Why can’t STAR TREK to be more like LOST IN SPACE?! (review editorial, part 2)

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!  LOST IN SPOILERS!

In Part 1, I looked at some of the striking similarities between the two franchises LOST IN SPACE and STAR TREK.  And then I shared how my seven-year-old son and I absolutely LOVED the first season of the new Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, while I personally have been mostly disappointed with the new Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access (which I don’t let my son watch).

Yesterday, I provided an overview of why Jayden and I enjoyed LiS so much.  It made us cheer.  We rooted for the characters and wanted to see them get out of trouble and win.  On the other hand, during the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, I found myself caring very little about any of the crew or nearly all of the other characters on that show.

But enough with the generalities!  It’s time to provide some specifics of what I think LiS is doing right that Discovery is failing to do.  So let’s dive right in…

As I mentioned in a Fan Film Factor blog a few months ago, there’s a tendency in Discovery to “write to the beats” (a rush to get to a major character reveal or breakthrough) and then make a mad-dash to set up for the next beat, and the next, and the next. The characters aren’t given a chance to breathe, to react to what just happened, to reflect…and through that, to better let the audience connect with them and start caring.

One example I gave was the crew’s lack of reaction to discovering that their captain had been a psychotic megalomaniac who didn’t think twice about trying to kill them all.  With the exception of a perfectly innocent bowl of fortune cookies being atomized into oblivion, we didn’t see any reaction from the crew trying to process and deal with their feelings of betrayal, self-doubt, regret, and even embarrassment for having given this man their blind loyalty for so long.  Wouldn’t you be curious how the Germans were feeling after the defeat of Hitler?

The second example was Paul Stamets’ reaction to the death of his lover, Dr. Hugh Culber. Again, what reaction? I’m sure Stamets mourned, but he did it entirely off screen! There was that one tense exchange with the now-VoQ-free Ash Tyler in the corridor, but aside from that, I have no idea how Paul is dealing with the loss of his pajama-and-toothbrush buddy.  Good television would have shown that.  Bad writing would simply be rushing to get to the season finale because we’ve got this really great last episode that takes place almost entirely in a brothel that needs to get written!

With Lost in Space, the show is all about the characters—their strengths and their flaws, their hopes and fears, their connections to others…their humanity.  And the writers give all of those things a chance to take root, struggle to grow, nearly shrivel and die, and ultimately bloom in triumph.  And because that gentle evolution is given time and room to develop, the audience can slowly and deeply bond with these characters.  Discovery rushes things so much that, as a viewer, I’ve never really connected with or even cared much about any of its characters.Another thing that I noticed about the way the LiS writers explore their characters is that they “mix and match” them often.  On Discovery…not so much.  Think about it.  Saru and Tilly got one significant scene together all season long.  Once Tyler came on board, he and Lorca had only a couple of scenes together one-on-one.  Saru and Stamets?  Stamets and Tilly?  Tyler and Tilly?  Unless Michael Burnham was also in the scene, most characters didn’t interact directly more than a few times…and usually only briefly before the episode would shift back into moving the main plot forward.

On LiS, however, because the characters behave differently with different people, I can describe them to you in so many rich and intimate ways that I can’t do with the Discovery crew…

  1. John Robinson abandoned his family to be a soldier and fight in a war.  He is now marooned with them, estranged from his wife and children, but committed to being their protector and still loving them all deeply.  He is used to being in command of other soldiers, but now it is his rocket scientist wife who is the leader.  Can they both lead?  As a parent myself, I can relate to this struggle with ambiguous authority.  John’s strength and stubbornness is reflected in his step-daughter Judy, whom he understands.  But he has never been a father to Will and doesn’t know how to connect with a son who has brains and not brawn and doesn’t share his father’s courage…or does he?  That journey is one that is explored by the writers.
  2. Maureen Robinson is a strong-willed, super-intelligent scientist and mother who had to keep her family together without a husband around.  She resents John for running away, and hates herself for still loving him.  She cares deeply about Will and did something not-quite-legal to get him into the colony program rather than abandon him to die slowly on a doomed planet Earth.  Her relationships with both of her daughters are complicated, mainly because they are each just as smart and stubborn as their mother…only in different ways.
  3. Judy and Penny are sisters and have all of the push/pull dynamics of that kind of relationship.  They also both love Will.  But he’s still just a young boy, and while Judy sees all of the things Will can’t do, Penny suspects that there is much more to their baby brother.  It’s also interesting to watch as both Judy and Penny develop love interests: Judy a young doctor falling for Don West (maybe), and Penny still a teenager throwing herself at a boy from another survival ship.
  4. Don West cares only about himself, money, and a chicken named Debbie.  But then he risks everything to save a guy who is probably gonna die anyway.  Maybe Don’s not so bad after all?  We get to see him interact with Judy, with Dr. Smith, with the other colonists, with Maureen, and with John.  Is he the same wise-cracking, street-wise scammer with all of them…or is he a little different with each person

