Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 4: "Duct Soup"

Airdate: 7 February, 1997

“There! We’ve lost Doug and his boring scripts!”

Synopsis: Kochanski is having trouble adjusting to life onboard Starbug, being that she has to deal with the more laddish Lister and a robot that hates her. Not to mention, the accommodations are less than stellar; the pipes are loud, or, in Lister’s case, the shuttle is too hot. Kryten gets more and more jealous of the two… just in time for the ship’s functions to shut down completely. To fix the problem, they have to climb through the ducts.

Review: One of my personal favorite Red Dwarf episodes would have to be “Marooned”, from Series III. It’s a tad bit strange because you’d expect it to be your typical “bottle episode”, where two characters are stuck together. Personally, the “bottle episode” is one of my favorite (or at least my most forgivable) TV cliches, especially if done in a hilarious manner, and especially if one is interested in the characters. In “Marooned”, they took the heart and the soul of Red Dwarf, and allowed them to showcase the best and the worst aspects of their characters when they were together, yet also allowed for the characters to gain some more depth. It’s one of the few times I came close to crying at Red Dwarf.

So, why not try and repeat that with Lister, Kryten, and Kochanski? Try and show some depth with that. A few problems…

  • A) There is far less tension buildup between Kochanski and Lister. In fact, we’ve just met her!;
  • B) Lister’s character has been inconsistent for the past three episodes;
  • C) The development of character in this episode is poorer than in it’s predecessor;
  • D) This script is pathetic, especially as a bottle episode. Hell, it’s barely a bottle episode.
Want depth to my bulletpoints?
For (A), the development in “Marooned” came from Lister and Rimmer already being stuck together both in the 23rd century and three million years in deep space, as well as their antagonistic relationship due to their vastly different personalities. Here, we just smeggin met Kochanski. There’s no time to build up any tension. One episode she’s here: next, she’s trapped in the vents. Also, the adversarial relationship between Lister and Rimmer is not prevalent. Here, Lister does everything good for Kochanski.
Speaking of Lister, for the fourth episode in a row, his character is inconsistent. “Tikka” showed him as a selfish manchild with no respect for the crewmates he once had some modicum of respect for. “Clipper” showed him helping Rimmer achieve his great potential, although you could argue that he only did that to get Rimmer off the ship. “Ouroboros” shows him become a raging egoist who’s idiocy also clashes with a sudden realization about his backstory. And now, in “Duct”, he’s become a bland nice guy.

Character development isn’t just poorer… it borders on character derailment. The biggest problem with the character development here is that every single development is explained to us in bright, primary colors. “Marooned” was more subtle, yet also funny. Kochanski gets the best of it, as we finally see how hard it is to see a middle-class woman fit on a ship that contains a working class lad: even then, not only does she spell everything out for us, but her interactions with the other characters barely shed new light on any of their relationships.

This episode is tragic for Kryten. I can understand him taking more laddish actions after being trapped on a ship with Lister… but here’s the deal. Kryten work because he was both the sanest man on the ship, yet he also had his own personality quirks to deal with, such as his older software causing him to have a weak understanding of humans and less understanding of emotions. We see that in the beginning with Kryten giving Kochanski the Heimlich Manoeuvre to stop her from crying. However, his jealousy overtakes him… and it’s pathetic. The bot who would once protect humans from anything (or at least try to protect humans) is reduced to threatening their lives to satisfy his own selfish needs. Character derailment, ladies and gents.

Thus, in an episode that follows a trope that requires good character, the three characters focused on in this episode are, at best, given weak development, and at worst, derailed.
Again, this is all exaggerated by the fact that the episode barely has any laughs in it. Jokes were either too long, or sitcom-style plots. The only thing I laughed at was Kochanski beating Kryten with a wrench… if only because I felt that Kryten needed some form of punishment. Also, the pacing in this episode was off… again, the culprit was the jokes that went on too long only to be explained to us. Heimlich Manoeuvre, anybody?
Overall… my god. Three out of the first four episodes of Series VII are some of the worst that Red Dwarf has to offer… I give up. May as well try and bang the rest of the series out within the next week or two. I have lost all hope for the rest of the series… and I have a bad feeling about Series VIII.
Tidbits:
  • Worth noting that the three episodes in this series so far that were pathetic were written by Doug Naylor alone. “Stoke Me A Clipper” was written by Naylor and Alexander. Maybe I’ll just give Doug the “writing alone blues”. That, and a theory exists that Naylor, in his partnership with Grant, tended to focus more on the dramatic aspects of the show. Then again, if he was so good at drama in the first six series, why is the drama here so boring?
  • This episode was actually cut down by three minutes. They could’ve cut the length of some gags, such as the Heimlich, or the rushing water, or the wind, or some of the awkward discussion about the alternate Lister’s sexuality. They cut the opening credits.
  • This episode replaced “Identity Within”, an episode that would’ve developed the character of the Cat and would’ve elaborated on his species, because the series ran over budget. Methinks most of the budget went to the spectacular CGI prevalent through the series!
  • Oh, this is the first episode not to feature Rimmer in any way, shape or form. He isn’t even mentioned!
Favorite Scene: Uh, the credits? Maybe Kochanski beating Kryten with a wrench.
Least Favorite Scene: Uh, everything else? I’m going with the discussion about Lister’s sexuality, because it’s not only awkward, it’s not only pointless, it’s so boring.
Score: 2.5. Wow, we’ve sunk so deep. At least we’re officially halfway through the series.
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Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 13: "The Joy of Sect"

Airdate: February 8th, 1998

“Special effects by Industrial Lights and Morons” – Mike Nelson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Space Mutiny”)

Synopsis: Whilst wasting time at the Airport, Homer and Bart meet two members of the “movementarians”, Glen and Jane. They convince Homer, amongst others, to visit a film, where they promise to use praise to “the Leader” to get “access to a starship to ‘Blisstonia'”. Despite initial difficulties (Homer being too thick, for one), their message manages to get into Homer, and he, alongside most of the rest of Springfield, are sucked into the cult. Said cult forces its members to move to a farm to harvest Lima Beans. The Leader is said to be living in a forbidden barn, building his ship, making brief appearances to wave to the cult members. The cult’s popularity manages to take over Springfield, right down to its media. Only Marge is able to resist the cult, and has to flee the compound to find a way to deprogram the family.

