Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TV's Lost in Space, Part 4: The 50th Anniversary — What To Watch

It was fifty years ago today that Lost in Space made its television premiere on CBS, and in a year chock-full of momentous events — the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the march on Selma, the assassination of Malcolm X, the establishment of Medicare, and lots of great new Beatles music — the premiere of Lost in Space was probably the most memorable.

Or at least it's the one I'm writing about.

I didn't see the premiere — my devotion to the show began during its first years of syndication, about five years later — but still, pretty exciting.

And at last, all 84 episodes of Lost in Space are available on Blu-Ray, fully-restored and remastered with documentaries, interviews, a cast read-through of Bill Mumy's reunion script, and much, much more. Heee wackity do!

I assume most of you pre-ordered your set and are ripping the cellophane off the packaging even as you're reading this, planning to watch the entire series in single three-day marathon sitting. And who can blame you? But for the rest of you, maybe you don't know the series that well or — is it possible? — have never seen it at all, and would prefer to dip your toe into the shallow end of the pool, watching a few select episodes for free (with limited commercial interruption) on Hulu.

Whatever your plans, here's a list that might help you decide where to start (click on the title to watch the episode):

Not really a miniseries, of course, but interconnected chapters of one storyline, these five episodes take us from the initial liftoff through the family's first few months on an uncharted planet. Along the way, you'll discover how the Robinsons got lost in the first place, how they reacted to their first close encounter with an alien species, and how the show's best known characters, the villainous Dr. Smith and his odd-couple sidekick, the Robot, came to be on board. Featuring all the best set pieces from the unaired pilot, if you're new to the series or just looking to skim the cream off the top, this is a good place to start.
The Reluctant Stowaway
The Derelict
Island in the Sky
There Were Giants in the Earth
The Hungry Sea

My Friend, Mr. Nobody — A rare episode that centers on Penny (Angela Cartwright), this is a poignant fairy tale about a lonely little girl and her not-so-imaginary imaginary friend. The sort of thing Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone excelled at.

Wish Upon a Star — Filled with the first season's signature elements, this is a top-notch morality tale about the dangers of getting everything you want, featuring wonderfully weird expressionistic cinematography, unexplained alien artifacts, the harsh reality of frontier living and Dr. Smith's self-absorbed jack-ass-ery.

The Space Croppers — A family of shiftless space hillbillies (led by Oscar-winner Mercedes McCambridge) cultivate a carnivorous crop that threatens to devour the Robinsons. This was the series' first full-blown foray into WTF. It wouldn't be the last.

The Prisoners of Space — In this, the best episode of the worst season, a menagerie of alien creatures put the Robinsons on trial for violating the laws of outer space. Kafka with monsters.

Revolt of the Androids — A couple of androids drop in on the Robinsons, Dr. Smith hatches a get-rich-quick scheme, and human sentimentality wins the day. This one did at least spawn the catchphrase "Crush! Kill! Destroy!"

The Questing Beast — So many to choose from, among them "The Space Vikings", "Mutiny in Space", "Curse of Cousin Smith", etc. Here, Penny befriends a papier-mâché dragon that is being hunted by a bumbling knight in King Arthur's armor. How can something so campy be so boring?

The Anti-Matter Man — An experiment gone wrong transports Professor Robinson into a parallel dimension where he meets his own evil self. The scenery is summer stock by way of Dr. Caligari, and Guy Williams, having the most fun as an actor since Zorro, gets to chew on all of it. Great stuff, and for those philistines among you who won't touch black-and-white, the best of the color episodes.

Visit to a Hostile Planet — Season three was wildly uneven, but at least it was trying, leavening genuine science fiction with campy comedy. Here, the Robinsons finally make it back to Earth only to discover it's 1947 and everyone thinks they're hostile, alien invaders. A cross between Star Trek and Dad's Army. Good stuff.

The Great Vegetable Rebellion — Featuring a giant talking carrot played by Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones of Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles"), this is, in the words of Bill Mumy, "probably the worst television show in primetime ever made." So bad, it's good, this is gloriously awful must-see tv.

Follow the Leader — The spirit of a dead alien warrior possesses Professor Robinson and turns this warm, rational man into a vicious, unpredictable bastard. Dark, moody, occasionally terrifying, pop-culture critic John Kenneth Muir called this episode a parable of "alcoholism in the nuclear family." One of the series' very best.

