We gave it a B+
Plenty of great TV sitcoms have depended on the cruel fun of mocking an idiot. That’s why so many episodes of The Larry Sanders Show hinge on the borderline-nauseating inanities of second banana Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor).
But in the realm of sci-fi, the original Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) of CBS’ 1965-68 series Lost in Space was a genus unto himself — a sissified punching bag who wound up the star of the show. Tennessee Williams couldn’t have written a more florid Camille than Smith, whose queeny-equals-evil meddling plagues the space family Robinson and Maj. Don West (Mark Goddard), the Stanley Kowalski of that interstellar streetcar named Jupiter 2. And among the glut of tie-ins to the new movie, there’s no catchier hymn to the first Smith than Lost in Space: The Collector’s Edition
The first tape includes not only the show’s first episode, in which Smith stows away on the Robinsons’ space-colony-bound ship, but the pilot — which featured neither Smith nor his sidekick, the ”bubbleheaded booby” robot. While Smith may be tiresome, he’s a traffic accident that’s hard not to watch. The Smith-free Space pilot, however, is a traffic accident you can barely sit through. Without a villain, young Will Robinson (Billy Mumy) has nothing to do except look wide-eyed.
Producer-director Irwin Allen, who launched the Space pilot but then let more-competent folk handle the series, was so cheap that he folded almost all of the pilot into the early shows, a trick that’s amusing to trace in the new Episodes 1-3 and 4-6. It’s also a kick to hear the pilot’s Bernard Herrmann music, recycled mainly from The Day the Earth Stood Still, memorably rescored by future Star Wars composer John Williams when he was still being billed as ”Johnny.”
Of course, Lost in Space wasn’t Allen’s only cheesy foray into make-believe lands, and his career as a writer-director-producer gets a homegrown going-over in The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen. Coexecutive produced by Allen’s widow (he died in 1991), the retrospective is hosted by Space alumni Mumy and his TV mom June Lockhart, who preside over a surprisingly self-mocking mini-history of Space‘s downward spiral from semiserious black-and-white into total-camp color, not to mention plenty of bad-dialogue-laced clips from Allen-created TV misses like The Time Tunnel (1966-67) and Land of the Giants (1968-70) along with highlights of his career as a producer of such movies as The Poseidon Adventure (1972). For those disappointed that the ”real” Dr. Smith has no cameo in the new Space, never fear: Harris is here, hamming it up as he explains how he ”snuck” in his played-for-laughs characterization. It’s a garage-sale sort of affair that Allen himself would have admired. B+