Review: FINALLY! After, what, three weak episodes, we finally get an episode that’s… good.

Overhyped, though? Maybe a little.

This episode’s main strength is in its scathing critique of religious cults.  Oh, boy, is it scathing. Take your typical cult tropes and exaggerate them to the nth degree. That’s the Movementarians. Let’s see, all they do is guilt trip people into being brainwashed, take over entire media outlets, poison those into submission, take their member’s money and property, and force them into hard labor… and it’s all just empty. They spend lavishly on themselves, descend the followers into petty fights, enjoy the tax-exempt status of the government to partake in the aforementioned self-serving spending, and pander to the follower’s weaknesses/battle against their strengths.

This episode was also very topical, somewhat rare for a post-classic Simpsons episode. You see, this episode has its basis in the Heaven’s Gate cult, which, a year earlier, committed suicide in an attempt to ride Comet Hale-Bopp. Also gaining media attention around this time (I suppose: I don’t have many memories of the 90s) was Scientology (which even had one of its founders write a book that was adapted into a hysterically awful movie), as well as the Unification Church.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Simpsons episode without its characters. For the most part, this episode does well in this regard. In all honesty, this episode shows Marge at one of her high points. It’s not really as high as, say, “Marge on the Lam”, but it’s pretty awesome. Through her, we see her have to take “deprogramming” maneuvers similar to those of brainwashing. It’s a tough call, but sometimes, you have to stoop low to achieve a goal that you know will be heroic in the end. Lovejoy and Flanders are perfect in their role as the Christian holdouts. That, and Ned actually has beer. Maybe I just have traces of ZS on the mind, but that’s a deep, more “average” side to Ned. Willie’s role as the “Id” of the deprogramming operation is perfect. I’ll go as far as to say that, as much as Homer did have some jerkass scenes in the beginning, most of it is excused, as his character is made more realistic by the end of the episode. The twist to deprogram him is awesome, and totally fits in with his character.

Complaints? Pacing was a bit off: the airport scene seemed to just be there for a bunch of sitcom jokes, yet the placement of the third act seemed to make it so that said third act dragged a bit. However, it’s an otherwise fantastically funny episode, with wicked satire and good characterization.

Enjoy it. These types of episodes will be rare as the years go on.

Tidbits:

  • This episode was technically produced by David Mirkin, the showrunner for Seasons 5 and 6. Much like Scully, Dave Mirkin’s twist on the show (especially in Season 5) took it into more outlandish and cartoony territory (“Deep Space Homer”, “Homer and Apu”). Mirkin also took on some social commentary. (“Sideshow Bob Roberts”, “Homer Badman”). However, Mirkin also used more character-based plots, rather than plots that caused the characters to conform to the plot. This episode feels like a Mirkin-era episode… except for art, which is somewhat more rigid.
  • I personally like the twist with the loaner bikes. Goes to remind us that not only are there still holdouts for the cult, but that Our Favorite Family isn’t exactly doing so well. Hear me, Zombie Simpsons? Characters living the high life is not really funny!
  • LOVE the scenes with the “Lawyer Department”, especially when they barge into KBBL-TV to look for Homer. “Idiots? That’s slander, sir, and we have it on tape.” “Alright; I’ll get out my chequebook!”
  • “We are watching FOX!” I love the “take that’s” at FOX.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. Most of Homer’s jerkassery is a little justified, but almost mowing down the Movementarians certainly crossed the line. This is also a literal Jerkass Homer Moment: while driving to the Movementarian Center, Homer screams “Outta my way, jerkass!” And thus, a name for the post-classic era Homer was born.

Zaniness Meter: 2. The zaniest moment: rover from The Prisoner appears in the barrier between the Movementarian Campground and the town… capturing Moleman. Mmm… I swear I remember that a later episode had a more direct parody on The Prisoner.

Favorite Scene: Everything (except the road rage) at the Movementarian Center.

Least Favorite Scene: At the airport, Homer is an idiot as to the “free film this weekend” presented by the Movementarians. This joke was done better in “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington”, with the VIP gag.

Score: 8

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 3: "Ouroboros"

Airdate: 31 January, 1997

Synopsis: Starbug winds up in the center of a temporal disturbance. Said disturbance allows the crew to meet up with a crew from a parallel universe… one where Kochanski was caught with Lister’s cat and spent six months (read, three million years) in stasis, and where Lister was brought back as a hologram.

The meeting is interrupted when the linkup is attacked by a ship piloted by GELFs who want Lister to consummate his marriage that was performed in exchange for an oxy-gen unit. (Remember that mess?) Kochanski winds up on the wrong side of the disturbance and has to find a way to shake off the GELFs and get back to the temporal disturbance… all the while, wanting Lister to help her in her in-vitro fertilization.

Review: I am of the opinion that bringing Kochanski onboard ship was a decent maneuver… that was acted on in a less-than-stellar fashion. I’ll get to that later.

Let’s get this out of the way first… this episode is pretty poor. Why? Well, getting this out of the way first, the first half is basically Red Dwarf for Dummies.

  • Hah, Lister’s a slob. It gets funnier later on when he’s compared to his counterpart, but still.
  • The class structure holding Lister back, once implied so well, is outright stated by Rimmer. (Yes, Chris Barrie does make a brief appearance).
  • Hah, Rimmer hates Lister and is an idiot!
  • Ah, Kryten is “femmy”.
It’s pathetically simplistic. I could understand if it was the first episode of the series, but the third? Come on, Doug!
Character comedy would have worked… if there was any character to care about. Sure, the Lister being a slob at the beginning works somewhat, and his lack of ambition is also decent, but we’ve moved beyond that over the past six series. Oh, and Lister now thinks of himself as awesome. He knew he was something of a slob in prior series: now, he rejects that. The closest we got to seeing that side of him was in “Dimension Jump”, with this dialogue:

Rimmer: How would you feel if some git came from another dimension… another Lister, with wall-to-wall charisma and a Ph.D. in being handsome and wonderful?