One of Our Dogs Is Missing — Although set in 1997, the show usually ignored the fact that Betty Friedan was already a household name by 1965, but here June Lockhart gets to show her chops when Maureen is left in charge of the ship while the men are away. Threats abound and she handles them all with brains, bravery and quiet resolve.

Condemned of Space — I've already mentioned "The Hungry Sea" and "The Anti-Matter Man", so I'll go with this one where the Robinsons are captured by a prison spaceship and Major West winds up hanging by his thumbs on an electronic rack. Admittedly, he had more lines in "The Space Primevals" and "Fugitives in Space", but both of those episodes suck. With Marcel Hillaire as a charming murderer who strangles his victims with a string of pearls.

Attack of the Monster Plants — As daughter Judy, Marta Kristen rarely got a chance to shine but here she showed off a saucy bite as her own evil doppelgänger. Like much of season one, there's a dream-like quality to the mood and cinematography that papers over some of the episode's nuttier flights of fancy.

A Change of Space — As the series' true hero, there are a lot of Will-centered episodes to choose from — "Return from Outer Space", "The Challenge", "Space Creature", among others — but I'll go with this one in which Will takes a ride in an alien space ship and winds up with the most brilliant mind in the galaxy. And still his father doesn't take him seriously! This is one of those episodes that underscores my contention that not all of the trouble Will found himself in was of Dr. Smith's making.

The Magic Mirror — Well, the second best, and like the previously-mentioned "My Friend, Mr. Nobody", this is a poignant fairy tale about coming of age on the final frontier. Here, Penny falls through a magic mirror into a dimension with a population of one — a boy (Michael J. Pollard) who promises she'll never have to grow up. Beautiful and bittersweet.

Time Merchant — Let's be honest, from best to worst, they were all Dr. Smith episodes. Originally, I planned to pick the episode where Smith isn't a colossal dick, but it turns out there isn't one, so instead I went with this one, an inventive and visually-Daliesque time travel story that poses the question, "What if Smith hadn't been on the show in the first place?"

War of the Robots — The first episode where the Robot crosses over from a mere machine, no matter how clever, into a fully-conscious Turing-Test artificial intelligence. Featuring Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot. If Will was the show's hero, and Smith its plot-driving irritant, the Robot was its soul. See also "The Ghost Planet", "The Wreck of the Robot", "Trip Through the Robot", "The Mechanical Men", "Flight into the Future", "Deadliest of the Species", "Junkyard in Space".

The Challenge — A lot to choose from — among those I haven't mentioned, Warren Oates, Werner Klemperer, Kym Karath, Strother Martin, Wally Cox, Francine York, John Carradine, Daniel J. Travanty, Lyle Waggoner, Edy Williams, Arte Johnson — but I'm going with Kurt Russell who plays a young prince from a warrior planet trying to prove to his father (Michael Ansara) that he's worthy of his trust, respect and love. A good story about father-son relationships, plus Guy Williams gets to show off the fencing skills that earned him the title role as Disney's Zorro.

Invaders from the Fifth Dimension — The cyclops ("There Were Giants in the Earth") is the most iconic, the "bubble creatures" ("The Derelict") the most outré, but I'm going with the mouthless, disembodied heads from this one. Stranded while visiting from another dimension, they need a brain to replace a burned-out computer component and notice Will has a pretty good head on his shoulders. So they task Dr. Smith with bringing it to them on a metaphorical plate. The show would recycle this plotline over and over but the first time out of the box, it feels fresh. Plus their spaceship is cooler than anything Star Trek ever served up.

The Keeper, Parts One and Two — The only two-parter during the show's run, this one stars Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) as an intergalactic zookeeper looking for two new specimens for his exhibit — Will and Penny! Coming at the midpoint of season one, this was the high watermark of the show's original (serious) concept of a family struggling to survive in a hostile environment. After this, the camp crept in with mixed results.

Hope you watch at least one episode of Lost in Space. If you do, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 14, 2015

TV's Lost in Space, Part 3: An Appreciation Beyond Nostalgia

Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the network premiere of Lost in Space. To celebrate, I'm posting a series of essays including this one which is brand spanking new.

When, lo these many months ago, I first began this series of essays about Lost in Space, it was mostly from nostalgia, revisiting a show that I loved as a kid. And I've enjoyed the effort.

