Red Dwarf Review: Series V, Episode 2: "The Inquisitor"

Airdate: 27 February, 1992

Synopsis: According to legend, the Inquisitor is a self-repairing simulant that lived until the end of time itself. After millions of years alone, h e came to the conclusion that there is no deity nor afterlife, and that the only purpose of existence is to live a life that is full of worth and justifiable. Therefore, he erases those which are deemed unfit for the gift of life, and replaces him/her with somebody that never had a chance – the unfertilized egg, the late sperm, for example.

It just so happens that the Inquisitor is real, and has the Boys from the Dwarf as his next target. When they are captured, they are given the parameters of the test to determine their worthiness of existence. What is that test? The Inquisitor is the judge, and the boys have to defend themselves. Which are saved? The Cat and Rimmer. Shocking, right? Well, they were judged…

… by themselves. The Inquisitor took the form of the person he was judging, personality and all. Rimmer managed to get out of the charges (that of being a selfish, cruel liar) by noting that his childhood was a mess, and he did the best he could given the circumstances. The Cat cites his own beauty, effectively agreeing to the charges laid against him. (“I’ve given pleasure to the world ’cause I have such a beautiful ass!”) Kryten tries to dismantle the charges against him by arguing that the only way he could do good deeds on his own is to break his programming and that The Inquisitor has no right to judge anybody. He is merely able to give the argument that he could’ve broken his programming and done good deeds, but didn’t do so. Lister simply refuses to hear the accusations that he slacked off in life. (“Spin on it!”)

Thus, Lister and Kryten are doomed. As memories of them by others are deleted, Lister and Kryten manage to break the Inquisitor, and try and reverse course… with a little help from a Liverpudlian slob and a snarky robot along the way, neither of whom recognize them.

Review: Well, glad to be reviewing Red Dwarf again.

For the first time in a decent while, Lister is given the center role in an episode. Does it work? Yes. In fact, this is almost the best episode of the series, beaten out by “Back to Reality”.

This episode is somewhat more dramatic than other episodes. While comedy is prevalent in this episode, it’s also an episode that’s not afraid to ask a question. That question? “What is a worthwhile life like?” Are we worthwhile? Does one judge his or her self-worth by the standards of society, or the standards of oneself?

The big one is simple; Can we improve ourselves? For example, you see The Inquisitor take on the persona of Lister before barbing him with the fact that he never tried. Since this is the persona of Lister, it unveils some deep-seated neurosis in him. Yet, he also reveals himself to be a brilliant man in the second half, setting up a scenario quite obviously influenced by The Iliad to take down the inquisitor. This is no accident; he was seen dissecting The Iliad in the beginning of the episode. Thus, he is one of the craftier people on the ship, and thus, has a purpose in life.

The idea of self-questioning is nothing really new, but its execution is brilliant. The Jack Docherty-played character is very innovative. He judges others, yet does it by taking the persona of the person on the hot seat, who are forced to question themselves if they made the most of their life. It’s brilliant, manipulative, and so cruel. It’s also seemingly nihilistic at first; those with inflated egos and tons of pride are to live, while those with neuroses are damned to be erased. Yet, it takes another turn that makes you think; Rimmer’s defense shows that even those who seem to be egoists can be very, very self-loathing, yet resort to trying to defend their actions (or lack thereof) so they can’t admit that their life was wasted.

The humor is not as fast-and-furious as a typical episode in, say, Series III. However, the timing of each joke and action is perfect enough to carry the jokes from one moment to another. It’s funny enough that the average viewer won’t think about the episode’s message at first; they’ll just be laughing constantly. The best joke, by a country mile, is the Cat’s defense.

It’s pure drama, comedy, science fiction… it’s just a fantastic episode. Too bad it aired in Series V, and is thus overlooked by the tragic “Holoship”, the mysterious “Quarantine”, and the purely topsy-turvy “Back to Reality”.

Favorite Moment: Again, it has to be the core four defending themselves. It’s dramatic (Rimmer’s defense), prophetic (Lister’s defense), thought provoking (Kryten’s defense) and hysterical (Cat’s defense, dear god, Cat’s defense!)

