Friday, May 24, 2013

True or False: Lost in Space was a Terrible TV Show

Doug:  I just saw this (hopefully it's not old news to the rest of you) while eating lunch.  You can click here for the whole article and a photo.  Of course we learned just last week that Wanda and Pietro are being added to the cast of Avengers 2; apparently there will be some sort of marrying of the X and Avengers film franchises?  Lordy, does that mean Avengers 3 will include Wolverine??

Director Bryan Singer announced on his Twitter feed that Evan Peters from the "American Horror Story" series has joined the cast of X-Men: Days Of Future Past in the role of Magneto's son, Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver.

"Before he was an #Avenger, he was just a REALLY fast kid. Thrilled to say #EvanPeters is joining #XMen #DaysOfFuturePast as #Quicksilver."


Humanbelly said...

Ah. . . True, BUT:

It was a WONDERFUL terrible TV show that I absolutely loved as a child-! It would destroy me if for some reason it was pre-empted or if we were having signal-reception trouble that night. But, like many of Britain's youngest DR WHO watchers of the time, I had many, many "hide-behind-the-couch" moments that I still remember from that program: a long parade of a menagerie of "monsters"; a creature my mom called "the bowling-ball, dust-mop monster" (in order to talk me down from the ledge of terror, as it were); the duplicator that made multiple Dr Smiths; Mr. Nobody (which also broke the heart that I was always wearing on my sleeve); etc.

Upon seeing it in reruns many years later, I realized that the show hadn't grabbed my attention at all until it made that conscious180-degree shift from legitimate space adventure show to goofy juvenile cheese-fest. The original few episodes are actually pretty darned good as an adventure serial, and boy, the tone is so much darker. Dr Smith, for example (IIRC) is in fact directly and knowingly responsible for the death of a technician before he stows away. He is indeed a malevolant, evil figure at that point. And I have no primary memory of those episodes ('course, I would have been 4-1/2 when it came out. . . but I have no doubt that my dad would have been watching it).

As often seems to happen with off-beat, seemingly unlikely-to-succeed television shows, a surprisingly strong cast may have elevated the material even as the writers began to craft the program more to the cast's talents (several examples: Gilligan's Island; Beverly Hillbillies; Cheers; Northern Exposure; X-Files; Big Bang Theory). LiS had a solid bunch of familiar faces in Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Johnathon Frid, Angela Cartwright, and Billy Mumy-- all capable of carrying a script on their own, if called upon. The Robot, of course, was the FAVORITE of everyone my age, though. In retrospect, such a stupid, stupid "character" progression-- but by golly it worked on me-- (am I remembering correctly that there was an episode w/ the Robot painting a picture while wearing a beret on its headpiece-??)

I also want to give a shout-out to a young "Johnny" Williams for both themes he composed for this show. The second one (3rd season), centered on a great french horn riff is one of my favorite TV themes ever-- very much a precursor to his great later film themes.


Anonymous said...

Age 7 - 12: No!
Age 13 - 18: Yes!
Age 19 on: No! Yes! No!

B Smith

david_b said...


Much higher rated than Trek TOS for most of it's run (and yes, what WASN'T higher rated that Trek...), it was a favorite of CBS.

Gene Rodenberry liked it as well, praising that it told stories, rather than his morality plays.

As is most True/False questions, vagueness is the path we trudge on here. I look at the 1st and 3rd Seasons as almost two entirely different shows, so I suppose most of today's discussion will fall among those lines.

1st Year was pretty classic, straight forward science fiction, I always enjoy the "Welcome Stranger" episode with a young Warren Oates among others. Apparently per Harris, Irwin saw some of the later 1st year episodes where Dr Smith was starting to overact (and become the Smith we all ended up with) and called Harris into his office. Irwin said, 'Ahhh, I see what you're doing. Keep it up.' Hence the character change.

Fast-forward to 3rd Season, one of the BEST opening theme sequences ever done. Period. Love the splashy costumes, loved the ultra-cool Apollo LEM-like Space Pod, yes the Batman camp craze struck the Jupiter II travelers, as it did 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea'.

(Hey, when you have a international sensation like Batman, that happens, deal with it.)

I liked how they tried to move away from the Will-Smith-Robot focus in the 3rd season and consciously focus on a different lead each week.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes you got the 'Great Vegetable Rebellion'.. or the 'Penny Dance' in "The Promised Planet"; that episode wasn't all that innocent, it did show the aliens hoist both Will and Penny on operating tables ready for blood transfusions. Dig the incense that made the adults 'see the light' and the Sgt Pepper poster behind Keith Taylor as Edgar.

It's always fun watching "Collision of Planets" with little 'Danny Travanti' with a long hair wig as the lead space hippy, years before he became Daniel J. Travanti of Hill Street Blues. There were a few other really good episodes, 'Anti-Matter Man' probably the best of the 3rd Season lot.

