Red Dwarf Review: Series II, Episode 2: "Better Than Life"

Airdate: 13 September 1988

Take THAT, Kinect and PSMove!


Synopsis: The post pod reaches Red Dwarf. In it, Rimmer receives a large tax bill from Outland Revenue, along with a letter from his mother (through her poor handwriting) informing him that his father is dad-uh, dead, and that he passed away peacefully in his jeep-uh, sleep. Although he knew his father is already long dead, seeing the news in writing upsets him, mentioning that he looked up to his father and wanted him to say “well done”. However, Rimmer also states that he loathed his dad, due to his strict requirements for his kids to get into the space corps to make up for his failure to get on the corps. To cheer him up, Lister and the Cat invite Rimmer to play “Better Than Life”, a total immersion video game where everyone’s deepest desires come true.

At first, everything goes well. The Cat has two girlfriends (Marilyn Monroe and a reversed mermaid). Lister is rich enough to eat caviar-covered vindaloos and play golf. Rimmer, who has a physical form in the game, leads an admiral’s life with drinks and parties. Rimmer meets his dad, whom, although Rimmer is expecting him to say “well done”, says that he is a “total smeghead” (as it turns out, Rimmer’s father was imagined by the Cat). Rimmer’s neurotic mind, subconsciously unable to accept nice things are happening to him, rebels against him, and he cannot control his negative imagination. He soon ends up with a wife, seven kids, a mortgage and being chased by an outright psychotic tax collector (who demands ₤18,000 and threatens to break his legs and thumbs). Eventually, the others find themselves caught up in his nightmare, buried up to their necks in sand and about to be eaten by ants. The game ends, and as Lister and the Cat call Rimmer out for his “messed up brain”, Rimmer gets a letter informing him that he passed the astro-navigation examination, causing Rimmer to believe his life is turning around. When they get back to their quarters, the tax collector emerges from a locker, causing the crew to realize that the game is not over. The tax collector then proceeds to break Rimmer’s thumbs.

Review: This episode holds a very special place in my heart. It was Christmas 2012. I had gotten some iTunes cash for Christmas. I had already seen some Red Dwarf clips online. I decided to buy a couple of episodes from Series II. After buying and watching “Parallel Universe”, I brought “Better than Life”. Needless to say, by the end of the episode, I was barely breathing from all of the laughter. The episode had sent me on an emotional roller coaster, from depression at the news of Rimmer’s father, sympathy for Rimmer, and laughter at the end with the tax collector. It may seem strange, but this episode cemented my feelings: Red Dwarf was possibly going to be my all time favorite show.

And I was right. As of this writing, it is my all time favorite show.

This episode is simply a brilliant episode. Rimmer gets developed more in this episode then ever before. For the first time ever, we get to see why Rimmer blamed everything on his parents: his father was an absolute jerk ass to him and his brothers, stretching them to put them into the Space Corps and failing to feed them if they got Astro-Nav questions wrong (Rimmer almost starved to death.) Then, we get his one shot at happiness crushed, just to give the Cat a laugh, causing Rimmer to break down. It really humanises Rimmer in a way that the show never did before, and is the first episode where he is truly sympathetic.

However, the episode still takes time out to remind us that, no matter how sympathetic he might be, Rimmer is still a pathetic slime ball who takes down everybody with him. His negative fantasies wind up almost killing the others. Lister puts it best: “You’re a total dinglebat, are you?”

The rest of the episode is just pure comedy. Lister’s role in the fantasy just makes him into himself WITH MONEY (caviar vindaloos, golf, and slobbish drinking). The Cat gets to take the Jerk ass role from Rimmer for once, interrupting his moment, not caring if Rimmer’s dad has died, ignoring Marylin Monroe, AND killing Rimmer’s fantasy for a quick laugh (although he gets his comeuppance in the end by almost dying). The tax collector is just so overtly psychotic that he becomes hilarious.

If I had to find one problem with this episode, it is that the scene with Gordon and Holly was unnecessary (although still funny). That, and the first few minutes of the episode seem to be too loose to the plot.

Favorite Scene: God, it’s hard to pick. If I HAD to pick one, it would have to be the Rimmer on the Observation Deck scene. It gives in 4 minutes what other shows can’t do in an entire episode: develop a character. There is a reason why many people consider Rimmer to be the center focus of the show. He get more development than any other character.

Score: 9.

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