Lister: Hey, man! I am that Lister! […] I made up for that other Lister! Whatever he did that I didn’t, he deserves the lot!

Yet, that works. Not only does that show that he’s satisfied with his lot in life, but he’s perfectly comfortable in his relaxed lifestyle. Here, he comes off as a Rimmer-like pompous ass… except Rimmer could at least take a claim to being organized.
That’s not even the worst character in this episode descends. Kryten… oh, lord, what have they done to ya? The character has literally fallen in love with Lister, to the point of jealousy with Kochanski. This might have worked if we saw hints of that in the previous series! Here, it’s out of place and a stupid attempt to create tension. Then they take it a step further by having Kryten whine way too many times. It’s irritating.
The Cat is left bone dry: he is literally an idiot.
Now, Kochanski had a lot of potential, some of which we will see in the next few episodes. Her getting adjusted to being on a ship molded in the lower-class lifestyle that Lister maintained could’ve made for great character comedy. In fact, we get to see this in future episodes. This episode shows her as too much of a Captain Picard type character who makes awesome decisions and outruns the enemies. Not picking on Captain Picard: he’s one of my favorite TV characters, but he worked due to having to deal with moral dilemmas and dealing with his past. Here, Kochanski, without having to deal with any dilemmas, manages to outrun the GELFs. I think this was an attempt to establish her as more experienced due to her promotion, but still. Lister, Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten were introduced with their defining flaws:
  • Lister is dismissive of authority
  • Rimmer is overtly neurotic and likes order… and also has an ego problem:
  • The Cat is flamboyant, yet also self-centred:
  • Kryten tries too hard to impress.
We don’t see that in Kochanski’s first appearance. Maybe the end, where Kochanski doesn’t want to stay, but still.
The plot is a bit of a mess. Let’s get this out of the way now: the plot twist at the end related to Lister’s lineage. While Red Dwarf had never been fantastic in its sci-fi, the twist is especially crazy… especially how Lister finds out about the twist. I’m not complaining too much, as Futurama did something similar. However, Futurama‘s use of a similar twist had a dramatic impact on future episodes. I didn’t really see that in future episodes of Red Dwarf… maybe “Fathers and Suns”? Point is, it’s stupid.
Also, there are far too many plot points in this episode. This, strangely enough, was not enough, so we get some filler-esque scenes.

Now, what’s this episode’s biggest problem?

It’s not really funny!

 
This episode was simply trying too hard to be dramatic. As a result, most of the comedy comes from cheap one-liners. Some of it is funny. A lot of it is stupid.

Overall… we’re three episodes in. Two are bad, and one is watchable, yet a bit dry.

Oh, god.

 
Tidbits:
  • Yes, this episode is the first to star Chloe Annett as Kochanski. Once you get used to the fact that she’s not Claire Grogan, it’s a pretty decent performance.
  • This episode had to be cut down for time. And this is the end result.
  • Admittedly, Baby Lister is rather cute. He was played by Danny John-Jules’s nephew.

Favorite Scene: Kochanski orders Rimmer to have coitus. Not with her.

Least Favorite Scene: I’m going with anytime Kryten sobs!

Score: 3.

Movie Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Image stolen from Google Images, as well as being a screencap from Futurama. Don’t sue me, FOX!

Wow. My 100th official post. A pointless milestone that will be forgotten in a few years time. Better enjoy it while it lasts.

I started this blog (when it was called “Geek Zone”) as a class project in High School. I was to post some of my assignments to this blog. In the meantime, the class was also given free reign to post whatever else they wanted to this blog. I went with episodic reviews. After the class ended, I… kept reviewing TV shows. First Red Dwarf, then Gravity Falls, then certain episodes of The Simpsons. Then the blog got renamed, because, well, I wanted a new name.

So, what could I possibly do for my 100th post? What thing could I review for my 100th official post? It has to be monumentus, brilliant, epic… and other synonyms for “great” that I can’t think of.

Ladies and Gentlemen… after the jump…. Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 2: "Stoke Me A Clipper"

Airdate: 24 January, 1997

What a guy.

Synopsis: While fighting off the Wehrmacht (or what I believe is the Wehrmacht) to save a princess in an alternate dimension (just go with it), Ace Rimmer takes a bullet to the chest. Realizing his imminent death, he manages to hop into the dimension with the Small Rouge One… that is to say, the dimension with Lister and Co. Ace sees the potential in Rimsie, and tries to get him to conquer his inner Ace and take on the mantle.

Review: Fitting that, for my 99th post, I review a controversial turning point in the development of Red Dwarf: the departure of Arnie J. While “Tikka To Ride” could be considered something of a test, this episode pretty much set the stage for the rest of the series. This episode has a range of reviews, from “high point of Series VII” to “mixed bag” to “why did the BBC fund an eight series after this dreck?”

So, what do I think? Well, it’s certainly better than “Tikka”.

Why? Well, this episode’s message is fantastic. It’s something of an apology for “Rimmerworld”, which seemed to imply that Rimmer’s odious behavior was wired into him. This episode’s message is simple, yet so perfect; everybody has an “Ace mode” inside them: they have the potential to have a real human impact. It’s just how they harness it (or if they harness it) that impacts their past, present, and future. Rimmer never really harnessed it effectively. He often envied those that could, thought he couldn’t, and often resorted to his cowardly and selfish actions as a defense mechanism. By harnessing his inner Ace, this episode proves that, deep deep down inside, Rimmer is truly a person that is capable of the best of actions.

This episode returns to a focus on character development. And boy, do Lister and Rimmer shine in this episode. Several years deep in space has really caused their relationship to develop from one based on their differences to one more complex. It’s been proven that Rimmer wanted to finally be like Lister: satisfied with his lot in life. He just had too much ambition to do so. Here, he’s given ambition: a chance to escape from his hell, to harness his inner Ace. Yet, he feels deep enough of a connection with Lister to hug the man. He even defends Lister, doing so by committing what he believes is an act of bravery… and by all accounts, it is.