Back to work..

William said...

As B. Smith pointed out above, I suppose it depends on your age. When I was a wee lad I thought Lost In Space was high drama. I used to watch it every week with baited breath and every every time Robot would shout in his electronic voice "Danger! Danger!" my little heart would race, and I figured that this time (as Dr. Smith would put it), they were surely "Doomed! All doomed!!"

I must have been very young when I watched it, because I can't remember the exact plot of even one episode, but I remember the characters and their personalities very well. In fact, as I recall, I had my first TV star crush on Judy. Ah Judy, in her skin tight space suit. At the time, I probably didn't know why I so especially liked her, but I did.

So I would say the answer is "False". Lost In Space was no more terrible than any other show meant for younger audiences. To many adults these shows may seem insipid, but to their target audiences they are TV gold.

Anonymous said...

It was FAB!

William Preston said...

As a kid, I only saw those wilder episodes, not the earliest ones. I loved it. Then in college one summer, I saw those earliest eps and realized how cool the show could have been and how it had gone woefully off-track. Now, of course, it's cool in its way.

It was frustrating, even as a kid, that the show stuck to a template and didn't explore the things I found interesting--just as I always wanted to know more about Wayne Manor during the Batman run. I was interested in the adult's jobs, especially the major, who was cool and had that same good-looking manliness as David Hedison, the second-in-command in VttBotS. I empathized with Will as a kid, but I was more interested in the adults, so the show always let me down in that regard.

Humanbelly said...

Jonathon HARRIS. . . yes, of course. Who the heck was I thinking of when I said Frid?

Man, that sounds familiar, too. . .


Humanbelly said...

Pfft. Of COURSE-- Barnabas Collins! (Man, talk about a whole 'nother round of BAB-worthy topics-!)


Anonymous said...

Must abstain.

Too young for the original run and while I know I saw a rerun or two in the 70s it never caught my interest.

I did see that horrible movie in the 90s.

Karen said...

I have to admit,I set this post up wondering what sort of comments that harsh statement might provoke.

My impetus was from renting disc one of the first season of Lost in Space. I only watched the first episode last weekend. But it struck me, as I watched it, that originally the show was making an attempt to depict a future version of our space program. Dad Robinson's space walk, complete with his compressed gas doohicky, was just like the Gemini astronauts, going out for EVA. Now of course within a few episodes they would land on a planet with a hairy giant, so it did go off into fantasy a bit, but the first season was far more science fiction than the utter nutball fantasy it later became.

It's almost as if it were two shows, which attracted different audiences. I have a couple of gay friends who love the later LIS for the insane, campy performance of Jonathan Harris.But they care nothing for the earlier black and white, more serious shows. I know other folks, particularly Star Trek fans, who just roll their eyes at the mere mention of LIS.

As a kid, I saw it only occasionally, as my older brother was one of those who despised it. Visually, it was always interesting. Storywise, it was another matter. But as HB and David noted, the theme music was great!

Anonymous said...

BTW, have I ever mentioned how young this site makes me feel? :)

And lord knows I need it, there is a 10 year age difference between me and my wife and she never gets any of my references. . . the joke is that she never knows who the hell I am talking about when I sadly mention someone passing. . .

"Aw, Phyllis Diller died. . "


"Aw, Ricardo Montalban died. . ."


"Ernest Borgnine died. . ."


"Aw, Ray Manzarek died. . ."


and so on and so on. ..

Doug said...

Not to derail what is a quality discussion, but playing off of Mr. Oyola's last comment -- I feel very fortunate that my wife and I grew up in the same area (different high schools) and are only three months apart in age. Those local history and pop culture discussions of days of yore are easy.

Of course, our kids look at us like we're crazy...


david_b said...


My wife is only 3 months younger and I get the SAME reactions.

Yep Karen, as I mentioned above, you really have to think of LIS as two separate shows.

The 2nd Season..? Eh, I thought that season was actually cheesier than the 3rd on some accounts. When you have guys like ol' Al Lewis showing up and doing vaudeville schitch as in one episode, now that's CHEESY.

Did like the "CRUSH-KILL-DESTROY" android IDAK Alpha 12 in "Revolt of the Androids",(played by the superb Don Matheson, later in "Land of the Giants"..).

Karen said...

My husband is only three years younger than me, but sometimes it feels like decades. But it might be because I've always gravitated towards things from the past. I love the old Universal monster films and 50s sci fi movies. He has an almost physical aversion to anything in black and white. And although he is a big comics geek, you can forget about him cracking open a silver age book. He can't stand the artwork. I know, sacrilege!

But the beauty of it is, he supports all my interests. if he sees something he thinks I might like, he'll always come get me or he might surprise me by buying it for me. Just this last month he was trying to understand the difference in appearance between the original King Kong and Peter Jackson's Kong, and why I preferred the original. I don't think it made much sense to him why I liked the one that looked less realistic, less like a gorilla, but he listened and now I know he'll be on the look out for original Kong figures. I think that's sweet.

