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Take a bunch of random people, stick them on a space ship and make sure that they have no way of getting home any time soon, and definitely not without some level of discomfort and entertaining – to other people, of course – adventures. Yes, it’s a classic TV trope, and one that keeps producing greatness. Welcome to the five best lost-in-space shows.
Lost In Space
The original, and if not still the best, then definitely one that’s still pretty iconic decades later (Dr. Smith! Robbie the Robot! Those are things that stick with you, even if the rest of the show can seem more than a little hokey at times). Taking twists on both a Gold Key comic book and entirely-non-space-related novel The Swiss Family Robinson (Being shipwrecked in the East Indies was clearly too passe for the mid-1960s, with the space race making headlines in the real world), the CBS TV series ran three seasons between 1965 and 1968, and accidentally created a whole new genre: Spacewrecked television. Who knew what would follow?
Star Trek: Voyager
It’s no surprise that, as Star Trek kept spinning off new series in the 1990s, each one requiring a spin on the accepted formula, that a “starship lost” series would turn up. What is a surprise is that it’s stood the test of time as well as it has. At the time, it was often seen as the redheaded stepchild of the franchise – this was before Enterprise demonstrated how bad things could get – but I’d argue that there’s a lot more value in revisiting this series than there is The Next Generation, for example. Part of that comes from the ways in which the writers, many if not most Trek veterans by this point of their careers, worked to keep things fresh for themselves and subvert formulas, resulting in gleeful attempts to mess with viewers’ minds or run subplots throughout multiple episodes without an easy end after 45 minutes. Yes, Seven Of Nine overtook the show in later years, but in terms of spacewrecked series, this is worth revisiting.
Like Lost in Space, Red Dwarf was a series that almost accidentally ended up as a spacewrecked show, ending up with the formula as a way to update the “situation” part of this particular sitcom while keeping down costs and upping character interaction: Three men and a computer stuck on a spaceship after the potential end of humanity? It doesn’t get much better than that. Luckily, creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor did everything they could to make the formula work, including alternate realities, time travel and just plain throwing the formula away when it looked like it might get stale. For a sitcom that was barely even a science fiction show for its first couple of years, Red Dwarf ended up showing just what you can do within the lost-in-space genre without breaking it, and created a show so entertaining that you can even forgive their overuse of the word “smeg.”
Admittedly, destroying the characters’ homes and forcing them to go and find a new one seems like an extreme version of ensuring that your characters can’t just change their minds and skip home once they get bored, but it did lead to what might be the ultimate spacewrecked series – even if it’s better if you forget those last few episodes. BSG took the genre to new places, and suggested the realities that would follow if a society really did find itself adrift in space, separated from everything it had ever known. Deeply moving, deeply depressing, but one of the best science fiction stories from the last few years, BSG redefined a lot of SF cliches, and in doing so, demonstrated once again how much mileage you can get out of a simple story about people stuck in space with no easy way out.
SGU: Stargate Universe
I’m tempted to say that SGU was Voyager done right. While dark, it lacked (thankfully) the misanthropy and downright despair of Battlestar Galactica, while still giving weight and thought to what it would actually mean on a practical level to be in that kind of situation (What happens when you run out of fuel? Food? Parts to repair the spaceship? This was the first show that really took those subjects seriously, even moreso than BSG, I’d argue) and the loneliness of those trapped in a situation they never saw coming. It’s particularly sad that the series got cancelled without any resolution, because it robbed the characters of either getting home, or never getting the chance to. It left the viewers as powerless and lost as the characters… and that’s something that is never as much fun to feel as it is to watch.