Red Dwarf Review: "Back to Earth"

Airdate: 10-12 April, 2009

Synopsis: It’s been nine years since Rimmer kneed Death in the pelvis on board a burning Red Dwarf. Since then, Red Dwarf seems to be back in order… albeit empty again. Holly is out of commission, flooded out thanks to Lister. Kochanski is dead, and Lister is still in mourning. After noticing low water supplies, the crew discover that a giant squid is in their water tank. Said squid is rapidly replaced by a former crewmember, Katerina Bartikovsky, who declares that Rimmer’s run time is to be terminated due to his incompetence, and that Lister (with the help of some squid DNA) is to go back in time and repopulate humanity. Learning that they inhabit an “invalid” dimension, the crew (and Bartikovsky) are sent to a “real” dimension- Earth 2009, where they learn they are part of a mere TV show.

Review: Ten years is a mighty long time in between episodes- essentially, a generation change. The internet became a true necessity, the economy rose and fell, terrorists committed high-profile attacks in London and the Northeastern US (amongst other locations), London had begun to prepare for the Olympic games, there were two American presidents, the office of the UK PM changed hands, and the popularity of the Labour Party slowly cratered… amongst other events.

Once BtE premiered, it polarized fandom beyond any fears. Those that didn’t love it hated it.

So, the question is, can Red Dwarf still hold it’s own after a 10-year hiatus (and 15 years since the last truly great Red Dwarf episode)?

Well, let me put it this way: I liked it quite a bit more than I was expecting to. Or maybe I was so let down by shlock like “Krytie TV” and “Pete” that anything would be an improvement! More after the break!

Let’s get this out of the way first; yes, I know that there is no studio audience to record laughter. Honestly, it was barely a problem, and only at the beginning. Once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty decent.

Red Dwarf has broken the show’s sense of reality before. “Back to Reality”, which is widely considered Red Dwarf’s magnum opus, managed to both deconstruct and reconstruct the reality that Red Dwarf is set in, by examining the innermost fears of the characters. This movie goes about it a different way, smashing the fourth wall and exposing the characters to the new reality- ours. It’s actually incredible how well they adjust to modern-day London, especially given the fact that their origins are at least 150 years out from their birth. (Granted, the Cat’s species evolved to the point of humanoids, but still.)

This episode goes meta in a way that few others have done before- continuous references to previous disasters, the Carbug, scenes involving the “Creator” (who, without giving much away, looks a lot like Alan “Fluff” Freeman), you name it.

Not arf good, pop pickers!

As I’ve mentioned before and again while reviewing this show, Red Dwarf is very character driven. This movie tends to put character in the background, though, in favor of the plot. However, this does not necessarily mean that character development is poor in this episode- it’s just not too much of a priority. Much of the development for Red Dwarf has been focused on Rimmer, to the point where it could be argued that Rimmer was the main character of Red Dwarf. Series VII, for all it’s faults, wanted to rectify this by giving Lister the centre role (Rimmer was only in 4 episodes, only two of which featured him as the main character). However, that was botched by the inconsistent writing of Lister- he was either written as a bland “nice guy”, a one-dimensional slob, or a jackass. By the time the ship began disintegrating in “Only the Good…”, you kinda didn’t care much about his fate (I certainly just wanted the series over at that point.)

This episode’s portrayal of Lister is a bit more in line with the classic seasons. Sure, he’s still a disgusting bum who has the odd callous tendency, yet it’s not overt enough to make him unlikeable. I actually felt for him- first time I said that in a long time. After all, Doug Naylor finally seemed to somewhat recognize why people loved Lister- he might be a bum, but he’s so well rounded, so prone to bravery, that he’s likeable. Still, I felt that there could’ve been more scenes that showed a more compassionate side to Lister (some scenes I wondered why he stood idly by), but you take what you can here. It’s a reintroduction to the character we know and love.

Rimmer didn’t get too much. In fact, he seems a bit much of a one-note jerkass. I didn’t mind this two much- most of the comedy with him is hysterical, and it does provide for a decent reintroduction before a potential new run of episodes. Same with the Cat, although his actions through the episode lead to an epic payoff. Kryten wasn’t used too much, sadly- they could’ve done more with him.

Now, what about new characters? Really, there are two that need to be mentioned. First, the one that starts the plot- Katerina Bartikovsky. For a “one-shot” character… I dunno. I feel that they could’ve fleshed her out a bit more. Still, I’ll take her no-nonsense character over Kill Crazy any day of the smeggin week!