Once of the biggest strengths about LiS is that we get to watch these characters from so many different angles: John and Maureen, John and Will, John and Judy, Maureen and Judy, Judy and Penny, Penny and Will, Don and Judy, Don and John, Don and Dr. Smith, Dr. Smith and Will, Dr. Smith and Judy, Dr. Smith and Maureen, all three kids together, the whole Robinson family together.  Conversations range from serious and intense to lighthearted banter (I love banter!) that shows how human these people are.

Many of the various Star Trek series had this aspect, too.  Fans got treated to close friendships between characters like Data and Geordi, Bashir and O’Brien, Sisko and Dax, Kim and Paris, Seven and the Doctor, etc.  And not every relationship was buddy-buddy.  Look at Sisko and Dukat, Odo and Quark, Tuvok and Neelix…just to name a few.  But because viewers got to see these characters in so many combinations and situations, the writers could explore and discover numerous facets of their various relationships.

On Discovery, however, the characters feel mostly flat to me, two-dimensional.  Banter is minimal.  Close friendships are nearly nonexistent unless they involve Michael Burnham in some way (or the lost love between Stamets and Culber, VoQ and L’Rell, or Lorca and Cornwell).  And I realize that Discovery only had 15 episodes to develop these characters, but by episode 15 of Deep Space Nine or Voyager, for example, many of the best relationships had already been firmly established.  So small episode count is not an excuse.


Anyway, that’s what I think is missing from Discovery.  It doesn’t matter what the Klingons look like or how needlessly sparkly the Starfleet uniforms are.  When it comes right down to it, I simply don’t care about the crew of this starship.  I watch the show mainly out of loyalty to Star Trek and the momentum that’s left over from my many decades as an enthusiastic fan.

For the upcoming season two, I’m hoping that the writers of Discovery will find a way to make the show better…maybe by being more like Lost in Space.

In the meantime, I told my son three weeks ago that Lost in Space had just been renewed for a second season.  “YES!!!  I KNEW IT!!!” he shouted.  “How long until we get to watch it, Daddy???” Jayden urgently asked.  “Probably not for at least another year,” I replied.

Oh, the pain—the pain

21 thoughts on “Why can’t STAR TREK to be more like LOST IN SPACE?! (review editorial, part 2)”

    1. He is 7, y’know! I’m also torn about taking him to see Jurassic World this summer. He really wants to see it, but again: he’s SEVEN! And also, I just know it’s gonna suck. If I was able to dodge the bullets that were “The Emoji Movie” and “Sherlock Gnomes,” shouldn’t I be able to escape dinosaurs with stupid plots???

      1. Jonathan my friend – yes I do consider you to be a friend, however remotely – I did say I was joking. 🙂 🙂

        [There is an aspect of allowing a child to learn to make his/her own judgements, but then there is the more important one of parental guidance, which is what you were exhibiting. But this is an overly serious observation relating to a trivial bit of poking fun; only prompted by your apparently serious response. Sorry if I unintentionally hit some sort of nerve, or, more likely, misinterpreted the intention of your reply.]

      2. Wait to rent Jurassic at home. Don’t blow the money on the big screen. I’ve read the reviews, it’s horrible. Seems Hollywood has lost its way. On another reboot, Tom Cruz is working on rebooting Top Gun! Due out mid 2019 I think.