Least Favorite Moment: The one thing keeping it from a 10 score is Lister’s move to get past a door that won’t recognize them. It’s a bit out of character, given the near-perfect character that Lister is as of this episode.

Rating: 9.5.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 8: "Lisa the Skeptic"

Airdate: November 23, 1997

Synopsis: Lisa organizes a school trip to try to dig up fossils at an excavation site before its turned into a mini-mall. At said site, a human skeleton with wings is found. The people of Springfield are convinced that it is an angel. Homer decides to take it and charge people to see the angel, turning the house into a tourist trap overnight. However, Lisa is skeptical about the whole thing and has a scientist perform an analysis… which comes up inconclusive. In response, a mob forms to try and destroy “scientific” artifacts. Lisa goes to destroy the artifact, only to find out it is gone. She is promptly placed on trial for destruction of the skeleton. However, during the trial, the skeleton appears outside the courtroom, with a message about “the end” coming “at sundown”.

Review: First, let’s do a brief review to get the basics out of the way. It’s not going to rank amongst the greats. Characterization is slightly off (Homer and Marge come off as more irrational and jerkass-esque) and inconsistent (Bart first questions the “motorboat prize”, then asks where the “motorboat” is), the plot jumps around a bit, the humor is a tad bit weaker than what you would get from, say, season 8, and the episode makes no bones about its bias.

Now for the positives. The animation is pretty good, the conflict between scepticism and belief has the potential to make for a decent episode (with the elements of the Scopes Trial integrated in a decent, if unsubtle, manner), and the twist at the end is pretty good, a rarity for the Scully era. I especially like something else at the end; as much as Lisa presented herself as a sceptic, she might have believed that the skeleton was divine at least once or twice. That’s pretty good consolation for those who think that the episode is too biased, albeit just that; mere lip service.

Also worth noting is the overwhelming theme of “marketing” that overhangs through the episode. Pretty darn good on the writers to satirize that with some level of subtlety. It does bring up a decent topic; does marketing cruelly manipulate personal beliefs? Also, while the humor is weak, there are some pretty good jokes in this episode (a good chunk of them are sight gags, such as the “Christian Science reading centre” being torched).

This episode, however, would better benefit with a compare/contrast; two from the Golden age, and one from the Modern era.

First, let’s look at “Bart’s Comet”. The end is very similar: people begin anticipating the end of Springfield; in this case, it’s a comet. There is a lone voice of scepticism over the perceived plot device; in this case, it’s a snarky remark from Homer. However, there was a lot more subtlety in that episode’s presentation of religion and/or fervour, and the “discovery” and “twist” are uncovered by the most unlikely sources (Bart and Homer, respectively). This episode is not as subtle, and said discovery and twist come from Lisa. That’s a bit too predictable.

Second, we should look back way earlier to “Itchy and Scratchy vs. Marge”. In this case, it’s morality that’s at the centre of the controversy instead of skepticism. In this case, both sides are given a nearly equal amount of ammunition, and both sides get attacked on a nearly equal level. While there is an end message in that episode, the viewer is left to debate it. This episode picks sides (with skepticism), and barring an occasional line, sticks with it. There is little room for debate with this episode.

However, this episode does have a leg-up on season 18’s “The Monkey Suit”. Not only does it repeat the topics brought up in episodes such as this one, but “Monkey Suit” is unsubtle (the end message is explicitly spelled out for us), nonsensical (especially with Lisa disproving religion), biased to the umpteenth degree (not saying that this episode is unbiased, but it’s somewhat more even-handed) and not really funny. It seems to be a trend for Modern Simpsons episodes; take a theme presented in a classic episode, remove all the subtlety and a sizable chunk of the humor, add in some pointless guest star to either get a line in or be praised endlessly by the town, and when it comes to characterization… sheesh, don’t get me started!

Overall, this episode is a decent time-waster, but nothing that will stand atop season 9.

Favourite Moment: The town’s reaction to Lisa’s appearance on Smartline? Wreck everything related to science… even if it’s only connection to science is in its name. This is how nihilistic the show is; the townspeople will do anything because they are idiots.

