If you were to be uncharitable, you could be forgiven for wondering why anyone in the 24th Colonist Group to Alpha Centauri lets the Robinsons anywhere near their precious spaceship, the Resolute, in the robust frame of which rests not only the lives of a select group of human refugees from a dying earth but the entire history of the human race.
Because much like Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote) and sundry other protagonists after whom drama with a capital “D” follows like a chaotically impelling love sick puppy, the Robinsons attract trouble, the kind that doesn’t promise them a swift, early and alien end but which has the very real potential of ending any hope any of the colonists have of reaching their new home.
To be fair, the title of the series, Lost in Space, a revival of the Irwin Allen-created series which first ran between 1965 and 1968 and now in its second season on Netflix, would mean nothing beyond its evocative title if the Robinsons managed to stay neatly out of trouble.
And again to add some fairness to proceedings, much of the trouble in which the now close knit family find themselves – you may recall that season 1 was all about repairing and restoring what had been ripped and rent asunder – is not necessarily of their making.
They are people of honour and greatly capable – all of them are insanely talented, even poor old Penny (Minda Sundwall) who is a talented writer and chronicler of their adventures, though she often feels shadowed by the scientific and militaristic accomplishments of her parents and siblings – and so when things go wrong or injustice is perpetrated, they feel compelled to step in and do something.
When they are actually with people to make that happen.
The second season opens with “Shipwrecked”, an episode in which the family finds themselves on a stunningly-beautiful watery planet with a methane-rich atmosphere – they joke, rather blackly at one point that they’ve found refuge on a planet whose air they can’t breathe and water they can’t drink – from which escape is beginning to look, after seven lonely, corn-eating months (power is totally gone from the ship so they have to grow their own food), rather impossible.
But then Maureen (Molly Parker), who is so accomplished that she should just be given the Nobel Prize for everything and be done with it, works out that just like “The Maracaibo Beacon” in Venezuela, lightning arrives on a certain part of the planet with an astonishing, power-supplying regularity.
Get there and they may have enough power to get off the planet; the trick is, of course, getting there, something so difficult and dangerous that father John (Toby Stephens), who oddly seems to have the right to overrule his wife no questions asked, is prepare to stay on the planet for another year to avoid.
But fate has other ideas, and after some fairly major mishaps, the Robinsons, also comprising robot-whispering son Will (Maxwell Jenkins), and medical officer in training daughter Judy (Taylor Russell), end up using the Jupiter 2 (which also houses an imprisoned but largely unchastened Dr Smith, played by Parker Posey and smuggler and mechanic-turned-good guy Don West, brought to loveable rogue-ish life by Ignacio Serricchio) as a fully-rigged sailing ship to get where they need to go.
The result is some fairly impressive visuals, and although the entire idea demands the suspension of belief on a planetarily epic scale, it speaks once again to how much the Robinsons can accomplish when the situation demands it.
And as the second season progresses, and a host of threats and conspiracy-laden secrets emerge, the Robinsons have to step up again and again to save the colonists and those who oversee them from themselves.
For a start, the robots are back.
While Will’s friend, the Robot (Brian Steele), with the friendly blue face and smoking hot metallic body (so some fans say), remains MIA, there is growing evidence that the aggressive machine race from which he hails – turns out they have very good reason to be mightily pissed off with humanity – are everywhere in that part of the galaxy, their power-attracting trenches straddling the equators of the watery methane planet and the desert planet on which many of the Resolute colonists are staying while repairs to their mothership are carried out.
It becomes clear that the only reason humanity has been able to escape a despoiled Earth at all is because of the robots and that peace, if possible, must be made with the robots if any reasonable chance of survival is to be effected.
Oh, if only things were that simple!
For within the leadership group that oversees the settlement program on Alpha Centauri there is a ruthless determination to get humanity’s selected survivors to safety come what may, a means justifies the end deal that may have worked rather well with the first 23rd missions but is royally come apart at the galactic seams right now.
So, not only do the Robinsons, and those with whom they ally themselves, have to fight enemies without, they have enemies within with which to contend, a double-pronged narrative driver which keeps things humming along in the second season at a pleasingly brisk pace.
But if the first season of the show, which took many of the touchstones of the original show such as Will’s closeness with the Robot, Dr Smith’s duplicity, and the family’s closeness and ran with them taught us anything, it’s that Lost in Space isn’t interested in action for action’s sake alone.
Infusing the action, and indeed given pretty much all of it a reason for being beyond the urge to binge the entire ten episodes in one day – doable but it’s the kind of show that benefits from a few pauses between every second or third episode just so you can soak it all in – is a palpable emotional resonance.
It’s borne of the closeness between the family members whose famously tight knit status is legion among other colonists, a closeness which as many judiciously-placed flashbacks throughout the season demonstrate, is not a foregone conclusion, something that must be fought for and attended to at every turn.
And which must be guarded against from the wily manoeuvring of Dr Smith (really June Harris; she has assumed another colonist’s identity, unafraid to kill or derail others’ lives as her narcissistic needs demand it) who, though she is capable of rare moments of nobleness and humanity, must be continually, closely watched.
The constant attention to rich and affecting characterisation is what makes Lost in Space so damn watchable; sure we want to see if the Robinsons can survive falling into an alien trench and withstand attacks by armless, multi-tailed T-Rex analogues but we also want to see them do well because they love each other and are willing to leverage the resulting closeness for the greater good.
Trouble does follow them wherever they go, and while you might think twice, should you ever be assembling a colonisation attempt of far flung stars, about including them in your colonist complement, they are undeniably talented, ferociously close and earnestly good, all things that make them and Lost in Space one of those rare shows that effortlessly combines action, substance and heartfelt humanity, like the Battlestar Galactica revival before it, to such a galaxy triumphing degree, that you pray Netflix does indeed order a third and highly-necessary third season. (The second season does end on a cliffhanger so non-renewal would be a cruel and unusual punishment.)