        Personally, I’m waiting for Mr. Robot to start season 4 in January or February.

  1. There’s more than one character on ST: Discovery?!! I’ll have to check and verify that… ;”) I throughly enjoyed both Lost in Space reboots, though the newer one was way more immersive, I would even welcome a second ‘season’… Great article series Jonathan! I wish you would write about ‘HUMANS’ (from AMC I think) sometime! Really surprisingly good show. And When does beloved ORVILLE return? 🙂 Woody.

    1. Hey, dude! I haven’t heard from you in a LONG time. Good to know you’re still out there.

      I haven’t watched “Humans” yet…and there’s SO much more in the queue! Heck, I still need to watch season 2 of “Stranger Things.” 🙂

  2. Part of what I think the difference is – the history of both series. Star Trek has a much larger canon to draw on than Lost in Space. That makes it harder to do a complete reboot unless you want to wait for the history to pass out of memory (say 40 years between new timelines). To make things worse, the memory of the original timeline has been kept in spin offs and movies. CBS is trying to force a change before society is ready to accept it – all in the name of profit.

    Lost in Space doesn’t have this problem. The original series was popular, but there has been only one real attempt to bring it back and that flopped. No one really remembers it (I’m a bit vague on it myself) so there is no resistance to a reboot. And all your other points stand that it is just a better written and directed series all together.

    Personally, I don’t think a reboot of trek was needed. So much more they could have done to flesh out the history of the original timeline. Really, it just feels like lazy writing.

    1. Plenty of people remember it, there is a sizable fanbase, and believe me there was plenty of resistance when it was announced, both from fans and non-fans. However, you do make a good point… Many Lost in Space fans are as obsessed with “Canon” as the Star Trek fans, but a lot of us are just glad to see LIS back in any form!

  3. Well a fine analysis of the Differences between the two shows but one that I have to disagree with in it’s conclusions. Nothing you write is wrong One is indeed a character driven show and STD characters with a few notable exceptions Such as Michelle Yeoh and to a lesser extent Jason Isaacs and Sonequa are two dimensional at best. The thing is that the LiS characters are boring I don’t know if the fault of the actors, the director or the writers I suspect the latter. it seemed they were given the brief give them faults, make them human, make that interesting. Well they forgot that these characters were selected from the best of the best they were the brightest and most outstanding of the human race. So any faults should be either as equally extraordinary or firmly under control. For example John Robinson an accomplished Military man seemed mostly out of his depth. To chalk that up to he was dealing with his wife (well we have all had difficulties with that) but as a military man he would be as used to taking orders as giving them. They were mostly as confused and boring at the end of the series. The Robot who my award goes too as both best actor and most human character sacrifices himself to save them and rather than go man overboard they all ignore it as if a piece of junk had fallen off the ship. Admittedly they didn’t have a lot of time to react till they are falling into a black hole but not even a tear from Will Robinson for his friend and surrogate father.

    The inclusion of Taylor Russell as Judy Robinson with an explanation of her ethnicity is just tokenism and rather racist I feel. Not that she wasn’t one of the better actresses. Not that outstanding that they had to shoehorn an explanation in episode 9 or was it 10. I ended up feeling sorry for her, rather less so for Parker Posey who If I had to pick one reason why I did not enjoy LiS would be her performance or rather performances. Her portrayal of Doctor Smith seemed to be different in every episode perhaps she was trying to show off how multi faceted she was as an actress, if so it failed. There again you feel that she was there to tick an equality box. A pity, Jonathan Harris must be turning in his grave.

    Well no doubt your 7 year old didn’t notice any of this and thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult I can only hope they fill in the glaring plot holes get the actors back on track, replace Doctor Smith in fact Jonathan Harris could still turn in a better role even though he’s been dead for 16 years, still that has not stopped Hollywood before and maybe it can be rescued.

    As to STD I am quite looking forward to it’s return especially if Michelle Yeoh plays a major role. I had about given up on it for some of the reasons you quote in your article but mainly because it was not Star Trek. I finally watched the last 4 episodes and am glad I did. It has a long way to go but is showing promise.

