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 causing all onboard to become lost in space.
Aired 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? Yes. This is one of the classic so-bad-its-good shows and so many sci fi tropes come from this one. You have to experience all three seasons at some point, even if it is just a sampling from each.
The Skinny: Irwin Allen already had a sci fi hit 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. This 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, it had definitely veered into new heights of absurdity. But this show did establish a lot of the early precedents for sci fi TV as it delivered a high-camp counterpoint to the more series sci fi that Star Trek was providing over on NBC.
This one could just as easily be considered Retro Sci Fi TV, but because it has become so iconic, I’m pushing it into the Classic Sci Fi TV category. And it 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.
Buy Lost in Space: Lost Adventures HC Vol. 01 Curious Galactics from TFAW.com
Cancelled 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, with Netflix picking up the torch just recently. 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. Then in 2018, Netflix released its revival series that comes closer to the early episodes of the original as it delivers a family-friendly sci fi adventure without the camp (though with Lost-like mysteries). The second season of that series will debut later in 2019.
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.
Where Can You Watch It? The entire series has been released on DVD, and in fact the digitally re-mastered edition is rather economically priced on Amazon at the moment. It is also available for streaming on Hulu.
Buy Lost in Space and Other Irwin Allen Shows on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com: