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Lost in Space: Season One

CBS's Lost in Space premiered on Sept. 15, 1965, the same evening viewers witnessed the debut of Green Acres. (The era that also pushed Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Mr. Ed up the popularity charts proved that a typical TV production contract came with no inanity clause. Just saying.) For three television seasons, Irwin Allen's "Space Family Robinson" beamed to rabbit-ear antennas every old sci-fi chestnut and boilerplate bromide in the stock room. During its first season of 29 hour-long, black-and-white adventures, Lost in Space pitted Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Billy Mumy, Jonathan Harris, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, and of course the Robot against zipperback monsters and trite histrionics ripped whole from the previous generation's trashy pulp zines.

Sure, Lost in Space was broad-gauge, simpleminded malarkey aimed primarily at children. Yet like a favorite sugary cereal from our youth, today its quaint silliness still delivers a Memory Lane rush for nostalgia-hungry Boomers, especially technophilic devotees who've graduated from Aurora plastic model kits to TiVos. The series' original target audiences now possess the disposable income that makes an eight-disc DVD boxed set a cheery container of Sugar Pops memories evoking afternoons sprawled on the floor with elbows on the rug and chin in hands. There we waited for the Robot to intone "That does not compute" and for our surrogate-self, Will Robinson, to face down another galactic baddie or save unscrupulous Dr. Smith from his own foolhardy self-interest. (Re Dr. Smith: a murderous, traitorous saboteur becoming the memorable comic favorite in a children's show must be a TV first.) It mattered not a whit that the "sci" in its sci-fi was lamebrain crap, and the fi was no great shakes either. These skiffy yarns were our wholesome pre-pubescent fairy tales that, like the Greek dramas, came peopled with archetypes of human behavior playing out our primal fears and desires. If, starting in '66, big brother sneered as he pushed us aside to switch from CBS to NBC's new curiosity, Star Trek, by then our readiness for hardier fare had been awakened by the first moment we wondered what Judy Robinson was really like under her tinfoil space garb.

Now, nearly forty years later, if just seeing this silvery boxed set conjures up the phrases "Danger, Will Robinson!," "Never fear, Smith is here!," and "crush...kill...destroy," go with it as a harmless indulgence. On these DVDs we get the entire first season plus the unaired pilot episode "No Place to Hide," produced before the Robot and Dr. Smith were added to jolt some energy into the premise. Familiar guest stars on view include 15-year-old Kurt Russell, Michael "Klaatu" Rennie, Michael Ansara, Werner Klemperer, Warren Oates, Albert Salmi, and Forbidden Planet's Robbie the Robot. And yes, the composer of that catchy opening theme music is the same "Johnny" Williams who scored Star Wars in a later phase of his career. The first half-dozen episodes are straightforward B-movie adventure cliffhangers, then we're only on Disc 4 when the rising camp serves up titles such as "Attack of the Plant Monsters," and you have to smile at an episode synopsis that conjoins an oddball family of alien hillbillies, their pet werewolf, and fast-growing man-eating plants in the same sentence. In the two seasons that followed, the series went to color and grew ever more inane and formulaic.

All the same, starting here Lost in Space launched itself as a reliably enjoyable kids show, one that bottled its era's optimistic Space Age gee-whizness with a shabby charm that's still fun to decant now and then. For a generation (as Don McLean put it) lost in space, here's a trip back to Keds sneakers, Beatlemania, and Walter Cronkite at Cape Kennedy. And June Lockhart as the best mom ever.

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Fox Home Video has prepared a handsome eight-disc DVD set that delivers all 29 Season One eps plus the unaired pilot, all totaling a bit over 24 hours. (We can imagine the round-the-clock viewing marathons, accessorized with episode trivia quizzes and fueled by Penguin Mints, occurring at Fan Central HQs everywhere.) Only an Invader From The Fifth Dimension (episode 8) or a Sky Pirate (episode 18) would find anything to complain about here. The full-frame (1.33:1) b&w transfers are clean, bright, and sharp with strong DD 1.0 monaural audio (in English and Spanish options and subtitles). Episode 2, "The Derelict," looks a little worse for wear, being a little blemished, soft, and contrasty compared to the others, but that's the worst you can say about these unrestored but well-preserved prints.

Remove the paperboard slip-case to find each disc in its own Nexpak Thinpak case complete with episode synopses and original air dates. The set also includes the unintentionally amusing five-minute promotional film CBS made to push the series on affiliates.

—Mark Bourne

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