In defense of Lost in Space's ''The Great Vegetable Rebellion,'' giant carrot man and all

Vegetables are good for you, even when they talk.

Lost in Space was well into its third and final season of production and Jonathan Harris, who played the conniving centerpiece of the show, Dr. Smith, was relaxing in his dressing room. There was a rap on his door. Peter Packer, one of the lead writers on the series and a close friend of Harris, poked his head in. Packer shamefully shuffled into the dressing room, holding something behind his back.

"What you got there?" Harris asked. The actor considered Packer to be the best writer working for Lost in Space.

"You won't like it," Packer said.

"Let me make the decision," Harris said. "What have you got there?"

Packer handed over a script. The front page read, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion." Harris found the title amusing and told his friend as much.

"You'll change your mind," Packer said.

In the last half-century since "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" originally aired, people have indeed changed their mind about the penultimate episode of Lost in Space. When TV Guide printed its 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time in the summer of 1997, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" ranked at No. 76 — five spots above Maverick's brilliant "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" and 16 spots above Star Trek's tragic-romantic classic "The City on the Edge of Forever." So, at some point, what is considered to be Lost in Space's weakest episode was held in higher esteem than what many consider Star Trek's greatest hour. At least in some critic's eyes.

The cast and crew of Lost in Space certainly did not hold the same opinion of the material. 

Mark Goddard stifles a smile.

Guy Williams and June Lockhart, the stars who played John and Maureen Robinson on the show, laughed throughout the filming of the episode. They couldn't even hide it from the camera. Williams stands snickering in several shots, averting his eyes from guest star Stanley Adams, who pranced around the fake foliage in a giant orange foam carrot costume. Mark Goddard, who played Major Don West, also seems to fight every urge to not break into laughter.

Penny dozes through most of the episode.

Angela Cartwright, a.k.a. Penny Robinson, is napping throughout the entire tale. For their insolent behavior, Williams and Lockhart were written out off the next two episode in production, "Fugitives in Space" and "Space Beauty," if you're wondering why their characters went missing.

Harris took the script home and read it that day Packer first delivered it. "It was a disaster," he said. Packer apologized to series creator and producer Irwin Allen. "I'm sorry," the writer said. "Do we have to do this one?" Allen blurted, "Sure, why not?" Packer confessed, "I've written myself out. I don't have another idea in my head."

Well, we respectfully disagree. Packer had ideas. A planet populated by sentient plants is an idea. A birthday party for a robot is an idea. Vines crying out in pain like electronic piccolos is an idea. A hippie with purple hair and lettuce heart is an idea. A giant fern attacking Will and Judy is an idea. Dr. Smith transmutating into a massive celery stalk is an idea. An eight-foot, anthropomorphic carrot clutching at his breast and crying "Moisture! Moisture!" before splashing water over his torso from a gas pump — that's an idea!

They are wacky, whimsical ideas, sure, but they are ideas. And we are here to defend them.

Moisture! Sweet moisture!

Would you nitpick the finer plot details of Scooby Doo, Where Are You! Would you question the scientific basis behind giant mutated turtles who skateboard and scarf pizza in the sewers? Did you click away from Grape Ape because gorillas are not really 40-feet-tall and purple in nature? No. Those were cartoons, for children. And by its third season, Lost in Space had evolved from a black-and-white sci-fi series inspired by 1950s cinema into a live-action cartoon. Following the colorful bootsteps of Batman, Lost in Space was camp. By the end of its run, Lost in Space was following the muse of The Jetsons, not Star Trek. (Though, Star Trek would go through similar changes in its third season, as demonstrated best by "Spock's Brain.")

Look at "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" as animation — and it has that same bright, bold, simple colors of animation — and it delights. So what if the controls for the steam mechanism is conveniently located directly beneath the Robinson's prison cell, and easily accessible by hatch? Is it any sillier than Cobra Commander installing a fat, red "SELF DESTRUCT" button in his secret base for his nemesis G.I. Joe to readily press?

We want this cake on our birthday.

The episode begins aboard the Jupiter 2 and sets the comical tone. The Robinsons are celebrating the "birthday" of the Robot. They even managed to find party decorations and silly hats stashed somewhere in the spacecraft. John Robinson sports a little sombrero. Maureen has baked a cake for a robot — who, we want to reiterate, is a robot that can not consume cake — and its even decorated with a model of B-9 made of frosting. The Robot wears wear a golden crown like he's at Burger King. How could that not make you smile? We're not going to deeply analyze the plot as some extended metaphor for getting children to eat healthily or a thinly veiled treatise on environmentalism. It's simply old-fashioned, sugary fun, something to pair with a bowl of Quisp on a Saturday morning.

