Lost in Space

Magic Diversion

Our critic seeks relief from the pandemic in lost-in-space tales, among others

I spent March on the sofa with The Magicians (Netflix and Syfy). I was anxious, sleeping too much, barely functional — but watching the show let me feel all the things that felt too difficult in normal life.

One of the best things The Magicians does is face — full-on and sometimes with a musical number — the things we lose as we grow up. We lose ideas about who we were going to be, what life is about, what we’re capable or incapable of; we lose people we love and who love us, and we have to let go of illusions and sometimes dreams.

But so much is to be gained in the place of these things. Magic, maybe. A chosen family. Understanding, exploration and new ways of experiencing things. In the show’s world, magic comes from pain. What you do with that fact, that power, that pain, is what matters.

When I’m not engrossed in magic, I want to watch people having an extremely bad and stressful time in space. Nothing has proven as deliciously distracting as Lost in Space (Netflix), the reboot that shouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it is. Much of that is thanks to the cast, especially Molly Parker (Deadwood) and Toby Stephens (Black Sails), who give the strained Robinson parents gravitas and depth.

Everything that happens on this show is ludicrous. Parker Posey plays a con artist who gets away with everything. One episode takes place almost entirely in a sinking rover. In season two, the family sails their spaceship on a strange planet’s ocean. The robot (you know: “Danger, Will Robinson!”) makes friends with a horse. 

It’s perfect. I sometimes remind myself that at least I’m not floating through space in a chest freezer, crammed up against several other people. That’ll never happen to me. Thank fuck.

Also in the stressed-out-in-space genre: Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access), which you needn’t know anything about Star Trek to enjoy; the 2000s Battlestar Galactica, which tempts me with a third rewatch every time I remember it’s streaming on Syfy; and, for those of you who demand only the highest quality from your streaming hours, The Expanse (Amazon Prime). 

The Expanse is one of the best shows going, and its fifth season can’t get here soon enough. (There are eight novels with a ninth on the way, if five seasons of TV isn’t enough for you.) For all the very good space action sequences, it’s a character-based narrative at heart, and a story about how no matter how far into space we go, humanity cannot run away from its tendency to be terrible, selfish and destructive. But the flip side of that coin — the way we can also hang on to hope and want to make peace — is always with us, too. And just about everybody has a little bit of both sides in them.

Back here on Earth, Rami Malek deserved every award he won for his work in Mr. Robot (Amazon Prime & USA Network). Malek plays Elliot Alderson, a hacker who winds up going against a consortium of the world’s most powerful men. But that’s not even the half of it: Mr. Robot is about injustice, white collar crime, mental illness, capitalism, corruption, love, egotism, family, trauma, power and the lack of it, taking down the system, and a lot more. 

Few shows sustain the consistent, creative vision that showrunner Sam Esmail demonstrates over Mr. Robot’s four seasons. This story is always about Elliot, but it’s told through a shifting cast, some doing their very best work (Christian Slater!). Elliot is an unreliable narrator, and the show itself is unreliable, but it’s not a gimmick; it reflects Elliot’s existence with precision, terror and beauty. 

Last, have you watched Black Sails (Hulu)? No? Did it seem like Starz’s answer to Game of Thrones, but with pirates? Yeah. They kinda made it look like that.

But let me tell you a secret: Black Sails is both a Treasure Island prequel and a brilliant show about queer anti-colonialist pirates. The first season has some bumps, but when you get past those you will find a strikingly intelligent series that spotlights Toby Stephens at his furious best, some of the most complex women I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on screen, and, yes, Long John Silver and intense sea battles. Get on board. ν