Same thing with Lister. Lister is really the soul of Red Dwarf. Barring his simple character we saw in “Tikka”, he’s an optimistic guy. I’d go as far as to call him a more “laddish”, down to earth version of Mabel from Gravity Falls. He sees the potential that Rimmer has, and knows that Rimmer is kept down by his own neurosis and flaws. That’s why he helps Rimmer, by mocking him, by helping him in his act of bravery, by giving him a decent eulogy. When Lister promotes Rimmer to First Officer, you can tell that Lister has done the best thing even in his relationship with Rimmer. It gives Rimmer the ultimate push to go out and unleash his inner Ace. It serves as something of a coda to their characters and their relationship.

The rest of the episode? Not too fantastic.

For one, with just one exception, the “filler” in this episode wasn’t really funny. Lister’s use of the TIV was done way more efficiently in “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”, for one. Given that the TIV would only be used for a bit part later, it’s also less balanced. I did like “Lister of Smeg”, but I felt that Lister came off as just a little bit too sexist in the TIV. Granted, it balances his character a little bit, but it bugged me.

Special effects… no denying it, they’re crap. The first six series used models and improvised, stretched the budget to the max, and the results are beautiful. The CGI and the green screen in this episode is grating on the eyes. It was probably dated in 1997. It’s certainly dated now.

On top of that, this episode isn’t really funny. Granted, this series was going more for comedy-drama, but it’s still a bit dry. A majority (albeit not a commanding majority) of the jokes are sitcom-style… and not in a good way. In a way, I think comedy was not the first thing on Doug’s mind when writing this episode. Yet, we saw a fantastic balance between comedy and drama in Series V. (“The Inquisitor”, anybody?)

Yet, I can’t really knock this episode down too much. It’s a touching, if somewhat underwhelming, send off to one of the greatest TV characters of all time. Shame it couldn’t be funnier.

Tidbits:

  • The first four minutes of the episode feature Ace saving a princess in distress, only complaining about his shirt when getting shot, and escaping after using a rocket on a motorcycle to jump over a brick wall. It’s a damn near perfect scene. As much as I bashed the effects in this episode, I will concede that the cheesy green-screen does add character to the overall scene. It’s some of the best comedy we’ll see this season.
  • I wasn’t a fan of the reveal about Ace and the light bee’s final destination. I’d say it drove his character into the ground, but I must admit that it wasn’t the worst thing they did with the character. (“Emohawk” was something more of a disservice to the character.)
  • Another thing that befuddled me: why didn’t the Cat and Kryten figure out the truth behind Rimmer’s new portrayal of Ace? I realized, though, that the Cat is an idiot, and Kryten is pretty outdated. I’ll give Naylor the benefit of the doubt.
Favorite Scene: Rimmer fighting off the knight to save the ship. It cements the character development over the past six series. It’s fantastic… especially the twist at the end.
Least Favorite Scene: After the “duel”, the first TIV scene drags on.
Score: 6.5.
Oh, a Few More Things
  • Reports that came out in April (that I just found out about) have revealed that yes, Red Dwarf will have an eleventh series.
  • Gravity Falls Season 2 premieres on August 1st at 9:00 PM in the States. It will air on Disney XD. Those interested, either contact your local cable/satellite provider to get Disney XD, or contact a friend who gets Disney XD. International airdates are unknown, although I’d expect Disney XD UK to air the show in late August, and Family or Disney XD in Canada to air the show in the middle of August.
  • Well, that’s my 99th official post on the site. Now, how do I celebrate this meaningless anniversary coming up? What can I possibly do to celebrate my 100th post? Mmmm…

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 12: "Bart Carny"

Airdate: January 11, 1998

Synopsis: While at the carnival, Bart trashes Adolf Hitler’s limo. (“What did he do to you?”) Homer and Bart become carnies to pay off the debt, and befriend father-and-son carnies Cooder (Jim Varney) and Spud. After their booth gets shut down (thanks to, surprise surprise, Homer), the two begin living at Evergreen Terrace… ultimately pulling a trick (i.e: a faux act of kindness) that puts Our Favourite Family out on the street.

Review: This review is going to be very short. This is another episode that’s too dry on laughs, and with too weak a plot. I mean it. This plot is stretched out way too far, and there are too many dry spots in between.

Character was not as much of a mess as much as it was forgotten. None of the characters here were very entertaining. Why is Bart the straight man? Why is Homer an idiot? Why is he a pyromaniac? Why are the two partners in crime? Their characterisation is confusing and simplistic. Lisa also gets hit in the first act, although it’s not really bad: it’s there to remind us that as intelligent as she is, she’s still just a kid.

The plot was also dull as dishwater. Why is Homer working the carnival booth? Because, under the command of Grand Leader Scully, Homer must get into moronic antics that “move the plot” for an episode to pass inspection! Whatever.

The humor was a mixed bag. The gags at the fair during the sunrise were actually a little funny, although the gags at the fair itself, not so much. Homer explaining that the water in the dunk tank was dangerously low was just there to explain what would happen next: he gets dunked, and it’s cringeworthy.The glass boat scene was funny… then Homer and Bart did some slapstick, acting like partners in crime.

I do see where the plot was going… and I wasn’t a fan. The exposure of the carnies as just a bunch of failures and conmen seemed predictable. There’s little complexity to the two. They’re just there to prove the stereotype of them being backstabbers and conmen 100% true. Previous episodes, when they had one-shot characters, gave them complexities, and helped develop our main characters. For example, I refer to Mr. Bergstrom, the substitute from “Lisa’s Substitute”, one of my favorite episodes of the show. There, not only is Mr. Bergstrom a quirky and fantastic teacher that turns out to be tragically underrated and underused due to the complexities of the American school system, but he manages to make Lisa realize the benchmark of a good education, while at the same time, truly question her faith in Homer. Cooder and Spud don’t do anything: they just act like conmen. It’s simple and predictable characterisation.

That’s the problem with this episode; it’s simplistic. Simple can be good, but the greatest seasons of The Simpsons were complex, deep… and thus, fantastic. This episode? Not so much….