While Williams, Lockhart and Cartwright visibly aired their contempt for the material, Harris and Adams leaned into the script with Shakespearean relish and chewed up the scenery like it was ants on a log for an after-school snack. James Millhollin, who played the purple-haired "Willoughby the Llama," was best known for stuffy bureaucratic types. He seemed to genuinely enjoy stepping out of his pigeonhole of befuddled middle-management to portray a crunchy hippie. Seeing professionals like Williams and Lockhart break is amusing, too. It humanizes them. In hindsight, it's a fascinating peek into the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the show.

Judy and Will face an angry fern.

For true connoisseurs of Lost in Space, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" gave Judy Robinson (Marta Kristen) her time to shine. In the hierarchy of Robinson adventures, Judy was often the forgotten third child, well behind Will, the true protagonist of the show, and the younger Penny. Judy uses her wits to rescue Dr. Smith. She wields a machete. She faces off against that giant fern (okay, with Will in that scene, but still).

And, when a few of her co-stars were written out of future episodes for insubordination, Kristen continued to get the spotlight in the subsequent script "Space Beauty." (Though it was filmed after "Vegetable Rebellion," it aired earlier in the third season.) For Judy fans, this was her prime.

More than anything, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" sticks in the memory. You remember where you were when you first saw it. We bet, at the time, as a child, you found it enchanting. And it can still bring you back to that mindset if you allow it.


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eddiec 7 months ago
Lost In Space jumped the shark when it went from black-and-white to color. When it was in B&W, it seemed somewhat serious. A family of space travelers exploring and trying to survive in unknown territories, while having to put up with a conniving stowaway Dr. Smith who would seize every opportunity he could to take over the Jupiter 2 to return to Earth. When it went to color, the show got cheesy with characters that looked like something out of Sesame Street with Smith acting more like comic relief than a menacing adversary. The Great Vegetable Rebellion was the lowest point of the show. Whoever compares Lost In Space with Scooby Do and the Jetson owes Hanna-Barbera an apology.
DavidMagoon 7 months ago
In a What If! comic, the Dazzler, as Galactus' herald, thought she found a perfect planet for Galactus to devour, until the sentient plants inhabiting the planet telepathically "spoke" to her, changing her mind.
thedude1500 7 months ago
That and the hippie school episode were LIS's two best episodes. The writing on LIS, for the most part, was dreadful. Allowing a little camp was just what the show needed.
DuanneWalton 7 months ago
Poor Lost in Space. Forever trapped between Batman and Star Trek.
AEDC49 7 months ago
Boy now I see & no wonder I don't and others don't bother to comment anymore or much, which is a shame for all the fun info & stories given with this new pointless hassle way to sign in that they end up erasing your comments some of which have great info and shouldn't be erased! etc!
AEDC49 7 months ago
One of my favorite episodes that really was out there! Of "Lost In Space"! Yes putting themselves into the part like Jonathan Harris did & a few of the others was as good as any Broadway Play or Opera! Or Shakespearean Play! I remember the Summer Preview Trailers of "Lost In Space" in 1965 and I remember being engrossed by them especially when I saw Will & Penny floating etc. We only had Black & White little 19" TV then so I didn't have the benefit of Color when I first saw it but I really was into the episode that evoked my different emotions but not just a big its fun smile on my face but the Morphing of Dr. Smith really got me in a different way like I could feel the unnatural element of the reality of being transformed into something that's living and known and not human so Yes "The Pain The Pain!" Dr. Smith for real! It is also accurate that then and now it is known Flora-Trees & Plants etc. Communicates and for real scientifically proven they display the same full range of emotions we have and when trees are cut and plants they emit warnings and emit pain signals etc. and also the electronic sounds to represent "cry's of pain by the vegetation" is also accurate in the show when the plants are being hacked at and picked etc. is also an accurate representation! So this is a really Cool good episode that is like a real nightmare! I Wish we had Color to have gotten the realistic impact of it since we see in Color! I even got the Robot Toy back then! So this was a fun show to watch along with the trying to be more realistic futuristic "Star Trek"! I also liked and watched "My Mother the Car" another TV show that was actually well done and had lots of actors that were up and coming & or starting to get known from Movies etc. But of course it was picked on for the improbable scenario but aside from that the show was Fun & well done and also advanced by being color in 1965 before the big 3 to go color!
The other commenter's Brian & Pacificsun also say it right & what I would say and agree with! So despite the always ignorant I hate that show and the ones that second that negative comment, I looked forward to seeing every week the next exciting fun episode of... back then! & with no color TV! Although on rare occasion in the 60's I'd be at someone's house that did and it was a big thing & difference to see a 25" Color TV!
daDoctah 7 months ago
Slid right past that "Willoughby the Llama" reference, didn't you? I wonder how many people realize that Milhollin's character was originally meant to be an actual, *telepathic*, purple llama but they found the animal difficult to work with. The bit about him being unable to resist nibbling Dr Smith's celery leaves was a reference to one of the main problems with the real llama on the set. And had the show gone to a fourth season, there were plans to add the llama to the regular cast (the comic-book adaptation of the show showed a purple llama head peeking through a dome atop the Jupiter II as it flew off to further adventures).

