While Netflix has gleefully constructed new genres in order to dictate taste, the service has also offered up two particularly interesting television programs, Godless and Lost in Space. While Godless isn’t the feminist western that it’s marketing promised and Lost in Space a reboot of a brand that had a movie starring Joey from Friends (Matt Leblanc), both of these shows do something interesting in terms adhering to genre standards as well as examining them.
Starting with Godless, we have the standard gang of outlaws, a mustached marshal, a hotshot quick draw Roy Goode, a stubborn widow, and a bunch of townsfolk that are at risk from the brutality of the Old West. Only here the premise is a little different, the town of La Belle is comprised of nearly all women after a mining accident killed practically all the men. This story detail was heavily marketed in the promotional materials and was part of the reason why people construed this miniseries as the feminist western it’s clearly not as the much of the show focuses on the handful of male characters. Yet to take a critical eye to the Western genre, it makes sense that masculinity would be at the forefront of the program as it has always been. For one, the rugged individual, particularly the rugged man that normally fills this role, is a staple to the genre and one that Godless presents a few criticisms of in the face of senseless killing and death. Displays of blazing gunfire leave citizens dead in the dust, something that has been particularly worshipped in the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, with their distinct and cool visual style. Instead, Godless opts for a different type of sentimentality, that life doesn’t actually come cheap in the Old West.
Lost in Space was also highly interesting with its premise of a family trying to survive the cold reaches of space together. Anyone who’s seen even seen one of the Alien movies knows how this usually doesn’t end well for a ship’s crew let alone an entire household. After the Robinson’s crash land on a frozen tundra and their situation turns from bad to worse, the viewer comes to understand that the drama at hand isn’t due to just the unfortunate circumstances, but the tension between a family that is anything but perfect. This isn’t the sunny 1950’s version of a nuclear household; it’s a family that’s had to deal with an absent father struggling to reconnect with his kids and a mother willing to do anything to keep a family together, whether that be breaking ethical codes or putting herself at risk. The peril here becomes a larger metaphor for the internal fights that reside in each member of the Robinson family as Judy’s audaciousness as well as sacrifice for Will, gets her frozen in ice, forcing the family the dig her out as the conditions worsen. Will’s own confrontation with the mysterious life form mirrors his anxieties about not being understood by his family and his father’s abandonment of him. The Robinson’s here aren’t the ragtag crew of Alien’s “Nostromo” but a family very much in need of confronting their relational problems as danger pursues them. We want them to succeed and to survive but at the end of the day, this family has issues to work out amongst themselves. Without a home, the non-location of space allows us to further examine the dynamics of a family as any supposed normalcy has gone out the window, or to be more accurate, has been sucked through a wormhole.