OK, I’ll admit that the ending was fantastic.

Tidbits

  • This episode was written by veteran writer and notable recluse John Swartzwelder. He managed to write both the best episodes of the show (“Rosebud”, “You Only Move Twice”) and the worst  (“Kill the Alligator and Run” and the slop we have here).
  • This episode was also co-produced by Brian Scully and Julie Thacker. Gee, wonder how they got the job.
  • Marge shuddering is actually my second favourite joke in the entire episode.
  • Cool to see Krusty explain the joke of the “squirt gun” joke. And by cool, I mean stupid.
  • …and that’s it. This episode was uninteresting.

Jerkass Homer Meter 2.5

Jerkass Homer Moment: Not really jerkass, but Homer is such an idiot during the “bribe” scene with Chief Wiggum.

Zaniness Factor: 1

Zaniest Moment: I think they went too far with the “Dunk Tank” scene.

Favorite Scene: The resolution to the plot. For a poor episode, it’s actually pretty funny. Take that, ring toss!

Least Favorite Scene: Did we really need the gardening scene? Pointless openings would become the norm in later seasons.

Score: 4.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 1: "Tikka To Ride"

Airdate: 17 January 1997

Synopsis: So, apparently, the crew were not blown out of the sky by their future selves. A time paradox, however, trashed the Indian food. Lister, having a memory of the accident, suggests using the time drive to get 500 curries. He manages to swing Kryten by removing his guilt chip. Their time travel predictions are off; they wind up at the School Book Depository in Dallas, 1963… just as President Kennedy is passing by.

Review: Uh, no. I doubt I watched Red Dwarf. I think I stumbled across a bad fanfiction version of Red Dwarf.

Wait.

This is real?

Oh… crap.

Facepalms, facepalms everywhere.
 Well, let’s get to the obvious: this episode is pretty bad. We are but one episode in, and my hopes for the series have gone down quite a bit.
 
The big failure in this episode is character. Character is at the center of Red Dwarf. This series has effectively taken Lister’s character, and thrown it out the window. He might be the first victim. Through six series, we saw him develop beyond his slobbish character into a complex character with morals and virtues, who served as the true moral center of the cast, and could be quite mature and sensible. Here? He’s a curry-obsessed jackass. That’s all. I might be able to chalk it up to PTSD from the explosion… somewhat. Three years on, and Doug Naylor has forgotten to write for Lister. It’s bad. It makes the episode almost unwatchable, given the development he’s gone through.
The time travel is also very screw-y. While inter-series continuity is a bit weaker in Red Dwarf, this episode takes it to stupid new heights. The beginning of the episode makes it clear that there was a paradox caused by the fight in the previous episode, thus preventing the future selves from killing them. (It’s confusing enough to break a video camera). At the end of the episode, Kennedy gets involved in the same incident (long story)… and does not fall victim to the same effects. Hello, Doug? Also ticking me off is that “Out of Time” made it clear that the Time Drive did not travel through space? So, the question remains. WHY DID IT SMEGGING TRAVEL THROUGH SMEGGING SPACE TO SMEGGING DALLAS IN SMEGGING 1963-
 
It’s a TV show. Happy thoughts, dude. Happy thoughts…
…mmmm…
…that’s better. Anyway, credit where credit is due for this episode, I guess. I like the implementation of time travel and the effects of causality. With Kennedy alive, he gets impeached, the Mafia use J. Edgar Hoover as a puppet president, and manage to land in deep trouble with the Soviets/Cuba. It’s a pretty interesting take. I also liked the twist of JFK being the “man behind the grassy knoll”. Strangely enough, this is something of a callback to “Timeslides”. Remember when Kryten was talking about the photograph fluid?

“Well, we could go to Dallas in November 1963, stand on the grassy knoll, and shout “duck”! Uh, I’m sorry: I must have bypassed my good taste chip!”

Ironic, innit. Again, the good there is destroyed by the faulty time paradox.

I don’t know what to say about the ending. On one hand, I think it’s in character for our heroes to learn nothing from the experience. On the other, I shed no sympathy for Lister. Unlike the fine folks at Ganymede and Titan, I actually feel that Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten beating Lister to a pulp was somewhat excusable.

The biggest failing is that this episode really isn’t that funny. Too much focus is on drama. The balance is just off. It’s just a weak episode, and a bad sign of things to come.

Tidbits:

  • It’s worth noting that, in real life, had Kennedy ducked the bullet, he would’ve died soon after from Addison’s disease. His muscles had failed so much that he had to wear a brace. Had he not worn a brace, he might have been able to duck and avoid Oswald’s second bullet. (He might have died because the first bullet hit his trachea, but the bullet to the head definitely terminated his life.)
  • Kryten having his guilt trip works here. It just works better in “Polymorph”, where it’s somewhat crueler.
  • How come, if Kryten’s so smart, he wanted to eat a dead man? This episode is horrid at characterisation.
  • Again, THIS EPISODE FAILS AT CONTINUITY. Just figured I’d let that sink in.
Favorite Scene: While not as good as “Polymorph”, Kryten’s post-guilt-removal behavior is still pretty funny. ‘You bet your ass”, indeed.
Least Favourite Scene: Not scene, but by the end of the episode, I actually wanted to see Lister get beaten by his crew members. This episode was to him was “Rimmerworld” was to Rimmer: it destroyed his character.
Final Score: 4, only for the time travel aspect.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII Preview

Ah, Red Dwarf VII. Plans for the series began in 1993. Taping began three whopping years later. So, the question of the day is…. what happened?

Shortly after VI went to air, Rob Grant departed the show. Apparently, their relationship was disintergrated during the production of The Ten Percenters, a sitcom on ITV that was produced by some Red Dwarf alumni and future writing staff. This left Doug Naylor with an option; either leave the show for dead, or press on with other writers. No prizes for guessing the right answer. Again, he brought along some of his friends to write for episodes, such as Paul Alexander, James Hendrie, and Kim “SpiceWorld” Fuller. (Oh boy. The writer of Spice World is doing Red Dwarf. This season is going to rock).