But in the long run, pure nostalgia has little purchase on my brain, else I'd be raving now about Nanny and the Professor. The question is whether Lost in Space holds up now, viewed with adult eyes — and more to the point, your eyes.

It depends, of course.

If your measuring stick is so-called serious science fiction, Star Trek, say, you're almost certain to be disappointed. Although the two are often yoked together — they both aired in the mid-1960s — Star Trek and Lost in Space were in fact conceived as very different shows, mining wholly separate veins to tell different kinds of stories.

At its best, Lost in Space was a fairy tale filled with monsters, magical devices and moral lessons wrapped up in a vaguely science fiction setting. Other times, it was a slapstick comedy featuring a transgressive psychopath and a wisecracking, passive-aggressive robot — Red Dwarf by way of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. And the rest of the time, it was a traditional television Western with gunfights, frontier hardships and passing troublemakers (riding rockets instead of horses) in an outer space situated somewhere between Dodge City and the Big Dipper.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Rod Serling, who defined science fiction as "the improbable made possible" and fantasy as "the impossible made probable," made a fortune writing in both genres. The point is to tell a good story and if in the process you can peel back the bark of polite society to reveal the human truth underneath, then you've really got something. Fairy tales endure because they allow us to confront our darkest fears — death, failure, loneliness — at a comfortable, magical remove.

For example, "My Friend, Mr. Nobody", about Penny's not-so-imaginary imaginary friend, is at its heart a poignant story of childhood loneliness and the struggle for purpose and relevance. "Wish Upon a Star" uses an unexplained alien artifact that grants every wish to explore the impact of greed on a group's sense of community and individual responsibility. And "Follow the Leader", a story ostensibly about Professor Robinson's possession by a hostile alien spirit, becomes a somber, frightening parable of "alcoholism in the nuclear family."

These stories, along with many others, used elements commonly associated with fantasy to say something true about basic human experiences such as family, community, courage, survival, sexism, and even death.

Admittedly, Lost in Space wasn't, shall we say, well-grounded in scientific accuracy. It was the sort of show that thought a radio telescope is a telescope with a radio on it. Nor did anyone seem to consider whether building an interstellar ship to transport but a single family made much sense. Generally, we prefer to clothe out scientific impossibilities — warp drives, light sabers, dinosaur clones, liquid metal terminators — in the garb of plausible mumbo jumbo.

But scientific plausibility, I contend, is beside the point. I mean, have you gone back and watched an episode of The Twilight Zone recently?

A greater stumbling block for many is Dr. Smith, the most famous — infamous — character on this or any other show. He was lazy, whiny, selfish, conniving, an all-around irritant. But might I suggest that instead of running away from Smith, you should embrace him as television's first true anti-hero.

Think about it. Long before The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter or any of the other truly bad men of television's new Golden Age, indeed, at a time when Hollywood was only just beginning to shed the strictures of the Production Code, a major network built a show — a family show, mind you — around a villain who week-in and week-out plotted to murder, kidnap, betray, ransom and otherwise sell out the series' ostensible heroes. And he never received his comeuppance. There was no precedent for him.


"Of all the many myriad characters that I have played in my life," Jonathan Harris said later, "he surely is my favorite. I like to feel that I would never in a million years have done what he did," but then added with a twinkle, "Maybe. You never know."

Still, context is everything and as you watch Smith do his nefarious thing every week, you have to ask yourself why the other characters put up with him.

The Robot's relationship with Dr. Smith, I think we instinctively get. They're Abbott and Costello, a wisecracking odd couple who fundamentally loathe each other but can't function apart. "He was my alter ego," Harris said, "and he was wise to me and a danger to me. Always calling him those dreadful alliteratives to keep him down so he wouldn't expose me."

Will's relationship with Smith is a bit harder to explain. While no responsible parent would allow a ten year old to run around with a middle-aged man of such dubious moral character, I certainly don't agree with those weisenheimers who've joked that Smith was an intergalactic pedophile. Nor do I wholly agree with Bill Mumy's assessment of Will as "young enough to be naive and manipulated." Nobody's that gullible, especially not a kid as bright as Will Robinson.

No, personally, I think that while Will was smart, honest, brave and resourceful — "smarter than the adults," Mumy said — he was also recklessly adventurous, and far from being Smith's pliable dupe, he (perhaps unwittingly) sought Smith out as a scapegoat for all the trouble he'd be getting into anyway.

