To all three of those questions, I present this list. You see, when
was at it’s lowest, during the doldrums of Series VII and VIII, I thought back and actually asked myself these questions.
The thing is that, even with those 16 maligned episodes in Series VII and VIII, and with the more lukewarm material that came afterward, 35 of the first 36 episodes of Red Dwarf were some fantastic television. At worst, those episodes were a bit off, but not too bad. On average, those episode were some funny, somewhat deep television. At it’s best? Simply put, at it’s best, Red Dwarf is some of the best television I’ve ever seen.
Where else could you see an odious failure of a man revealed to be a man with neuroses, a man held back by the worst that life had to offer? Where else did a seemingly one-dimensional fashionista have some of the best dexterity in the history of TV? Where else could one see a loopy computer pull the occasional trick up his sleeve? Where else could a subservient robot use his order to manipulate the system, and almost crack his programming due to the surroundings he faced every day. And where else could a man who seem to be satisfied with the simpler things in life, an utterly unmotivated slob, actually hold deep-seated values, and coincide the negative side of his id with actions that make him one of the kindest people in fiction?
And what other show would pack it all in with comedy that hits both ends of the scale? Jokes about modern pop culture and sex flow into jokes about historical figures that few may have even known about.
Now, as with my “Worst Episodes” list, my opinions may have changed since I reviewed them, albeit not by too much.
In my opinion, “Me2” is the first awesome
episode of Red Dwarf
. The previous few were pretty good, but this one set the tone for the rest of the golden era. It was a warning that this wasn’t your everyday comedy- it was one that would really explore character with every chance it would get. “Me2” is one of the first episodes to analyse Rimmer’s past- how he seemed like a black sheep, yet how his behaviour manages to annoy everybody… even himself. A deep look into his ego, plus some cool Lister lines? Yeah, that’s why I did a top 11- this is a necessity on any
Much like “Back To Reality” two series later, this episode goes beyond it’s initial premise- a send-up to Aliens- to give us fantastic character analysis. This is the first episode to actually show us just how tragic Rimmer’s childhood was. What, you thought Rimmer was lying about his horrid life to gain sympathy? P’shaw!
The humour is very well-balanced- taking the lowbrow with the highbrow, almost all of it hitting (one scene in particular kept the audience laughing for minutes). Of note are the “fixed” versions of all the characters, which are all perfectly done, from the acting to the comedy.
9. “The Last Day”
Much like “Me2” did to Rimmer, “The Last Day” did to Kryten- transforming a likeable character into a loveable one. Once the ship’s servant, “The Last Day” gives us a look inside Kryten’s set of values and beliefs. The idea of Silicon Heaven, while joked about, is never truly ridiculed. In fact, Kryten gets to see what his belief in Silicon Heaven really does- and it provides one hell of a conclusion. That, and the party scene is pure tragicomedy- giving deep insights into the families of Lister and Rimmer, and by extension, Lister and Rimmer themselves. There’s a reason why Series III is my favourite series- it provides awesome character examination.
8. “Dimension Jump”
If ever a character provided so much anthithesis to a character as Ace Rimmer has to Rimsie, I have yet to see. Ace Rimmer is quite possibly the perfect send-up to Arnold Rimmer: much like his environment threw Arnie J down the toilet, it propelled Ace to new heights. As Rimmer is the most despised person in the Red Dwarf universe, Ace is the most beloved. Seeing Ace and Arnie together is really just nonstop contrast after contrast, all to provide a great sense of tragicomedy for Rimmer. There’s a reason why Ace has stood out as a fan favourite.
What a guy.
7. “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”
The only episode on this list to win an Emmy, “Gunmen of the Apocalypse” is a star amongst the mixed bag that was Series 6. Breaking from the “Mad Libs” scripting that seemed to dominate the first two episodes of the series, “Gunmen” features a plot that both sends up the holodeck episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Westerns, yet provides plenty of originality and comedy to the subject. It’s fun, funny, adds a real sense of danger, and contains some of the most awesome scenes in the history of the show. In short- it deserved it’s Emmy.
6. “The Inquisitor”
Red Dwarf, at first glance, seems to be the most nihilistic show alive. I mean, the last humanoids alive are a slob, a failure, and a narcissist, aided by a loopy computer and a neurotic robot. Yet, when you think about it, this is a spot of optimism in the darkness of the show.
This episode confirms what we all know- sometimes, the loopiest people have the brightest plans. What else do you call Lister in this episode? The man who has “brains he never used” kicks himself for his relative lack of action, yet this encourages him to take considerable strides in order to take down the titular antagonist. That, plus more of a look inside Rimmer’s mentality, plus one of the most complex antagonists in the history of the show, puts this episode just outside the top 5.
Ah, Rimmer. Human tragedy in a character if I ever saw one. He says one line that seals the deal:
“You expect something to go right for me? Arnold “Schmucko” Rimmer? Tosspot by royal appointment?”
