The promos and trailers of the new Netflix series Lost In Space, had all the ingredients of a sci-fi potboiler. A spaceship, people wearing spacesuits in an unfamiliar landscape probably in a galaxy or dimension far, far away are confronted with near life-and-death situations. There is a robot also thrown in. But the cast, and the show itself, reveal that it’s not all about science, or fiction. Lost in Space is a reboot of the popular show that aired for three seasons (1965-68), and centred around the adventures of the Robinson family, space colonists, who dare to tread where no one has before, have lost their way, literally in space.
One is reminded of the German novel Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, where a family en route to Australia are shipwrecked on a tropical island. Like in the book, family and emotions are at the core of this story. The cast concurs.
We caught up with them at the recent Middle East Film and Comic Con, held in Dubai, where Netflix had aired the first episode. “We see the relationships evolve. We are a family, with warts and dysfunctions and all. At the beginning of the show, we are about to be divorced. But then an opportunity presents itself, of us going into space, and we bond,” says Toby Stephens, who plays John Robinson, the head of the family, and commander of the expedition.
The show in the ‘60s was quite popular and left a stamp on collective public memory. “Come on, don’t you remember the tin foil costumes, and the hyper music,” chips in Molly Parker, who has reprised the role of Maureen Robinson, mother of three and an aerospace engineer. “But this is not set too far out in the future — 2046. It is grounded in some reality, like Interstellar or The Martian. This is the future, it might just happen. And as earth is becoming rapidly inhabitable, we have to go somewhere else,” says Stephens, who has films Die Another Day, and a TV adaptation of Jane Eyre to his credit.
For the younger cast — Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall and Maxwell Jenkins — the shoot was akin to attending space camp and dealing with high school issues. It resonated with them deeply. “Like when Will interacts with the robot; he has a scary exterior. But he moves past that and they bond over the fact that they both feel out of place. I think lot of people in our society especially 11-12 year olds, and even adults feel that they don’t belong. We need to move past our differences,” shares Jenkins, who plays Will a precocious 11-year-old. The feeling of the other and not belonging is also shared by Sundwall, who plays Penny in the show. “I sometimes feel that I am the most non-sciencey person in the show, and she (Penny) at times feels the most non-useful.”
The show has also evolved in the way it portrays women; the reboot has completely changed the gender narrative. Molly is a engineer, whereas Judy is a doctor. “ We are in space. We don’t have a ‘female’ scientist, or a ‘female’ doctor. We have a doctor and we have a scientist. The show is imagined in the future and hopefully when we are there for real, this would not be a question,” says Sundwall, the second child in the family.
These sentiments are shared by Russell. “There have not been many roles written for girls who look like me. They are usually the female best friend or the token black girl, so this was refreshing. I see many young women on social media — who are speaking up about things. It’s nice to see women characters who can be role models and are not stereotyped,” says Russell.
The senior cast, especially Maureen and Toby, are happy that the show has been presented on a digital platform. “This frees us from the TRP business. A streaming service allows for genre-specific content. Also it has pushed HBO and cable networks into a creative direction,” says Stephens. “Earlier you could not make money on a movie which ran only for one week at a multiplex in a big city. Now with Netflix, you can find your audience. You don’t have to make things that everybody likes,” adds Parker.