It is well-known amongst those within my social circles that I am no stranger to science fiction. You may have read my critically acclaimed essay “Coming of Age and Gender Roles in Ender’s Game”. I also like Star Wars. After having watched the first episode of the Netflix original series Lost in Space, I will say this; the show is pretty good. It follows the time-honored story tropes of the genre; the chief catastrophe is a spaceship crash, as frequent an occurrence in sci-fi as space flights. The family of protagonists is so absurdly calculating and scientific it makes the family harder to empathize with. Luckily for Lost in Space, the acting and the solid family writing overcomes that and makes their dynamic the most gratifying part of the show. As GameSpot writer Michael Rougeau says in his review of the show, “What makes Lost in Space a true binge is not the moment-to-moment drama. It’s the characters and the talented actors who portray them.” And he’s right; every time begins to veer into the off-putting child genius a la Charles Wallace in spring’s A Wrinkle in Time, actor Max Jenkins gives his character Will Robinson new depth as he wrestles with his place on the crew and his struggles with fear in high-pressure situations.
The family dynamics also tend to buck the conventions of the genre. As I mentioned before, the family is absurdly calculating and scientific, as sci-fi protagonists often are. But they do an excellent job of adding more mundane, believable interactions between the members that help to ground them firmly in our world; we can see our own spats with our siblings as Mina Sundwall’s Penny and Taylor Russell’s Judy argue over comms as Judy is stuck in an icy lake. Rougeau puts it best; “The Robinsons aren’t the vanilla nuclear family you remember from the original…Their bonds are messy and complex, which is much more interesting.”
One show that does less to buck conventions is the Netflix original Godless. While it is no doubt an excellent example of the Western genre the film seems mostly content to stick to the conventions of the genre; tiny, dusty towns dot the sweeping desert landscape; bad man in black hats terrorize these towns, resisted by men in white hats. There is a bit of revisionism however; women are granted far more agency in Godless than they did in old west classics like Stagecoach. The show is often billed as a “feminist western” (although the show’s creator denies that, saying that as he is a man, he cannot be a feminist spokesperson and can only honor the women he had read about). Scott Frank writes for Rolling Stone that “much of the action takes place in the literal no-man’s-land of La Belle, a town run almost entirely by women courtesy of a silver-mine collapse that killed off their husbands.” He further points out that this female-run town hearkens back to revisionist westerns like the fantastic McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
But such a setting can do only so much for the show; the protagonists are still supported by a benevolent Native American stereotype, and nearly all the male characters in the show seem to be doing some version of either John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn or Clint Eastwood’s man with no name. They’re gruff, hyper-masculine outlaws and lawmen, and while Sophie Gilbert says for The Atlantic that “rather than endorse these motifs, Godless leads viewers to interrogate them,” they are present nonetheless and do little more to challenge what has already been challenged in the western by the likes of seminal classics like Unforgiven.
One show that is less a subversion of genre and more a hybridization of genre is the horror-comedy Santa Clarita Diet. While mashing up horror and comedy is nothing new (Young Frankenstein came out almost 45 years ago, do you feel old yet?) this show does an excellent job of maintaining the humdrum of everyday life down to the banal office conversations with one minor exception; Drew Barrymore is a zombie. Or rather her character is, but in all honesty the effect is the same; Barrymore capably plays the silly, airheaded ditz we frequently see her as in her Adam Sandler rom-coms. While the show is billed as a horror-comedy, the first episode at least remains quite firmly in the comedy realm; except for two disgusting scenes, one of Barrymore chewing off Nathan Fillion’s fingers and the surprisingly worse one being Barrymore projectile vomiting all over a house she is supposed to be selling, the film holds a very lighthearted, fun tone about a woman learning to love life and connect with her daughter in new and meaningful ways like buying a Land Rover. Jacob Oller in his review for Past Magazine likens it to another show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that it follows the latter’s “method of surrounding its dark, psychologically- or physically-upsetting narrative turns with hyper-sunny aesthetics, saturating each shot with catalogue color even when the gore flies. It’s as if the traffic-discussing members of the Saturday Night Live skit ‘The Californians’ were in a Saw movie.” And it is funny; my favorite funny scene was the Super Troopers-esque spat between a member of the sheriff’s department and the local police officer that Barrymore and crew get caught between near the beginning of the show. It’s stupid silly banter that perfectly contrasts the stupid silly murder that ends the episode.