Filming was also pushed back in 1994. In July, Craig Charles was accused of rape, apparently by one of his ex-girlfriends, and was denied bail. He was only granted bail after he was attacked by a fellow prisoner in jail in October. He was cleared of the charges March 1995.

Then, another dilemma. After two seasons of production troubles and troubled shootings, the lure of the small rouge one had been broken for Chris Barrie, and he demanded to have his screentime effectively halved. The writers responded by writing out Rimmer in one of the first episodes of the series, and bringing him back for flashbacks/dream sequences/whatnot.

So, who could possibly replace a character that many regarded as the heart of the show? Who could possibly stand up to the plate to try and keep the audience interested?

Well, they had a plan in mind. Rumours persist that to get funding for a Red Dwarf film, they needed to add a female to the cast. So, why not bring back a supporting character from the first two series?

Introducing Kochanski…

…as portrayed by Chloe Annett.

You see, Claire Grogan was deep into her role as a talk-show host at this point. Therefore, she couldn’t make filming. Instead, Doug brought on Annett, knowing her from an audition of The Ten Percenters. In comparison to Grogan’s spunky take on the character, Annett portrayed her in a more posh manner (not even bothering to imitate Grogan’s Scottish accent).

Production began in 1996. Filming was radically different compared to other series. Red Dwarf VII eschewed the live studio audience in favour of showing the series to test audiences. This did allow for the sets to have four walls, allowing for more camera angles.

Another radical change came in terms of special effects. The first six series used models 99% of the time for special effects. CGI became cheaper and easier to use between VI and VII. This became the first series to use CGI, which became standard in VIII.

The series also brought back a familiar face at the end of the series. Who is it? You probably know, but hey, a little suspense never killed anybody.

Lastly, the scriptwriting also changed. While Series V dealt with character comedy, and Series VI was more of a sci-fi sitcom, Series VII edged closer to a comedy-drama, with more drama and intense plots, as well as the continuation of the “Find the Small Rouge One” arc of Series VI.

Red Dwarf VII premiered in January 1997. The ratings were high, peaking at 8,000,000 viewers. However, current reception has not been too kind to the series. Reaction since it’s premiere was that it was the worst series. Only recently has it been removed from that position, partially due to re-evaluation, and partially because Series VIII was worse according to fans.

Of course, we have to take a look at the “menu” for the next few days/weeks/months. This time, we have eight- count them, eight- episodes to dissect.

  • Tikka to Ride: Lister wants to use the time drive again. Why? To get some curry. He and the rest of the crew indavertadly save JFK… and cause the demise of the USA.
  • Smoke Me A Clipper: Shot in the chest by a Weirmacht soldier (long story), Ace Rimmer (what a guy) has mere hours to find a replacement. He manages to come across the smeghead we know and love, to try and get him to finally change for the better.
  • Ouroboros: A temporal disturbance connects to an alternate universe where Lister was a hologram and Kochanski got six months in stasis. The rift is attacked by a GELF warship, causing an incident that traps Kochanski on the side she was not from.
  • Duct Soup: Trapped on the other Starbug, Kochanski and her relationship with the rest of the crew is not immediately helped by having to go into the ducts to fix an error on the shuttle.
  • Blue: Lister becomes nostalgic about Rimmer… even to the point where he begins thinking he might be in love.
  • Beyond a Joke: Kryten’s poor anniversary of being rescued by the crew is not helped by the presence of his evil twin.
  • Epideme: An incident on an old derelict causes Lister to contact a virus… one that has intelligence. This virus might lead to Lister having to make the ultimate sacrifice… maybe… sort of.
  • Nanarchy: OK, Lister doesn’t die. But, he does need some parts of his body reconstructed. The crew decide to use nanobots to reconstruct the arm. Thus, they have to go all the way back to the ocean planet that they were on before they lost Red Dwarf.
So… better hope that this series doesn’t live up to it’s bad rep… right?

Show Wars: Bodyswapping: "Bodyswap" vs. "Carpet Diem"

Welcome to SHOW WARS!

Special thanks to the Logo Design Tool for, y’know, existing.

In this new segment, I will be comparing two episodes from two different shows (or maybe two different seasons of the same show) with a similar theme or plot device, and seeing who executes it better. What better way to introduce the segment by comparing two episodes from (what I consider) the two greatest TV shows of all time?

It has to be a huge, strange coincidence that I discovered Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls around the same time. I first began watching YouTube clips of Red Dwarf around June of 2012, although I didn’t declare it a potential “favorite show” until Christmas (“Better Than Life” and it’s cruelly hysterical ending sealed the deal for me). Gravity Falls caught my eye in July of that year; “The Inconveniencing” was running for the first time. I was instantly hooked.

As such, these two shows get the first installment of “Show Wars”, with a rather conventional sci-fi plot being our first example.

The concept of Body-swapping is nothing new. Star Trek: The Original Series did it in its series finale, “The Turnabout Intruder”. (Said episode is considered one of the worst of the original series). It’s just that Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls add their own twists and humor to it to make it funny, relatable, or both.

Therefore, after the jump, in the ring today… it’s “Bodyswap” and “Carpet Diem”!


First up…

The Setup.

The main difference between Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls is that, while both are character driven sci-fi/fantasy comedies, Red Dwarf is closer to straightforward comedy with parodies of sci-fi cliches, while Gravity Falls approaches something closer to comedy-drama. As such, the setups involve character-based humor, the strength of the shows, as well as another strength each show has.

Red Dwarf introduces the Bodyswap with its strength; science-fiction parody and character-based humor. This time, we are introduced via an auto-destruct sequence, brought on upon Lister ordering a shake… while the wires are messed up by a rouge skutter. All the senior officers are dead, and Holly offers no help (she forgot to update the database, for one). Kryten recommends trying to place the mind of a senior officer into Lister to crack the code via a mind-swap. Ultimately, it’s useless (not only can the auto-destruct not be turned off by the senior officer utilized… but there was no bomb to detonate). Still, the episodes goes into a criticism that Rimmer has for Lister (for once); Lister, as nice a guy as he is, is a total slob. Thus, BODYSWAP!