This episode also served as something of a crossover with Coronation Street, Craig Charles’s other show. It wasn’t officially a crossover, per se, but it effectively blurred the lines of “reality”… much like the rest of this three parter.

Look, I’m not going to call this a masterpiece. Red Dwarf has gone far deeper, bent the fourth wall better, and has made more jokes that hit. But, I’ll appreciate this for what it is- a reintroduction to our favorite characters, in hopes that we might get one more series with them.

It was pretty successful in that department- ratings topped 2.7 million for the first part, and averaged out to 4 million watching part 1 over the weekend. This was the highest rated program on a British digital network ever. Part 2 hit 3 million, and part 3 hit 2.9m. By all accounts, despite the lukewarm reaction, BtE was a success.

Trivia:

  • As I noted before, this episode writes Holly out by flooding the electronics that comprise him. Norman Lovett, who was asked to clear his schedule for his scenes that never happened, swore off the franchise for good. While he has since reconciled, “Fathers and Suns” had a new computer installed. Whether he will appear in XI remains to be seen.
  • This episode showcases an interesting answer to why VHS’s are present in the early episodes of Red Dwarf. You see, people were too dumb to know how to place the DVD’s back in their boxes, and they were small enough to get lost. Kinda ironic, given that DVD’s themselves are in a decline- replaced by digital downloads.
  • Admittedly, thanks to advances in technology, the CGI isn’t half-bad. It wasn’t eye-piercingly terrible as it was in VIII.
  • Carbug is stupid. It’s also hilarious.
Favorite Scene: Part Three is probably the best part. I particularly loved the ending of that part- it’s pretty damn awesome.
Least Favorite Scene: I found the scenes in the department store a bit more tedious to sit through.
Score: 7.
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Red Dwarf: "Back to Earth" Preview

“Remember: only the good die young.”
“That’s… never happened before.”

With those two sentences (and “The End”/”The Smeg It Is” slides), on 5 April 1999, Red Dwarf VIII faded away into Britcom history. Initially hailed as a return to form by many a fan, it’s reputation slipped quite a bit over ten years. By 2009, those that hated Series VIII loathed it. I consider “Krytie TV” and “Pete Part II” to be the worst episodes in British sci-fi history and British comedy history. Yes. Worse than “The Twin Dilemma”. Worse than The Wright Way. The only worthwhile episode in that entire piece of schlock is “Cassandra”, and even that’s held back by off pacing and awkward character moments.

Yet, at the time, it was popular enough to bring up a question: will there be a movie?

Wait, There Was a Red Dwarf Movie Planned?

Movie spin-offs of TV shows are relatively commonplace. Yet, it would be a testament to the power of Red Dwarf if there was an actual theatrical spin-off. Theatrical movies directly spun off from sitcoms are something of an unusual breed (correct me if I’m wrong), and almost unheard of when it pertains to Britcoms.

Ultimately, the film never really went through.

Actually, if Doug Naylor is to be believed, a script was written, and they had plans for production. However, setback after setback, false funding after contract failure, damned the project. The BBC didn’t feel the script was up to par for a theater. Maybe they learned their lesson from Series VIII. Or, maybe they were too busy concentrating on what appeared to be their new cash cow in the making, some little show called Doctor Who.

So, the project was going nowhere. However, between February and August of 2008, BBC Worldwide appeared to strike a deal with Naylor: produce a miniseries consisting of three episodes, at least two of which could easily be strung into something resembling movie.

Thus, Back to Earth was born.

So, How the Hell Was This Thing Produced?

Intended to be two episodes and Red Dwarf Unplugged, the movie was expanded to three episodes.

A big problem facing production? The thing barely had a budget. With the script’s plans, the writers decided to (yet again) kibosh the studio audience to save money they barely even had. By kibosh, I mean it was decided not to even bring an audience in to record their reaction as the episodes aired. Thus, for the first time in history, Red Dwarf was literally laughless.

Sets were done on the cheap: half of the sets were built out of things they found in the closet. Camera work was done to try and make it seem the thing had a bigger budget than it actually did. The crew was brought in to be extras. Yes, they didn’t have money for extras.

Speaking of which, the casting was, well, troublesome. Norman Lovett was told to clear his schedule for filming dates. Ultimately, it was decided that he wasn’t needed. Thing was, he was never informed that he wasn’t needed until it was too late. Infuriated, Naylor went on record to declare that, as far as his acting career went, the franchise was dead. (He appears to have since reconciled with Naylor.)