"[He] knows he's got the answer that they don't," Mumy said, "and is he going to sneak out and save their butts or is he going to stay in like dad says and let everybody get messed up?"

That's why we put up with this odd relationship — we know that Will wants it's that way.

Less explicable is why the rest of the Robinsons put up with Smith. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me once a week for three straight years and that's just pathological. Maybe their willingness to overlook his repeated attempts to screw them over was meant as a sly commentary on society's tendency to pay lip service to simple virtues while rewarding psychopathic behavior.

How better to explain Donald Trump?

"Lost in Space's vision of a totally ill-prepared family blasting into space with a demented egomaniac along for the ride," wrote Hugo-award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders, "is intrinsically subversive, when compared to more militaristic (or professionalized) views of space exploration. Basically, Lost in Space is the apotheosis of camp — and it's a gloriously weird vision of our future among the stars."

Indeed, in 1968, the American Council for Better Broadcasts complained "the show is marked by violence, greed, selfishness, trickery and a disregard for accepted values!"

No wonder I like it so much.

But will you like it? Ultimately, your willingness to embrace — or at least tolerate — the campy aspects of what television historian James Van Hise called "TV's first science fiction sitcom" will determine whether you'll enjoy more than a handful of episodes.

Camp is deceptively easy to write and almost impossible to pull off. It's based on a broadly winking compact between the performer and the audience that not only does nothing on the screen really matter but also that we're fools for ever thinking it did. Done well, camp can deconstruct a genre to reveal the eternal human truths underneath and make us laugh in self-recognition. But done poorly, as unfortunately it most often is, the result is an undercooked dish of lazy contempt that's hard to swallow.

The byplay between Smith and the Robot was often brilliant and when served up as a counterpoint to the more serious scenes — check out the aforementioned "Follow the Leader" or the third season episode "The Anti-Matter Man" to see what I mean — the comedy could punch up what might otherwise play as earnest, stodgy or worse, ludicrous. But as much as the writers tried, you couldn't build entire episodes around it, any more than you can build a song on nothing but a drum solo.

The problem was not that the series got campy, the problem is that the writers got lazy — I mean, seriously, an episode starring a talking carrot? Come on! — and Irwin Allen, who was at heart a kid with a sweet tooth for schlock, let them get away with it.

Still, it made for decent ratings — finishing in the top 35 in each of its three seasons (Star Trek never finished better than 52nd) — and fifty years later, the brilliant episodes are still brilliant, and the not-so-brilliant ones, well, Smith and the Robot at the very least make me laugh. That's more than good enough for me.

Somewhere between the start of this series back in March and part 3 here, I stopped seeing Lost in Space with the nostalgic eye of a boy and found myself appreciating it with the discerning eye of a grown man. Nostalgia is a double-edged sword, giving value to old ties and traditions, but robbing you of the pleasure of the moment you're living in (Christmas, anyone?). I'll miss the Lost in Space that played for so long in my less-than-perfect memory, but I welcome the pleasure I've felt at discovering something new, something that I missed the first time around.

Lost in Space isn't quite the series I remembered. But I've grown to love it again, in some ways more than I did before. Maybe, given a chance, you'll grow to love it, too.

Tomorrow: Part 4, What To Watch.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

TV's Lost in Space, Part 2: Never Fear, Smith Is Here (From Pilot to Airwaves)

September 15th is the fiftieth anniversary of the network premiere of the sci-fi classic television show, Lost in Space. In the days leading up to that anniversary, I'll be recycling a couple of old posts on the show and adding a couple of new ones.

Although CBS executives liked Lost in Space enough to put it on 1965's Fall schedule, producer Irwin Allen made two major additions to the show that would radically change the trajectory of the series.

The first was a piece of hardware, a "model B-9 environmental control robot" to survey the new world. The Robot, as it came to be known, was a request of the network which rightly thought, What's science fiction without a robot? Robert Kinoshita, who had created Robby the Robot for Forbidden Planet, designed it, Bob May climbed inside the costume every week and Dick Tufeld added the voice. (See a nice series of interviews about the Robot here.)

The second addition was that of Dr. Zachary Smith, a saboteur, unintentional stowaway and the Robinsons' chief nemesis.