We see how the character-based humor impacts this show, with every action given an equal and opposite reaction. The body swap is driven by Holly not having any ideas at all (actually, she has three; sit there and get blown up, stand there and get blown up, and jump up and down whilst yelling at her for not having an idea before getting blown up). The sudden placement of the senior officer is also perfect to give an idea on how somebody would react to being placed in another person’s body… as she freaks out about the fact that she is a man. Also, the sci-fi used is so over the top, it’s hysterical.

Gravity Falls introduces us with the more realistic sibling conflict propping up between Dipper and Mabel, as well as their characterisations. Brought on by Mabel’s nightly sleepovers and Dipper late night reading, the two decide to move out of the attic. They have to compete for a second bedroom… which contains an electron swapping carpet. One zap fight later, BOOM! Bodyswap! Of course, Gravity Falls is somewhat more grounded in its use of science-fiction, while Red Dwarf uses it for farce. Yet, the more important section to focus on is the characters. Dipper and Mabel’s conflict is very, very realistic; thus, it is very funny, yet also truly recognizable.

It’s a very, very tight score here, but ultimately, Red Dwarf pulls out a better setup… and it wins partially because of Holly’s “three available options” line.

Winner: Red Dwarf. (“We haven’t got a bomb! I got rid of it ages ago!”)

Lies and Deceit: Actions Committed Under the Bodyswap.

This is going to be somewhat shorter. Both of these are very, very similar at the base. Various abuses are committed under the bodyswap, revealing darker underbellies of the characters. The difference is whether it’s one sided or two sided, and the scale of the abuse.

That’s Rimsie!

Red Dwarf uses this episode to show just how much of a selfish, callous smeghead Rimmer is. I put this episode second on my “Top 5 Lowest Arnold Rimmer Moments” list. When I reviewed “Bodyswap”, I declared that this should’ve taken the number 1 spot in hindsight. He promises Lister that he will use the Bodyswap to get Lister in shape… only to gorge, smoke, drink, et al, all the way to putting on two stone. Impressive. After a brief switch back, Rimmer kidnaps Lister’s body and runs off in Starbug to an unknown planet! What a guy! This episode merely serves to reinforce the fact that Rimmer’s miserable life is hardly an excuse for his callous behavior.

It’s a long, LONG story.

Gravity Falls does a two-sided, yet milder, example of this sibling rivalry… which backfires on them horribly. Dipper/Mabel is wrangled into a sleepover, which ends horribly for him. (Not the romantic comedies!) Mabel/Dipper, meanwhile, is taught all about male puberty via Stan. (“Goodbye, childhood!”) Both totally make sense for each’s character: after all, one of the main themes of Gravity Falls is that it is a coming-of-age story for Dipper (and, to a lesser extent, Mabel).

Again, you have two fantastic stories of deceit and lies. It’s hard to pick one…

…I’m going with Gravity Falls. As explained next, it helps build up the character dynamics beyond the sibling rivalry.

Winner: Gravity Falls (“SLEEPOVER!”)

Comedy Connections: The Character Dynamics and Character Conflict

Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls are both character-centred shows. As such, almost every incident in any episode will be created or impacted by the interactions between the characters. Likewise, there are no official antagonists in either episode: all the conflicts here are protagonist-driven.

Red Dwarf only has 5 characters… yet that’s more than enough for awesome character comedy. From “The End”, Rimmer and Lister have had this conflict based on the former’s odious behavior and the latter’s slobbish behavior. Switching bodies made it worse… yet it also made it more one-sided. Rimmer’s odiousness was cranked up, while also gaining Lister’s slobbish tendencies. If anything, this reinforces Rimmer as a hypocrite. It’s good, but still a bit too one-sided and biased. I’ll go back to this below.

It’s the conflict with the other characters and the development they receive that brings the episode up. When Rimmer commits Grand Theft Lister, Lister tries to convince Cat to do a bodyswap and chase after Rimmer in White Midget. The Cat not only offers to pilot the shuttle himself, but does so in a fantastic fashion. Sure, that shows that the Cat is more than just a fashion-obsessed guy. However, it also reveals that, at the very least, Lister and the Cat have a friendship bonded on their distaste for Rimmer’s behaviour. The Cat, normally too self-centred to care about anything, is willing to go beyond his appearance to try and help Lister. Kryten, meanwhile, gets development in this episode via the revelation that he is submissive to any and all human orders, thus confirming a personality reset that was revealed in “Backwards”.

That, my friends, is the face that reads “what the hell did I just see?”

Gravity Falls… oh, the development and interaction between the characters is fantastic! For one, we see the relationship between Stan and Dipper take a much more familial tone compared to the more aloof/callous nature in the first several episodes. We see this with him reading “Dipper” the infamous Puberty Book… only to shock Mabel in the process. This will set up several aspects of the next four episodes of the show, namely the B-plot of “Boyz Crazy” and the A-plots of the other three episodes. Another thing to look at would have to be Candy and Grenda’s relationship with Mabel. They seem willing to partake in Mabel’s crazy schemes, no matter why she’s proposing them. This sets up “Boyz Crazy” and Candy and Grenda drawing the line. We also see Candy and Grenda develop beyond just Mabel’s friends; Candy is more realistic and inquisitive (as seen with the Calling All Boys board game and her reaction to the electron carpet), while Grenda seems to take some offence to Candy’s scepticism (such as with the Calling All Boys game.)

Again, it’s a close one here. In the end, I still have to give this to Gravity Falls. Red Dwarf went the extra mile. Gravity Falls went an extra TWO miles!

Winner: Gravity Falls (“Kevin has the voice of a robot.” “DON’T RUIN THIS FOR ME!”)

No Habla Bodyswap: Understanding from the Outsiders

There are two types of bodyswaps; one where the voice migrates with the rest of the mind and one where the voice does not migrate. Both use the “voice migrates”. However, the implementation is different.