BTW, having the Robinsons deal with evil intelligent plants was explored once before, back in the first season, where Marta Kristen gets another of her rare chances to shine, as a cyclamen-based duplicate of Judy.
Brian 7 months ago
When I was a kid (the youngest in the family) I was allowed to watch only one TV show per week, and Lost In Space was the one I picked. Please remember that NASA was in its heyday, and was shooting rockets into space every so often, thus the subject of space exploration was HUGE. Whenever NASA launched, we were all glued to the TV set when it happened, and it was always the lead news story on the nightly national news.

Frankly, 50+ years ago, Star Trek was more highly regarded by adults & teenagers, but us kids loved Lost In Space. And, don't get me started talking about Judy & Penny, oy!

To be honest, I do seem to remember the original airing on this vegitable episode, but I can't remember what I thought of it. In hindsight, please remember that few families could afford color TV sets in the mid-to-late-1960's. But, look at other shows from that era and you'll see the producers went crazy making the colors "pop" on the screen to wow the families who went into debt buying color TV sets.

Playing devil's advocate, this episode was a great means to put out an episode with enough fluorescent colors to please anyone breaking glass (hint: perform a search for this 60s reference). Unless you lived through the 60s era, you probably can't understand why this episode aired.

Perhaps 500 years from now some ivy league college will offer a general studies course discussing and evaluating this episode. Or, maybe, somewhere a statue will be erected featuring the vegetables and characters in this episode; Cleveland Ohio comes immediately to mind, or maybe the Mars (the planet, not the city).

It's a fun episode, and a bit goofy. Let's just leave it at that. Thanks for reading my post.

Brian Brian 7 months ago
OK, I tried searching for "breaking glass" and came up with some goofy movie; my fault for assuming it was a well-known term. Breaking glass refers to use of LSD. It's a line used in a famous rock song, but I don't remember which song, or what group used the term (oh, memory loss much?).
Dicazi Brian 7 months ago
I was 10 when Trek premiered. I fell in love. I can't even remember if I watched any of LIS in it's first run. I know when a local station ran it in syndication, I liked the first 6-9 weeks or so. Then it got more and more illogical.
Brian Brian 7 months ago
Has anyone else noticed the weirdness going on with the names of people replying to comments? If you reply, your name appears, followed by the name of the person who made the initial comment. Look at the name for this comment; it's a triple of my name, although I'm writing this before my new comment posts, so I'm not sure it's happened here, uh, um, yet.
Barry22 7 months ago
Interesting article, but say what you will, that episode sucked!!!
djw1120 Barry22 7 months ago
Not just that episode, but the WHOLE SERIES!!!
Pacificsun 7 months ago
Absolutely one of the best stories (viewpoints) the MeTV writing Staff has ever presented. Give that writer a trophy! It’s not just a summary of TV dynamics in an action/fantasy TV series of the '60's, but a comment about perception. What the critics always missed in their wide-eye'd assessment of a beloved series, was the concept of entertainment! Not just entertainment, but CREATIVE entertainment. What makes the GVR episode outstanding is that it was a unique premise, which only LIS could pull off. A plot without pretenses. And further pushed the envelope of escapism! After all, the only reason people turned on their TV at night was to forget the daily grind to which they were chained. Bravo LIS and MeTV for highlighting a particular achievement. And Harris, for being true to his stage worthy embrace of (yes) art in its very own form.

I applaud LIS for its imagination and sense of fun. Actors (under contract in those types of series) always fancied themselves too good or “theater worthy” for the material being presented that they were expected to communicate. And yet, these campy series have turned out to be classic experiences of pure fun, which most of us keep as fond innocent memories! What better success could there be.
Dicazi 7 months ago
Let me assure you, SF fans don't like this episode. Even the ones who like the show to begin with.

Farscape's Zhaan was revealed to be a plant. Done seriously and it was great.
Pacificsun Dicazi 7 months ago
There's a big difference between (thoughtful, novel) "science fiction" proposals, and a campy TV show such as LIS. Better categorized along with Batman. A form of stylized art perhaps, but mainly just pure escapism and fun. If people are entertained, then what's the harm.
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