Smith came at the suggestion of the newly-hired story editor, Tony Leader, who noted that the pilot lacked any discernible conflict. Without a villain, the series risked falling into what Leader dubbed a "monster of the week" format.

"[W]e realized we really needed that irritant within the family," said the pilot's co-author, Shimon Wincelberg. "Someone who would get others into trouble, and that's where Dr. Smith came in."

Cast to play Smith was character actor Jonathan Harris, a 15-year veteran of stage and television. Born in the Bronx to Jewish-Russian immigrants, Harris earned a pharmacy degree at Fordham University but chose to pursue acting instead.

Irwin Allen offered Harris the part, sight unseen, on the strength of his work on the television series The Third Man which starred Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still).

"I was ushered into 'the presence,'" Harris said later, describing his first meeting with Irwin Allen, "and there he was behind a huge desk surrounded by a group of his 'retainers' — also known as 'yes men' in the industry — and it was very strange, it was the wildest way to get a job that I'd ever experienced. He said, 'Do you want to be in the series?' And I said, 'Well, I don't know — I haven't read a script.' And Irwin said, 'Somebody give him a script!' Somebody did ... Then he said, 'You know we did a pilot and you weren't in it.' I said, 'And?' He said, 'Now you're in it!'"

Since the rest of the cast had already been signed, Harris was relegated to last place in the credits, a situation that didn't sit well with the experienced actor until he came up with the idea of a weekly "Special Guest Star" billing, an industry first. Harris received this unique billing for every one of the 83 episodes of the show's three-year run.

Allen and his team also made several other changes as the process went on — commissioning "Johnny" Williams (who would later win five Oscars for scoring such movies as Jaws and Star Wars) to write a proper theme and score; tweaking the ship's design and redubbing it the Jupiter 2; changing Don West from a scientist to a pilot; shortening the flight time to Alpha Centauri from 98 to five-and-a-half years; adding a voice-over narration and a weekly cliffhanger ending, etc.

Inserting the new cast members and the other changes into the Robinson's origin story rendered the pilot as written unuseable. But having already spent $600,000, an astronomical sum at that time, Allen was determined to reuse as much of the original footage as possible.

The solution was to build a separate episode around each of the special effects set pieces — the liftoff, the meteor storm, the crash landing, the cyclops, the monsoon — and then fit Smith and the Robot into the narrative, explaining away their absence at key moments. The original pilot's co-author, Shimon Wincelberg, wrote the teleplay for the new opener and outlined what would become the first five episodes.

The series' new five-part backstory opens on October 16, 1997, with the Robinson family and their pilot Don West preparing to blastoff on a five-and-a-half year voyage to colonize the Alpha Centauri star system. A saboteur, Dr. Smith, is trapped on board during liftoff, and when the mission's environmental control robot goes berserk, the ship becomes hopelessly lost in space.

After an encounter with what appears to be a derelict space ship, the Jupiter 2 crash lands on an uncharted world. There, the family struggles to survive in the new world's hostile environment, battling giants, earthquakes, raging seas — all the special effects menaces the original pilot threw at them and few more to boot.

Throughout, Smith butts heads with the Robinsons, attempting on more than one occasion to kill the family and hijack the ship, only to grudgingly realize that his survival is inextricably linked to theirs.

(In order the five episodes are: The Reluctant Stowaway; The Derelict; Island in the Sky; There Were Giants in the Earth; and The Hungry Sea. Click the title to see them free on Hulu.)

If the original pilot lacked a conflict — other than what pop culture critic John Kenneth Muir recently summed up as the series' "one core concept: the pioneer spirit" — the writers who refashioned the origin story went about creating conflicts galore.

What's more, the conflicts arise not just from external sources — the Robinsons against Dr. Smith or the Robinsons against the elements — but from within the group itself. Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) and Major West (Mark Goddard), as the scientist and military man, respectively, each bring skills to the table that make them uniquely qualified to lead the group, but also leave them with blind spots that could get everyone killed.

"You're in no position to give orders," Robinson tells West.

"Oh, but you are?" West says. "It's too bad there isn't judgment to go along with that self-confidence."

When the tension between the two finally comes to a full boil, each proves to be both right and wrong, a refreshing ambiguity the series could have further exploited but didn't.

