaired pilot, if you're new to the series or just looking to skim the cream off the top, this is a good place to start.
The Reluctant Stowaway
The Derelict
Island in the Sky
There Were Giants in the Earth
The Hungry Sea

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON ONE
My Friend, Mr. Nobody — A rare episode that centers on Penny (Angela Cartwright), this is a poignant fairy tale about a lonely little girl and her not-so-imaginary imaginary friend. The sort of thing Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone excelled at.

MOST TYPICAL EPISODE OF SEASON ONE
Wish Upon a Star — Filled with the first season's signature elements, this is a top-notch morality tale about the dangers of getting everything you want, featuring wonderfully weird expressionistic cinematography, unexplained alien artifacts, the harsh reality of frontier living and Dr. Smith's self-absorbed jack-ass-ery.

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON ONE
The Space Croppers — A family of shiftless space hillbillies (led by Oscar-winner Mercedes McCambridge) cultivate a carnivorous crop that threatens to devour the Robinsons. This was the series' first full-blown foray into WTF. It wouldn't be the last.

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON TWO
The Prisoners of Space — In this, the best episode of the worst season, a menagerie of alien creatures put the Robinsons on trial for violating the laws of outer space. Kafka with monsters. (Note: You might also check out "The Wreck of the Robot" — MM.)

MOST TYPICAL EPISODE OF SEASON TWO
Revolt of the Androids — A couple of androids drop in on the Robinsons, Dr. Smith hatches a get-rich-quick scheme, and human sentimentality wins the day. This one did at least spawn the catchphrase "Crush! Kill! Destroy!"

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON TWO
The Questing Beast — So many to choose from, among them "The Space Vikings", "Mutiny in Space", "Curse of Cousin Smith", etc. Here, Penny befriends a papier-mâché dragon that is being hunted by a bumbling knight in King Arthur's armor. How can something so campy be so boring?

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON THREE
The Anti-Matter Man — An experiment gone wrong transports Professor Robinson into a parallel dimension where he meets his own evil self. The scenery is summer stock by way of Dr. Caligari, and Guy Williams, having the most fun as an actor since Zorro, gets to chew on all of it. Great stuff, and for those philistines among you who won't touch black-and-white, the best of the color episodes.

MOST TYPICAL EPISODE OF SEASON THREE
Visit to a Hostile Planet — Season three was wildly uneven, but at least it was trying, leavening genuine science fiction with campy comedy. Here, the Robinsons finally make it back to Earth only to discover it's 1947 and everyone thinks they're hostile, alien invaders. A cross between Star Trek and Dad's Army. Good stuff.

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON THREE
The Great Vegetable Rebellion — Featuring a giant talking carrot played by Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones of Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles"), this is, in the words of Bill Mumy, "probably the worst television show in primetime ever made." So bad, it's good, this is gloriously awful must-see tv.

BEST GUY WILLIAMS (PROF. ROBINSON) EPISODE
Follow the Leader — The spirit of a dead alien warrior possesses Professor Robinson and turns this warm, rational man into a vicious, unpredictable bastard. Dark, moody, occasionally terrifying, pop-culture critic John Kenneth Muir called this episode a parable of "alcoholism in the nuclear family." One of the series' very best.

BEST JUNE LOCKHART (MAUREEN) EPISODE
One of Our Dogs Is Missing — Although set in 1997, the show usually ignored the fact that Betty Friedan was already a household name by 1965, but here June Lockhart gets to show her chops when Maureen is left in charge of the ship while the men are away. Threats abound and she handles them all with brains, bravery and quiet resolve.

BEST MARK GODDARD (MAJOR WEST) EPISODE
Condemned of Space — I've already mentioned "The Hungry Sea" and "The Anti-Matter Man", so I'll go with this one where the Robinsons are captured by a prison spaceship and Major West winds up hanging by his thumbs on an electronic rack. Admittedly, he had more lines in "The Space Primevals" and "Fugitives in Space", but both of those episodes suck. With Marcel Hillaire as a charming murderer who strangles his victims with a string of pearls.

BEST MARTA KRISTEN (JUDY) EPISODE
Attack of the Monster Plants — As daughter Judy, Marta Kristen rarely got a chance to shine but here she showed off a saucy bite as her own evil doppelgänger. Like much of season one, there's a dream-like quality to the mood and cinematography that papers over some of the episode's nuttier flights of fancy.

