There’s a scene in the first batch episodes of the new Lost in Space season 2 on Netflix, where, in a lame attempt to help his wife feel less stressed, John Robinson (Toby Stephens) sings a few verses of Steve Miller’s “Joker.” As he faux-croons “Some people call me a space cowboy, some call me the gangster of love,” nearly every dad can relate. Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) isn’t having it and that’s the point of the scene. Dad Robinson is acting the fool, but he’s also being a good dad and husband. Or, at least, he’s trying.
If you’ve dipped into internet discourse at all, then you’ll be familiar with the phrase “I feel seen.” This is usually used as a hyperbolic joke; somebody tweets they think pickled jelly beans are gross, and someone else tweets back, sarcastically, “I feel seen,” implying their deep-dark secret about loving pickled jelly beans has been brutally exposed. It’s not the best internet joke, but it does apply to how the opening episodes of the new season of Lost in Space on Netflix made me feel. As someone who sometimes dips into accidental helicopter parenting, the latest batch of Lost in Space episodes made me feel seen.
Light spoilers ahead for Lost in Space season 2. I’m not gonna reveal anything big, like at all. But I am gonna talk about one thing that happens in the first episode, and I’m going to allude to some stuff at the end. I’m not gonna ruin anything. Cool?
Right at the beginning of season 2, after having been stranded on a new, watery alien planet, the audience is wondering if the Robinsons are gonna get their spaceship fixed and fly outta there. But, John, the dad, is resolute (pun intended) that leaving this particular planet is just “too dangerous,” even though it’s impractical to keep the fam there longterm. His wife, Maureen, rebuffs him, pointing out that if they stay on this deserted planet, their three children will never “meet anyone new,” and certainly never have their own romances. Dad Robinson nods in agreement, but then just repeats his earlier decision. They’re not going to leave because the only viable plan to get their space ship flying again involves sailing out on a rocky alien ocean and waiting to get struck by lightning. Which, for a dad who has almost lost his entire family like in every episode of the previous season, this plan — his wife’s plan — is just too damn dangerous.
I love this. As a dad who sometimes (okay often) runs into the other room just because my toddler has made a noise, I totally sympathize with John Robinson’s extreme form of outer space helicopter parenting. There’s a pervasive stereotype that suggests that all dads are a little bit more footloose and fancy-free and moms are more uptight. Lost in Space doesn’t consistently flip this the other way, but instead, assigns the occasional helicopter parenting temptations to both John and Maureen, equally. While John is inflexible at the beginning of this season and unwilling to leave the planet, later in the season, Maureen has to deal with letting her young son Will become his own person, despite her desire to keep him somewhat infantilized. Elsewhere in the season Maureen’s teenager daughter Penny calls-her-out on withholding affection because Penny doesn’t live-up to what Maureen expects of her other children. This is smart writing because even though we know Maureen and John are good parents — they’re keeping their kids safe from killer robots, and occasionally, the deliciously evil Parker Posey as “Dr. Smith” — but they sometimes aren’t great parents.
Instead, unlike sitcom parents, or movie parents, or TV parents who are played by famous actors, or TV parents who have been in just too many damn seasons of a show to seem legit, John and Maureen are literally the most realistic and relatable parents on any new TV show. When they bicker it’s real. When they agree, it’s not a revelation, it’s just two people doing the necessary work to make their marriage work, and to raise their kids. And throughout all ten episodes of the new series, the notion that they are having to let go of their children is brutally depicted. Nothing bad or tragic happens to this family, to be clear. That’s part of the appeal of Lost in Space; it’s a “safe” show you can easily watch with your grade-school-aged kids. It’s not dark and gritty, at least not when it comes to the actual stuff that happens.
But, if you want to talk about feelings, this is your show. What John and Maureen go through is real, and relatable. Which is why that first episode is so good. The idea of turning a spaceship into a sailing ship, and then hoping it gets struck by lighting to jumpstart an alien hyperdrive is pretty fucking stupid. It’s like the plot of Back to the Future mashed-up with Waterworld. And yet, if you’re a parent trying to make ends meet, and meet the needs of your family, this is exactly what it feels like. Every day you wake up, unprepared for the torrent of shit you have to deal with, but then, you rally and do it anyway. And sometimes that means you want your kids never to leave your sight.
The great thing with Lost in Space is it presents John and Maureen’s helicopter parenting as a natural impulse they have to curb. They’re not bad people because they get overprotective. They’re just real parents trying to get to Alpha Centauri. And though many of us have more realistic and terrestrial goals, it’s all pretty much the same thing. We’re all John Robinson, a dad singing Steve Miller off-key, trying to do his best, even when we’re at our worst.
Lost in Space season 2 is streaming now on Netflix