Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost in Space at 50

Fifty years ago today, on September 15, 1965, the TV series Lost in Space made its debut with their first episode, "The Reluctant Stowaway." Although as a series it was never as good as Star Trek, the first five episodes of this series taken together ranks as one of the greatest science-fiction dramas in TV history.

Is anyone reading this NOT familiar with this TV series? In 1997, the Robinson family has volunteered to venture out into space to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri system because of the over-population going on back on Earth. Once they arrive at their destination, they will send word back that more people can join them. However, their mission is sabotaged by an enemy agent, who accidentally gets stuck on their space-ship The Jupiter 2 as it blasts off. His extra weight throws the ship off of its planned course, and the Space Family Robinson and Dr. Smith are now hopelessly LOST in SPACE!

Lost in Space was the second action-adventure TV series from producer-creator Irwin Allen. Allen hit pay-dirt in 1964 with Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, which was the TV series adaptation of his successful motion picture of the same name. Due to the heightened interest in the space race in the early Sixties, Allen then turned his creative genius to outer space. Later, he created The Time Tunnel and The Land of The Giants as well.
The cast of Lost in Space was a big attraction to me as a kid. There were three children, a mom, a dad, and a pilot. Plus an angry old man, and a cool environmental robot! Combining these characters into various situations should have made for interesting stories. Good writers could have gone down the list and centered plots on each of the characters in turn and never run out of story ideas. Plus all of the actors in the show were marvelous. I never got tired of watching their interplay and interaction.

HOWEVER.....somewhere towards the end of the first season, the serious space drama turned into decidedly NON-serious "camp." Dr. Smith, the villain you love to hate, somehow turned into a lovable old coot who was more comedic than dastardly. Then he began to star in the majority of the story-lines. The inherent drama of simple survival in space turned into the Robinsons dealing with space ghosts, space cowboys, space hippies, space bikers, space hill-billies...you name it, they probably came across it, and Smith was right there on the front-line. Worst of all, there was no continued characterization between episodes. Dr. Smith would do something dastardly in one episode, and be left alone in the ship to do something equally stupid in the next. Irwin Allen played up the comedy and "camp" after 1966 due to the competition from TV's Batman,  but let Dr. Smith get too much of the action. Ironically, at the end of the third season Allen was told that the show was skewering too young. When he argued for more budget, not less, and was denied, he allowed the show to be cancelled.

And that was a shame, because the premise is still a hell of a good one. Instead of a pioneer family trying to survive Indians or other Western occurrences, the Robinsons could have had real drama about insufficient fuel, arguments about whether to stay on a certain planet or to go back into space, moral dilemmas whether to help out different "tribes" of aliens...all sorts of things. As it was, there are a handful of really great episodes, a handful of truly awful episodes, and the majority of shows that promised so much more than they actually delivered.
the surviving cast circa 2011
From here on in I hope to comment on Lost in Space semi-regularly. I have the entire DVD set as well as the three official soundtrack CDs, plus most of the comics and the "last" official comic-book sequel, written by Bill Mumy himself. So sit back, strap yourself in, and get ready to get Lost in Space...! 

The new, improved theme song made its debut with this first episode of the third season, 
Condemned of Space

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