    I do wish they could be more honest about things Rather than saying well this was the plan all the time. Just admit that they had some Studio Executive decided he was gods gift to Entertainment and he knew better than the creative people and the Star Trek fans and this is how it would go. However he has lost interest now and found a shiny object to play with so we are actually going to make Star Trek. If the aforementioned Executive was Gods Gift to Star Trek. Harvey Weinstein is gods gift to dating(alledgedy).

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Glenn.

      What I found most believable about the characters’ flaws is that, even though they were “the best of the best,” what does that even mean? Are they all “perfect”? Hardly. The point is that even the best of the best humans are still human, flawed in some ways, and vulnerable. We could choose the best of humanity right now, and would they be free of doubts, free of mistakes, free of weakness? I don’t think so.

      And that, Glenn, is what I think this show is really about. The “best of the best” aren’t all that much more impressive than the “rest of the rest.” Sure, they might know more things or be in better physical shape. They might even be able to solve problems more quickly or effectively. But they won’t be paragons of perfection. And as humanity reaches out to colonize space, thinking we’re leaving the worst of ourselves behind, might not some of the bad have stowed away with the good? And how do we overcome the inherent devils of our natures?

      At least, that’s the way I saw it. Jayden just thought it was all cool and exciting. 🙂

  4. I’m a Lost in Space and Star Trek fan, but LIS has always been my favorite, for reasons that are hard to put into words. However, I loved reading your editorial, and I appreciate this reversal of the typical LIS/ST feud.

    Of course, this is about the Netflix series, and when it first came out, I was sort of disappointed it didn’t preserve the Classic continuity like Discovery allegedly did, and why do the designs have to look different? I had the same issues with DISC and NewLIS in that regard, but even though it was a reboot, I found this show very close to the spirit of the original.

    It was different with Discovery, but I did like that show too, and I’m looking forward to both “Season 2s”. But should Star Trek really copy Lost in Space? I like the originals for separate sci-fi reasons, and I feel the same about the new ones… I still like LIS better, though, but I didn’t expect so many other Star Trek fans to feel the same way. However, the most moving thing for me is Jayden’s reaction, it is so nice to see new fans now too! (Now, if only Lost in Space could have fan films, but that’s another matter)

    1. When I muse about Star Trek being more like Lost in Space, I realize that much of that is an unrealistic expectation, of course. But where I do think ST can follow the lead of LiS is in putting more focus on character interactions that don’t simply serve the beats of the plot but also serve the development of the characters themselvws. This wasn’t completely lacking in Discovery, but it was severely limited. Scenes like the one between Saru and Tilly in the 14th episode were the rare exception. Put in more of those with a wide mix of characters. Not everyone’s “dramatic” scenes have to be just with Burnham. Much of Discovery isn’t stuff I hate. At worst, I’m ambivalent. But I so want to LOVE Discovery, and a big step in that direction would be making the characters into people I actually care about.

  5. Yup, one word for what is lacking in Discovery: establishment, they really do it poorly, if at all.

  6. Interesting comparison. You probably know my feelings about Disco by now – Star Trek in name only, with some truly awful writing and character development, wrapped up in the angry zeitgeist of modern times. Unrecognisable as classic ST of any iteration.

    However, I also enjoyed LiS, and in addition to being good quality entertainment it also held up a mirror to modern family life, with a clear message that dysfunctional families can still keep together. The strong, independent Mom who borders on over-confidence, but still has well-hidden weaknesses and vulnerabilities; ex-army Dad, who isn’t as Alpha-male as he’d like to be, but knows deep down that family life strengthens rather than diminishes him; squabbling kids with small petty jealousies but they don’t *really* hate each other – it’s just family life. All of that to me adds up to an insightful, modern take of what was originally a very cheesy story. The only doubt for me is Dr Smith – not sure if it’s unconvincing writing or acting, but she doesn’t seem to fit anywhere at the moment.

    Despite my strong misgivings about Disco, I remain hopeful that it will improve. In the meantime LiS and The Orville have been much-needed and pleasant alternatives in the sci-fi realm.

  7. One thing about Lost in Space.. if you’ve never been to Vancouver, B.C. Canada.. you should really go.. its an amazing place.