Red Dwarf is unusual in its application of the trope. First, some production notes. You see, the original plan was to have Craig Charles and Chris Barrie try and imitate each other’s voice. Barrie succeeded, for the most part. Charles, however, had such a strong Scouse accent that it became impossible for him to pull off Rimmer. Thus, the episode was done with them in their normal voices, the voices were re-recorded and swapped in editing, and the mostly-finished episode was shown to an audience- the first time an entire episode was filmed without an audience (this became the norm for Series VII).

Now, in-universe. Due to the mumbo-jumbo of the bodyswap machine, the voices were swapped, and everybody knew the voices were swapped. Comedy ensues.

Gravity Falls, meanwhile, made it so that nobody else knew about the bodyswap unless it was explained to them or they experienced it themselves. This also leads to hilarity, but also leads to more development for the leads, as they are forced to take a look at how the opposite’s personality has affected their lifestyle.

It’s a simple pick: comedy or plot? I choose plot.

Winner: Gravity Falls. (“Who wants to give my brother a makeover?”)

Two Faces: The Themes.

Both Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls are primarily comedy-focused shows. However, their paths beyond the comedy are vastly different. Red Dwarf is a show that is cynical, dark, and very much based on farce. Gravity Falls is also relatively dark and sarcastic, but it’s also more openly heartfelt.

Red Dwarf chose to focus on repression and/or hypocrisy. Those who feel kind to Rimmer could argue that thanks to both external and internal circumstances, Rimmer represses quite a few “Lister-esque” traits. Once he gets Lister’s body, he realizes that he can finally relax, and thus, pigs out. Those who don’t feel as kind could argue that he is a hypocrite. Rimmer claims to be this upper-class snob, yet when he takes Lister’s body, he turns into almost as horrid a slob as Lister. Either way, after two episodes showing a depressing backstory and a more sympathetic character, Rimmer reverts somewhat to a smeghead. It fits well with his character; while his backstory shaped his faults, he still could change course… he just chooses not to.

Gravity Falls focuses on relationships and, to a lesser extent, aging. Dipper and Mabel are traveling down separate paths, so to speak. This episode thrusts both of them into a situation that is typical of their age; the two tire of each other and want to separate from each other. The two are frustrated beyond ration; they resort to sabotage. Yet, by the end, they realise the close connection the two have with each other as well as what their separate lives are like (for good and for bad), and they put aside the differences. Sure, you could chalk it up to the status quo, but it works with the story; Dipper and Mabel, for all intents and purposes, will stick together. We also see that despite making a game out of who can suck up to him the most, Stan understands that the two need to escape from each other, and tries to “warn” Dipper about what he will go through in his teenage years… even if it hit Mabel instead. Of course, we have Candy and Grenda’s dynamic start to take shape for any appearances in Season 2, Dipper’s dynamic with the girls, and Soos’s dynamic with Stan and the Pines twins.

It’s a hard choice, but I’m going to have to give this one to Gravity Falls. The heart of both shows are the complex character of Rimmer and the dynamic of Pines Twins, respectively. Both work. However, Gravity Falls also took some time to develop the relationship between all the characters involved (in the A-plot, at least). “Bodyswap” is a funny episode. “Carpet Diem” is both funny and heartfelt. That being how it is, “Carpet Diem” gets the first ever “Show Wars” win.

Winner: Gravity Falls (“FORE!”)

Final Score: Red Dwarf (“What the smeggin’ smeg’s he’s smegging done?”) 1: Gravity Falls (“Ten suck-up points for this lemonade!”) 4.

So the show with the twins gets the win. Before you go on calling this a landslide, I would just like to put in perspective that both episodes were very close to each other in my eyes. Gravity Falls just had a more well-rounded script.

So, that’s it for the very first episode of “Show Wars”. The next few posts won’t be as fun: I have to decide whether to review another Season 9 Simpsons episode or plunge into the widely disliked Red Dwarf VII.

This is going to hurt.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI Wrap Up

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Well, into the history books goes Series VI. My god, we’re getting a little bit close to the end… maybe. Will there be an 11th series? (Come on, DAVE!)

Series VI was and is, by far, the most controversial series. For those that watched Series VI first, it is considered a favorite. For those that watched since the beginning, it is considered the beginning of the end of the show.

Where do I stand on this? I pick the latter… BUT WITH CAVEATS!

The thing is, the writers took a risk here, changing their setting and shifting the humor a bit. I give them credit. They thought the show would not grow stale. Again, credit.

It was just a weaker series, though. Why? Well, let’s list the reasons.

  • A solid plurality (if not majority) of the humor of the first five series was based on character comedy. The sixth series shifted the humor to gags and sitcom-flavour jokes. While not really bad, it just takes quite a bit of getting used to.
  • The primary obstacles in the previous series were the character flaws that brought the crew down. Here, the primary obstacles are flavour-of-the-week villains. It’s not really as deep.
  • Some already established characters don’t really shine. For example, Rimmer really gets one episode that shows a deeper side to him. In fact, “Rimmerworld” nearly resets his character, although I chalk that up to a rushed production schedule.
    • Likewise, Lister wasn’t really developed further. I chalk that up to the character being developed far enough.
  • Kryten himself was turned into a Data-type character, mainly being there to provide exposition.
  • Plots jump around quite a bit… and yet there was still filler.
  • And must we mention the over-reliance of rehashing older scripts?

However, it was not a total write-off of a series. In fact, its strengths weigh heavier than it’s weaknesses.

  • “Legion”, “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”, and “Out of Time” showed what this series could’ve and should’ve been. The former two come close to striking the old balance between character comedy and sitcom-style humor, while the latter gives our main four characters striking emotional depth.
  • Following on from that, while Kryten was mainly there to provide exposition, this series did see him take the mold of a parental figure on the Dwarf.
  • Likewise, the Cat’s feline senses came back into focus, being that he was the primary pilot of Starbug.
  • I admittedly love the idea of a story arc. I think, despite the rest of the series’s faults, it was implemented in a decent, if somewhat underwhelming, manner.
Overall, would I consider this the “beginning of the end”? A little. Still, it’s better than most of TV nowadays. And besides, we have Series VII and VIII to get through.
Be afraid, guys!