Particularly gratifying is the effort the writers made to bring June Lockhart's Maureen Robinson to the fore and give her something to do other than — as was literally shown in the original pilot — just washing clothes.

"Don't you have an opinion?" she snaps at her husband when the group is debating whether to return to earth or press on.

"No, I don't," he says. "Not until we've checked every component inside out and know exactly how we stand."

"And then?"

"And then I'll let the computer make the final decision."

"And will the computer also take into consideration a man's love and concern for his family? Or has all that been put into cold storage for the duration?"

Later when the Professor's line breaks during a space walk, it's Maureen who suits up and rescues him.

"Lost in Space tends not to be remembered by fans for such triumphs," (Muir again) "perhaps because much of the time Maureen is also depicted engaging in stereotypically 'female' duties: doing the laundry and making dinner. That’s a shame, because there are incidents, peppered throughout the series, when the Robinson matriarch steps out of the 'subservient' wife figure and acts courageously, responsibly and with more than a little bit of ingenuity."

The retrofit was seamless and nearly every minute of the pilot wound up in the series. The characters are interesting, the story exciting and the special effects — those from the original pilot plus a terrific new sequence involving the derelict alien ship — are excellent.

The result plays as a stand-alone mini-series, the only time other than the two-part "Keeper" episode where the events of one episode affected the episode after it.

Pretty much the only person unhappy with the tone of the opening episodes was the actor playing the single-most interesting character in them.

"[Smith] was written as a deep-dyed snarling villain," Harris said, "and he bored the sh*t out of me — because there is no longevity in deep-dyed snarling villainy."

Deep-dyed snarling villainy is right! Wincelberg had envisioned Smith as a literal heavy (to be played by Carroll O'Connor, later of All in the Family) and before the opening credits of the very first episode have begun, Smith kills an armed guard and programs the Robot to destroy the spaceship with all hands aboard.

Hey, it could have been worse — Wincelberg originally had him killing a little girl!

"He knew from the very beginning," Bill Mumy said last year in an interview for the Archive of American Television, "that this snarling, nefarious spy/saboteur would be old quick, that the audience would just want to see him killed off. So he very quickly started turning the character into a comedic kind of Dr. Smith that we all love to hate."

"A series means you get paid every week," Harris explained. "That's very, very important."

Harris had made a career specializing in comedic villains, and he immediately set about transforming the character into something more to his liking.

"I would be called into Jonathan's trailer," Mumy said. "Jonathan would say, 'Let's go over the scene, I've changed all the dialogue!' And he did! He single-handedly created the character of Dr. Smith."

The changes came quickly. In the second episode, Smith first displays his cowardly horror of all things alien. In the third episode, we first see Smith's childish temper. By the fourth episode, Harris was playing him as lazy, effete and not above using children as human shields. In the fifth episode, he began bantering with the Robot, a byplay that would provide the foundation of the show's most enduring relationship.

"He became a funny character, the kind of guy who would say, 'let's you and he fight — I'll hold your coat,'" said Carey Wilber who wrote seven episodes of Lost in Space but who might be better remembered for scripting the character of Khan for an episode of Star Trek.

Irwin Allen soon confronted Harris about the changes he was making to his character. "I know what you're doing," he said, wagging a finger in the actor's face. "Do more!"

"And I did!" Harris said.

"He's the only actor I ever worked with on any show," Mumy said, "who had carte blanche — producer's approval — to write all his dialogue."

With that kind of license, coupled with an ability valued on a weekly television show to turn out scene after scene in a single take, Harris took over the show.

I can't blame either Harris or Allen. Television characters, like water, find their own level. Smith was what the fans wanted to see and Allen, in the business to turn a profit, was happy to oblige them. Like baseball in Bull Durham, acting may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job.

"I loved that character," Harris said. "Of all the many, myriad characters I have played in my life, he surely is my favorite."

Many take as an article of faith that Harris ruined the show with his campy clowning, but that's a lazy kind of faith and, like Lost in Space itself, long overdue for a reevaluation.

The fact is, as much as I loved (and still love) the straight sci-fi adventure aspects of the series, fifty years later it's the comedic villainy of Dr. Smith and his long-running verbal jousts with that mechanical Jiminy Cricket, the Robot, that the culture has chosen to remember.

That's not nothing, that's a classic.

Tomorrow: Part 3, An Appreciation Beyond Nostalgia.