BEST BILL MUMY (WILL) EPISODE
A Change of Space — As the series' true hero, there are a lot of Will-centered episodes to choose from — "Return from Outer Space", "The Challenge", "Space Creature", among others — but I'll go with this one in which Will takes a ride in an alien space ship and winds up with the most brilliant mind in the galaxy. And still his father doesn't take him seriously! This is one of those episodes that underscores my contention that not all of the trouble Will found himself in was of Dr. Smith's making. (Note: If I were writing this today, I'd probably go with "Return from Outer Space," but this is a valid choice, too — MM)

BEST ANGELA CARTWRIGHT (PENNY) EPISODE
The Magic Mirror — Well, the second best, and like the previously-mentioned "My Friend, Mr. Nobody", this is a poignant fairy tale about coming of age on the final frontier. Here, Penny falls through a magic mirror into a dimension with a population of one — a boy (Michael J. Pollard) who promises she'll never have to grow up. Beautiful and bittersweet.

BEST JONATHAN HARRIS (DR. SMITH) EPISODE
Time Merchant — Let's be honest, from best to worst, they were all Dr. Smith episodes. Originally, I planned to pick the episode where Smith isn't a colossal dick, but it turns out there isn't one, so instead I went with this one, an inventive and visually-Daliesque time travel story that poses the question, "What if Smith hadn't been on the show in the first place?"

BEST ROBOT EPISODE
War of the Robots — The first episode where the Robot crosses over from a mere machine, no matter how clever, into a fully-conscious Turing-Test artificial intelligence. Featuring Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot. If Will was the show's hero, and Smith its plot-driving irritant, the Robot was its soul. See also "The Ghost Planet", "The Wreck of the Robot", "Trip Through the Robot", "The Mechanical Men", "Flight into the Future", "Deadliest of the Species", "Junkyard in Space".

BEST GUEST STAR
The Challenge — A lot to choose from — among those I haven't mentioned, Warren Oates, Werner Klemperer, Kym Karath, Strother Martin, Wally Cox, Francine York, John Carradine, Daniel J. Travanty, Lyle Waggoner, Edy Williams, Arte Johnson — but I'm going with Kurt Russell who plays a young prince from a warrior planet trying to prove to his father (Michael Ansara) that he's worthy of his trust, respect and love. A good story about father-son relationships, plus Guy Williams gets to show off the fencing skills that earned him the title role as Disney's Zorro.

BEST ALIENS
Invaders from the Fifth Dimension — The cyclops ("There Were Giants in the Earth") is the most iconic, the "bubble creatures" ("The Derelict") the most outré, but I'm going with the mouthless, disembodied heads from this one. Stranded while visiting from another dimension, they need a brain to replace a burned-out computer component and notice Will has a pretty good head on his shoulders. So they task Dr. Smith with bringing it to them on a metaphorical plate. The show would recycle this plotline over and over but the first time out of the box, it feels fresh. Plus their spaceship is cooler than anything Star Trek ever served up.

BEST OF THE REST
The Keeper, Parts One and Two — The only two-parter during the show's run, this one stars Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) as an intergalactic zookeeper looking for two new specimens for his exhibit — Will and Penny! Coming at the midpoint of season one, this was the high watermark of the show's original (serious) concept of a family struggling to survive in a hostile environment. After this, the camp crept in with mixed results.

1 comment:

NasPer said...

A great precis of all the best episodes so thanks for that! By sheer coincidence I ordered the full DVD box set yesterday and was just Googling in search of a Lost In Space episode guide as I can't wait for the set to arrive. I had no idea it was an anniversary or that the series was being remade. I was born in 1962 (in UK) and L.I.S. was my favourite show as a kid (circa 1967-70). I remember most of the episodes you mentioned. Great memories. Funny how you can hardly find any of the old episodes online on YouTube etc. and that's been the case for several years. I've got the feeling that Fox clamped down on all that stuff when the L.I.S. film was made in the late nineties. I didn't like that film and I'm sceptical about the upcoming remake of the series but can't wait for my box set to arrive :-) Great stuff!