Least Favourite Moment: The intro with the sting operation. Season 9 began the tradition of intros that barely had any connection to the episode (if there was any connection at all). This is a prime example of this trend.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. At the beginning of the episode, Homer says that the rest of the Simpsons are “the most paranoid family I’ve ever been affiliated with.” That’s the first sign that characterization would become more alien.

Zaniness Factor: 1.25 While not too zany, the twist at the end with the skeleton is a bit “out there”.

Score: 7.

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 18: "The Land Before Swine"

Airdate: June 28th, 2013

“Open the door. Get on the floor.
Everybody fight some dinosaurs!”

Synopsis: A pterodactyl swoops through Gravity Falls. Waddles winds up as one of its victims. Stan tries to paint himself as an attempted savior of Waddles, to try and avoid scorn from Mabel. Y’see, Stan wanted Waddles (who he hates) outside, which attracted scorn from Mabel. No prizes for guessing what Stan did to the pig to land him in this state. Meanwhile, Soos is messing up Dipper’s investigations as of late, straining the relationship between the two. Everything goes in when Old Man McGucket takes the four into the cave where the Pterodactyl apparently lives, with Stan revealing what happened to the pig, Dipper finally letting loose at Soos, and the Pterodactyl revealing himself.

Yeah. It’s that kind of episode.

Review: First, a rule of thumb I have just discovered.

Continuing on the comedy-drama theme from “Boyz Crazy”, one thing that I’ve noticed is that episodes of Gravity Falls directed by Aaron Springer (“Dipper vs. Manliness”, “Time Traveller’s Pig”, and “The Deep End”, for example) tend to lean more toward somewhat slapdash comedy, while episodes directed by John Aoshima (“The Hand That Rocks the Mabel”, “Irrational Treasure”, and “Boyz Crazy”) tend to be somewhat more dramatic, with darker humour and more character study. This is not an iron-clad rule (“Fight Fighters”, despite being an Aoshima episode, was largely comedic, while Springer-led “Little Dipper” was more dramatic), and does not signify which director was better (all depends on what attracts you to the show). Rather, it’s more of a guide for, say, season 2, assuming the director staff does not change.

(Simpsons Fans, think showrunners: Oakley/Weinstein and Jean/Reiss tended to lean more toward down to earth comedy and character drama, while Mirkin and Scully went more slapdash and zany- for good or bad. Red Dwarf fans, compare the more comedic Rob Grant to the more dramatic Doug Naylor.)

Now that my intro is done, I can confirm that the last three episodes are Aoshima episodes, and they all have character relations at or close to their epicenter. Today, it’s the relationship between Stan, Mabel, and everybody’s favorite pork-related pet, Waddles. It’s pretty apparent that Stan loathes Waddles to a great extent, even lying just to finally be rid of him. Stan made no effort to conceal that in “The Deep End”, and here, it’s FAR more obvious.

Really, Waddles helps bring out the worst in Stan, and brings out the best in Mabel. Mabel, however, also brings out the best in Stan; he realizes that lying to your genki girl pre-teen daughter about the fate of her pet is not a good idea. He then realizes what Waddles meant to Mabel: he was more than a pig, but rather, one of her many friends. To recover his relationship, he goes on one of the most spectacular attacks against the strangeness of the town ever. When you can quote Moby Dick beyond “Thar she blows”, you know your show is sublime. He knows he runs the risk of dying, and quotes Ahab’s immortal last words in case he goes down

This also shows a more realistic view of our show’s Plucky Comic Relief, Soos. Instead of just being an infallible center of wisdom with comedy splashed in, he is shown as an individual who’s lightheartedness can do as much harm as it does good. Of course, it resolves itself in the end with the “eyesight technique”, thus showing that the man is really intelligent underneath the silliness.

Probably the thing that keeps this episode’s score relatively low is that the humor in this episode is not fantastic. However, it’s not enough to drag the episode down below a “great”.

Favorite Scene: Stan. Fights. A. Pterodactyl.

Least Favorite Scene: Did we REALLY need a montage with Mabel and the Pig? At least they used the moves from the second-greatest movie from the 80s, The Breakfast Club.

Score: 8.5

One More Note: Yes, the name of this blog has changed from Geek Zone to Geek Centre. May as well do something new.