“Holoship” shows Rimmer at his most complex, really delving into his neuroses, while also giving him an ending that reminds us why the character is one of the most beloved characters in TV history. Well aware of the fact that life has dealt him a raw hand (to say the very least), it gives him, for once, a look at pure sympathy. You understand why he makes the manoeuvres he makes in order to try and get a position of power on the ship. If only Commander Crane got just a tad bit more development (cut out the interview scene), this would’ve been in the top 3, hands down. Still, 5th out of 61? Not too shabby, I might say.
4. “Thanks For The Memory”
While Rimmer may have gotten the lion’s share of character development during the course of the show, Lister in no way was left high and dry. This episode might be the first one to really look at the drawbacks of Lister’s character- one where his laddish behaviour cost him a chance at everlasting love. However, this episode has him share a part of his memory with Rimmer, who he almost never gets along with. That is a virtue that more than makes up for his vices. The mystery is cool, and the resolution is emotional. 4th best, my friends!
Doing a Bottle Episode is a risky manoeuvre- you’re either going to fail hard, or you’re going to reach the stars. This episode hit the latter and then some, forcing two adversaries into a situation where they have to open up to each other.
The theme for the first two series was “Lister and Rimmer argue IN SPACE!!!!!” This episode is really the one that delves into their relationship- how, despite loathing each other, they have striking similarities. Both of them flesh out beyond their standard “good v. not good” tendencies in the first two series- Lister does something questionable, yet feels remorse about what he does. At the same time, Rimmer opens up to Lister, and performs probably the greatest act of selflessness in the series (at least, until Series VI). Add to that some wickedly funny comedy, and what we have is one for the ages.
2. “Back to Reality”
When I first reviewed “Back to Reality” in April, I gave it the “coveted” 10 score, calling it “The Best Ever Red Dwarf“. While placing in 2nd might not indicate it holding up in that regard, I still retain that it barely missed the #1 spot. It’s only held down by the fact that it’s not as effective as a “last episode of series” compared to “last episode ever”.
Otherwise, what else is there to say? This episode almost has it all- you have brilliant character development through the mirror image, callbacks to small jokes so they can be used as character developers, a deep analysis of the psyches of all four characters. Yes, even Cat gets fleshed out- beyond the flamboyant dandy is a character with no knowledge of what he really is, a character of insecurities and vanity. It made #1 in the two polls Ganymede and Titan did, and has placed in the top 3 in series polls constantly. It’s that memorable. In terms of objectivity, it really is the best Red Dwarf ever.
But why isn’t it #1? What episode could have possibly topped “Back to Reality”? Well, the “Gold” episode’s title is somewhat indicative of it’s placement, if only via slight hyperbole.
1. “Better Than Life”
This episode holds a special place in my heart- it was the episode that convinced me that Red Dwarf would be one of my favourite TV shows of all time. (Seeing it mere months after first watching Gravity Falls wasn’t too shabby of a coincidence, either.) Did that piece of pseudo-nostalgia colour my opinion? Maybe. (Read: hell yes.)
Still, even without that, it can’t be denied- this is one hell of an episode. “Better Than Life” is one of the first episodes that really dove into Rimmer’s pathos- his tragic, abusive childhood that implanted the neurosis that plague him today is really examined here. His relationship with his father is also revealed, setting the stage for his ambition and his talent (or lack thereof). The scenes that follow drive Rimmer deeper and deeper into tragicomedy, ending in him ruining a game that’s supposed to be a source of pure joy, and bringing down the others with him. How else do you explain this episode? Nobody hates Rimmer just because- they hate him because his neurosis manages to drive down everybody, and he tries to evade progression.
On a far lighter note, what else can you say about this episode? The comedy ranges from high to low, hits on pretty much all counts, character comedy is fantastic, the plot is brilliant, and the acting is phenomenal. Example of the latter: only Norman Lovett could make the screwed up situation he’s in deadpan.
“Oh, dear. You can’t take him anywhere, can ya?”
However, what seals this as my favourite episode of Red Dwarf? You know those two paragraphs above- the one where I said “Where else can blah blah blah”? This episode is a microcosm of those paragraphs. It’s brilliant, it’s hysterical, it’s tragic, it made me fall in love with the show… it’s Red Dwarf incarnate.
Honourable Mentions: “Justice”, “Queeg” (this one barely missed the list), “Quarantine”, “Lemons”, “The Beginning”.
Well, that’s it for Red Dwarf for quite a while. I’ll come back to this fantastic show, possibly in the spring, to re-review the episodes. I’ll review Series XI. I’ll do more “Show Wars” and “Top X Lists” with Red Dwarf.
But again, that won’t be until the spring… maybe the summer.
So, how are we going to go out the year? In silence?
Who knows? Keep clicking on this blog. Maybe I have one last trick up my sleeve.