    Get out of the city and head North on the Sea to Sky Highway that the Olympics help build.. climb every mountain top or ride the gondolas to the Top. Earth never looked so weird and wonderful.. its like Disneyland for your soul… half those special effects of Maureen Sailing over the Worlds edge to discover Hawking radiation.. were Not a special effect.

  8. Jonathan, You Bubble Headed Blogger!!

    The Biggest difference between, STD and LIS is that while STD Seems to want to collapse under the weight of it’s history, with mostly not so clever nods to what came before. And Characters that you can’t respect or admire in the way we did Kirk. Spock and McCoy. or Jean Luc Picard, Sisko, Archer Etc. The relationships seem forced.

    At the end of S1 I don’t understand why we should even care about a traitor to the Federation… Or the Federation for that matter. If she cared so much about federation values (and she’s sorta Vulcan) why logic wouldn’t have helped her find a way out of Episode 1’s dilemma. I am so tired of the out of Control Admiral stories, that have been done to death.

    Oh, the pain… the pain…

    Lost in Space. on the other hand has been a very fresh take, on a well loved classic.. They weren’t afraid to make sweeping changes to the canon (such as a mother ship and multiple ships, and families) They even brought in Bill Mumy an interesting way. The family dynamic was well thought out… The Sister’s were great, Will was everything you’d expect him to be… And once the parent’s kind of got over their anger. I liked them a lot better too. Overall I found the handling of the mixed nature of the family to have been tastefully done. Speaking as someone who’s been a step parent it’s good to see a Step Dad who sees no difference between his biological and “adopted/inherited kids.” I tried hard to do that, and I think it’s Something every parent should strive for.

    As for Julie Harris, I hope they tone her down in season 2… She would do well to remember… To Mind her manners or she’ll loose your friends. or get tossed out an airlock!! Oh wait this isn’t the Expanse!

    Since she was exposed, and since Bill Mumy didn’t actually die in the Cameo, and is still on the mother-ship. which wasn’t destroyed… Maybe, we will get a different Dr Z Smith in season 2.. ( a bit of wishful thinking on my part. but they did use a lot of flashbacks ya never know… ) Either way Never fear Smith is still here!!

    As for Don, they took a pretty big risk playing him the way they did… But I thought that he was a little mercenary but a good guy as well.. And I also thought it was hilarious that they named the chicken after the Bloop.

    The only thing I found disappointing was the Robot – not that it wasn’t cool and Stuff I just personally wish he would have been more like the Movie/TV Robot (Big Blue, not the rebuild)

    http://lostinspace.wikia.com/wiki/Rambler-Crane_Series_Robot

    So far I have watched it through 3 times binging the first weekend. catching it again, over the course of the next week, and then watched it with my Boy (who is a bit older than yours..) I’d certainly suggest you share the original LIS with Jayden, Especially the first 6 episodes, as it’s still engaging even after 50+ years.

    As the Summer SciFi Drought wears on perhaps I will catch it again, for sure I will before Season 2 rolls around.

    Depending of course on the condition of my delicate back.

    With apologies to the late great Jonathan Harris

    1. Bubble-headed blogger, huh? You are totally channeling your inner ninny today, aintcha? 🙂

      By the way, the new “Dr. Smith” is named June Harris, not Julie. Harris is, of course, a nod to the actor who played the original Dr. Smith, Jonathan Harris…while June was the first name of the actress who played Maureen Robinson, June Lockhart.

      As for showing Jayden the original LiS, we watched most of the first episode and he began to get bored. I think those kinds of cheesy special effects and slow-moving “action” scenes just aren’t enough for the kids these days!

  9. Another series to compare is Stargate Origins, for more than a webserie they were very respectful of the original story, especially of the 90s movie.

  10. Pretty spot on analysis, my friend. I thoroughly enjoyed Lost in Space— I suffered through the few episodes of Discovery and I watched. Lost in Space was fun… Discovery was not. It took itself too seriously. I rooted for the Lost in Space characters; I yawned at the Discovery characters. I was happy to hear that Lost in Space was renewed for a second season. Season two of Star Trek Discovery is just another season I won’t watch .

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