J.A. Morris said...


I'm far from an expert on the show,since it was never aired in places I lived until I was in high school & college.

Based on what I've seen, it's not a great show but it's far from terrible. Just a product of its time.

And I've always thought the robot was very cool.

MattComix said...

I don't know why anybody would be comparing LIS to Star Trek unless they assume every science fiction show should have the exact same tone and storytelling goals.

Anonymous said...

Matt, I wish I could "Like" your comment, but I do want to echo them!

It is like the people who insist on comparing Star Wars and Star Trek.

Humanbelly said...

Yes, or Star Trek & Space: 1999. They simply aren't the same show or premise or anything. All they have in common is the very broad genre' that harbors them both. It's like trying to compare GUNSMOKE with ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, y'know?


david_b said...

Ah but WHAT'S BEEN THE SCOURGE of those 70s shows is, 'Hey, let's make the 2nd season MORE like Trek.'

Both 1999 and Buck Rogers suffered that unfortunately.

The problem is, they end up getting just what they want. And failing miserably.

The 'bold to be original' formula, distinct as it was, is regretably ripped away and the "USS Happy Crew" is cheesily grafted in.

No one wins.

Moral of the Story..?

'Let Trek be Trek, let 1999 be 1999, let Buck be Buck.'

Anonymous said...

True, but. You can't really blame the show for being a product of its time. LiS, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Wild Wild West, and even the Avengers (I mean the British secret agent TV series) all got sillier and more juvenile sometime around 1966-67, because of the Batman/camp comedy fad. By 1968, the fad passed, and most of those shows did tone it down, but by then the damage was done. Or maybe those shows had just run their course anyway. (After '68, the trend on TV was away from sci-fi and toward realism and relevance.) Comparisons to Star Trek are unfair. As noted, it's like comparing Gunsmoke to Alias Smith & Jones (or Maverick), or Columbo to T. J. Hooker. BTW, I don't remember if I noticed the change in tone when I was seven. For that matter, the campy comedy on Batman went over my head at the time. My peers and I thought of all of those science fiction and secret agent shows as serious action-adventure series. At the time, they seemed just as dramatic as Gunsmoke or The FBI.

googum said...

I know I watched Lost in Space as a kid (reruns on TBS!) but the specifics are long gone. It's on the air locally now, before Star Trek reruns; and it's looped back to the early, more serious episodes.

I always thought Dr. Smith was like Gilligan, in the sense of how many episodes could you make it before you killed him? (I say three, and I have the patience of a zen monk.) But Smith was genuinely evil, and probably should've been marched into an airlock at the earliest convenience.

david_b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david_b said...

The pairing up of Goddard and Harris was always a fun idea.

They had a couple of great episodes in Yr 3 together, playing off each other real well.

The dustups with Williams (when he was allowed to do 'em), like against the warrior in 'Hunters Moon', against Danny Travanti the space hippy, swinging a sword like in his Zorro days, those were always fun to watch. Apparently Williams stipulated his closeups in his contract, what a old-school actor..

Both Williams and Goddard enjoyed the "Anti-Matter" episode, finally playing evil counterparts.

The funniest story is Goddard trying to not laugh in 'Vegetable Rebellion'.. He's said on few occasions how silly he felt with all his theater acting background.., now talking to Tybo, the walking carrot with a Brooklyn accent who uses a gas pump-type device to water himself.

Jeez, "Shades of Steve Gerber..."

Incidently, both Williams and Lockhart were written out of the next few episodes filmed because they couldn't stop laughing during that gem.

I talked guitars with Bill Mumy at Detroit's ComicCon last May and asked him about the cast's reaction to Peter Packer's 'Vegetable Rebellion' script, he just laughed; the writer simply RAN out of ideas..

Fred W. Hill said...

I'm like William in that I can remember the basic schicts of various characters but I can't remember any of the plots. Mainly, of course, I remember Will, Dr. Smith and Robot -- "danger, danger!" While hanging out with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, we watched the pilot episode when it came on TVLand or some other cable channel. I was surprised by how fairly serious it was compared to my vague memories of the show, not to mention seeing that Dr. Smith was a genuine villain rather than simply a cowardly jerk.
Anyhow, I'd vote false, as I do recall enjoying it as a kid and it wasn't all that worse than most other tv shows of its time, not that that's saying much!

Rip Jagger said...

Lost in Space was a great show. Last evening standing in line waiting for graduation to begin, my colleagues and I discussed the merits of Dr.Smith as a character and how his murderous glee had to be softened for him to remain on the show. That casual conversation says a lot about a kids show so well remembered. Lost in Space was Star Trek, but then it wasn't supposed to be.

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