Welcome to SHOW WARS!
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”!
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.
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.