“Oh, the pain! The pain!”
Dr. Zachary Smith’s memorable catchphrase summarizes the mixed feelings I have when reflecting on the television show Lost in Space. The show aired between 1965-1968 for three seasons. I watched it as a kid alongside Star Trek during its long run in syndication. The show was fun yet frustrating and always paled when compared to Gene Roddenberry’s show.
Lost in Space was also light science fiction at its best.
For some reason, either my irregular viewing schedule when young or some program manager’s misguided sense of what people wanted to see, the syndicated show mostly televised the color episodes of the second and third seasons. These were the campy and colorful entries that most remember and pleased me just fine. They were also incredibly cotton-candy-light plot lines, where Dr. Smith is more comic relief than villain.
Occasionally the black and white episodes of the first season would air. The show started off on a much more serious tone, revealing stowaway Dr. Smith as the reason the Jupiter 2 got lost in the first place, and the drama more grounded and focused on the Robinson family’s survival. The planet the family is first marooned on is dangerous. The robot malfunctions. Dr. Smith may be evil. If the show would have evolved along these more serious lines it might have gone on to become something science fiction fans could sink their teeth into. There’s even one key episode where Dr. Smith goes back in time and has the opportunity to leave the ship and stay on Earth and avoid his mishaps, but he chooses not to in order to save the Robinson family.
But instead, even at the end of the first season, the show gets weird. The family encounters knights, pirates, stocking-faced weirdos who wave magic wands, and space hippies. It’s as if the show had a random villain generator for each week’s episode. Perhaps the mojo from the zany 1960’s Batman TV show was bleeding into Lost in Space’s writers’ rooms.
All of this was fine as a kid, and it was entertaining enough and often fun. But even as a young viewer I realized that there was little meat to chew on as opposed to many episodes of Star Trek. Interestingly, Lost in Space had better ratings than Star Trek during its original run.
On one hand it’s too bad the show has never spawned much latter-day love, in spite of a mediocre 1998 feature film and two attempts at a series reboot. But some things do well residing in the past as pleasant memories, less for their stories and more for their fun and funny plots, weird villains, colorful sets, and a grumpy saboteur with a penchant for tongue lashing a robot.