Red Dwarf Review: Series VIII Wrap Up

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Once upon a time, there was a show called Red Dwarf. Initially thought of by newcomers as a show about a bum trapped in space, it slowly established itself as something more. The interactions between the characters gave us some of the best development of each and every one. Even characters used more for outright comedy got some depth to them, while never truly losing some level of their identity. The plots conceived focused on the characters while also being inventive. The humor struck a perfect balance between character comedy, lowbrow comedy (including slapstick), and highbrow comedy, all while not violating the development of the characters. It juggled comedy, drama, adventure, and sci-fi perfectly. It was the best show out there.

Then the show fell in quality in its seventh series. Can’t fault it too much: production had been stilted for a long time, and there were some cast dynamic issues.

Season 8 then came, and proceeded to take every minor flaw that the show had in the past- awkward sexual politics, somewhat strange continuity, weaker special effects, and the occasional flattening of character- multiplied their frequency by a solid hundred, and cranked it up to irritating levels. The end result? If the Ganymede and Titan Silver Survey is to be believed, Series VIII is considered the worst series in the history of Red Dwarf. On average, Series VIII episodes got 2637 points- the lowest number, and trailing far behind the “classics”.

What exactly was the problem with this series, though? Well, let’s delve into the problems listed above, plus more, in my favorite list method… BULLET POINTS:

  • It sent the original premise of Red Dwarf packing: This is probably the biggest error with this series. When Series VI made something of a shakeup by taking away the small rouge one, it at least kept the character dynamic and the mere premise of the show at least somewhat intact. The show was about a bunch of idiots commanding a spaceship with little contact. This series jettisons that suddenly, in favor of a damn prison sitcom in space!
  • The expertly crafted character development was, for the most part, jettisoned. OK, time for some bullet points within bullet points!
    • Rimmer has some level of excuse: he was resurrected, yet not in a form that kept his development over the previous few series. As such, he’s back to being an ambitious loser and a jackass. However, he never really developed beyond this. He acts like a self-centered smeghead from moment one, and it doesn’t let up until the last few minutes- far too late.
    • Lister was really just a puppet. His character really shifts with the wind to what the producers think will suit the plot.
    • Kochanski… well, she had virtually no development. They just made a bunch of “women” jokes.
    • Kryten actually is treated decently: I sorta preferred whatever character was here compared to Series VII. Not saying much, though: he lost all ability to communicate with humans.
    • Maybe it’s the acting slipping, or the poor material, but the Cat no longer has a sense of “coolness” to his behavior. He just comes off as annoying.
  • Worthless Side Characters: OK, Hollister was decent (maybe it’s Mac McDonald’s acting), but did we really need Kill Crazy? Again, Red Dwarf’s appeal was a bunch of idiots being some of the last representatives from Earth (and the Cat). Now, we just have a poor comedy with side characters messing about and doing nothing.
  • The well-balanced humor was, well, thrown off balance… and unfunny: With a lack of focus on character, most of the jokes can be summed up in three words: “overt sexual humor”. Now, Red Dwarf has always made jokes about sex, but they were normally in the context of their sex lives, giving us a bit of insight into their characters. Now, most of these jokes are “haha, men are perverts”, amongst others. The rest of the comedy is slapstick and other vulgar humor. Again, both of these have been done before, but they were balanced out with character comedy, instead of just being there.
  • Subtlety is also tossed: Compare Kryten’s upset at the fact that he’s about to die in “The Last Day” to, well, anytime he gets upset in this series. It’s quieter in the former, yet it also has something more of an impact.
  • Special effects went down the toilet: Let’s put it this way: the BBC should apologize for its fascination with bad CGI in the 90s.
  • Callbacks to far better episodes without knowing the gag’s raison d’etre: The Dibbley Family. Does anybody remember what Dibbley represented? Here’s a hint: Cat shouldn’t be the first to go to the idea!
  • Krytie TV: This sexist, pathetic tedium is probably the worst half hour in the history of the show. The only reason why it didn’t get the 0 is because I don’t blame it for killing the franchise as much as…
  • Pete: I’ll just steal part of a quote from Ganymede and Titan’s Silver Survey:
    • “What more can be said about this shambles? It is categorically and undeniably the worst episode of Red Dwarf – rooted to the bottom of the list, and miles away from its nearest rival. If Derby County’s 2007-08 Premier League campaign was an episode of a science-fiction sit-com, this would be it.” 
What about good things? Things that this series didn’t smeg up? Well, for all few of those, we need some BULLET POINTS!
  • Cassandra: Good episode. Not awesome, but good enough, especially compared to the worst episodes of this wreck of a series.
  • No more overt comedy-drama: Sure, there’s no good comedy, but there’s very little bad drama.
  • Chris Barrie’s back: He puts in a decent performance- although, again, there’s little subtlety. I blame the writing.
  • It got the show into syndication: The last 16 episodes may have largely been subpar, but this series put Red Dwarf over the top. The show could now be shipped as a syndication package: one episode per week would last an entire year.
Now, the prevailing question: who deserves the blame for this trainwreck? Who’s feet should be held to the fire?
I place the blame on the following… yet again, using bullet points:
  • Doug Naylor: He supposedly created the series; he should know how to write for the characters and for the show in general. Hell, a small part of me thinks that while Doug came up with the idea, Rob Grant did the “grunt work”, so to speak. Another part of me thinks that Doug needed that quality check from Rob. Either way, the balance is non-existent. I just think Doug saw the big fat cheque given to him and said: “I’ll see what I can do”.
  • Paul Alexander: In two years, his writing went from merely mediocre to outright horrid. “Krytie TV” and “Pete”, anybody? What happened, man?
  • The BBC: They had to squeeze the syndication money out, eh? While this did ensure Red Dwarf’s presence for years to come (see above), did the BBC ever enforce quality control? Did anybody say “hey, can you make these episodes less bad?”

This is sad. This is a series I would never show to my own worst enemy. It’s one of the worst groups of episodes in the history of British TV. As good as “Cassandra” is, it is little solace for the utter stupidity that is Red Dwarf VIII.

With the exception of “Cassandra” (maybe), I will never watch one second of this series again. In a fairer world, this series would have been struck down from canon or written off as a dream. In a far fairer world, this series would’ve been made, but would’ve been radically different… and so much better.

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