Chloe Annett was also asked to join up. It would appear that her experience with the movie went far more smoothly. Why? Well… they used a picture of her at the beginning, for one. The producers and her agent must’ve gotten along well.

This episode also seemed to eschew the “traditional” camera yet again, going back to a filmized-style seen in Series VII. This time, the red-camera system was used. Effects seemed to reach a happier medium, with a cross between CGI and models used. Red Dwarf, for example, had it’s model rebuilt (thank god).

So, what was the end result? Guess it’s time to watch.

It’s back to Red Dwarf.

It’s Back to Earth.

Gravity Falls Review: Season 2, Episode 4: "Sock Opera"

“WE HAVE A TITLE!”- Joel and the Bots, MST3K (“I Accuse My Parents”)

Airdate: September 8, 2014

Synopsis: Mabel’s “boyfriend of the week” is a puppet snob. Getting trapped in a lie, she needs to produce a decent puppet show. This interferes with Dipper’s goal to secure the password to the laptop they found a couple of episodes back. Running out of options and time, he manages to come across a certain isosceles monster, who is willing to make a deal… seemingly.

Review: While Gravity Falls normally has awesome character development, a sizable chunk of it has been centered on Dipper and Stan. Mabel seems to have been put behind as far as character development goes. This episode goes far in trying to flesh her out, and in doing so, continues a streak of fantastic episodes. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 18: "This Little Wiggy"

Airdate: March 22nd, 1998

Synopsis: After noticing that Ralph is constantly bulled due to his “off” character, Marge arranges a meetup between Ralph and Bart, much to the latter’s chagrin. As Bart realizes the power his father lords as the chief of police, such as having the master key, Bart begins to use Ralph to break into various places, like a toy store, a bakery, and a local jail.

Review: If ever I were to pick the best “valentines day” episode of any show ever, it would probably have to be “I Love Lisa”. Not only does it have a simple yet compelling story between the ditzy yet soft-hearted Ralph and the intellectual yet occasionally aloof Lisa, but it also showcased that Ralph was more than just a prop character, a “kid in the back”. He was a loner, ostracized because of his ditzy behavior, yet was an utter savant when it came to the stage. It’s probably my favorite “holiday” episode of The Simpsons by quite a margin. If ever you need proof that the classic seasons of The Simpsons were able to craft some of the most fantastic characters in TV history, watch that episode.

I bring that episode up because, again, Ralph is the center of an episode revolved around him. You can feel the difference in the two episodes. One gives him natural character development that pulls at almost every emotion imaginable, whilst not being overly sappy. The other tries too hard to be funny, and as a result, it seems to reserve its characters to joke fodder. Continue reading

September Announcements

So, August wasn’t really too productive of a month for me. Why? I just fell lazy. Which begs the question: what about the rest of the year?

Well, here’s the state of the blog.

First off, my plans to go back and look at Red Dwarf from episode 1? For now, those are on the back burner… probably for about a year or so. Why? Simply put, I feel that I am still too close to my reviews of the show. Also, I have other plans involving the show.

You see, I want to review Red Dwarf X, putting out reviews of each episode on the 2-year anniversary of their airdate. That, and with Red Dwarf XI possibly coming next year, I want that to pass as well before I take a look back at series I.

For now, the following shows are on my table:

  • Gravity Falls reviews will still go out as normal, about 2-3 days after the new episodes air. If this season is the last, then after this season airs, after I have a nice long sob, I’ll go back and redo my original reviews.
  • As for Scullyfied Simpsons, my review for “This Little Wiggy” should probably go out later this week. I’m going to try and do a review every week, if not every other week. I’ll probably increase the frequency of my reviews as we enter the zany idiocy of season 10.
  • I’m also thinking of doing a fourth show. So far, the following are in “contention”:
    • Star Trek: Enterprise, simply because it’s sort of ignored in the Star Trek fandom.  I want to see how it holds up 13-14 years later.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series, with what’s going on in the world today, it would be an interesting idea to take a look at the 60s and see just how similar it is to the 2010s.
    • Futurama, albeit with a caveat: if I review Futurama, it’s getting it’s own blog. Why? Because Futurama is simply that awesome.
    • Twin Peaks, a show that I consider the spiritual grandfather to Gravity Falls.
    • Steven Universe, another show that could have it’s own blog due to the sheer amount of episodes available, plus the awesomeness of the show itself.
    • Probably not making it, but still a decent contender, is Galactica 1980.
So, that’s the state of the blog. I’m alright, I just fell lazy this August.