Red Dwarf Review: Series VII Wrap Up

0958b-screenshot2014-06-10at7-02-40pm

I have to admit, I normally do have a tinge of sadness when I finish reviewing a series of Red Dwarf, as I look back and recognize that, while I do have these episodes at my disposal at any moment, that’s another chapter closed in my progress of reviewing every episode of one of the greatest shows ever made.

This time, though, it’s not really a tinge of sadness as much as a sense of melancholy about the end of the series. Why? Well, let’s put it this way…

This might be the worst series of Red Dwarf.

I’m serious. I knew from the moment Lister messed around with Kryten’s programming that this series was going to be the first series that I would not give a decent amount of praise to. After “Barely a Joke”, this series sealed another milestone: I had grown to hate this series. Hate it. It’s probably the worst group of episodes in the history of British TV (except for maybe “The Twin Dilemma”).

 

Why? Well, let’s romp off the reasons… after the break.

One, the CGI. It was barely passable by 1997 BBC standards. Watching it in 2014 was actually pretty painful on the eyes.

 

Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 8: "Nanarchy"

Airdate: 7 March, 1997

Synopsis: Lister’s feeling a bit down. Apparently, having your right hand lobbed off isn’t the best thing for your mood. Apparently, he’s made Kryten basically take care of him, to the android’s happiness… and Kochanski’s frustration. Kryten is forced to realize that Lister needs a new arm. After a mind-controlled prosthetic only causes pain to Kryten, the crew decides to use Kryten’s circuit reconstructing Nanobots. They were last seen around the time the crew suffered a minor incident with the Despair Squid. (Ah, a time when reviewing Red Dwarf didn’t depress me. Happy days!) The crew are put into a deep sleep until they arrive back at the site of the Esperanto. They find that the planet is apparently registering as Red Dwarf, partially due to the materials on the planet being from Red Dwarf.

Review (SPOILERS): This episode seems to exist for one reason and one reason only- resolve the arc that seemed to be abandoned at the end of last season. Oh, and try and resolve the cliffhanger from the previous episode.

The thing is, with Red Dwarf, previous changes that seemed to be permanent at the end of the episode were resolved by the next week, such as the ending of “Bodyswap”, or the end of “Polymorph”. Here, this episode seems to be an answer to “how does stuff like this get resolved?”

The answer? Glacially slow.

Much like, say, “Blue”, this episode would’ve worked better if constrained to American time limits: 22 minutes seemed fine for this episode. Now? Every attempt at humor drags on, at least in the first half. We get it: Lister’s disabled. Now, Red Dwarf has done dark comedy before: Rimmer’s screwed-up life, for example. Yet, the jokes are too thin and drag on too much to be funny. That, plus a lack of jokes in the second half, meant that the episode has far too little humor.

The plot? Pretty stupid. What, Starbug couldn’t register something that was in its own ship? Look, I know Red Dwarf is microscopic now, but come on. Now, Red Dwarf had plotlines and resolutions that made no sense before, such as “Backwards”. However, “Backwards” ran on a pure theory of “rule of funny”, and was actually, you know, funny. Not a whole lot of laughs here. Doug Naylor wants us to take Red Dwarf seriously now, yet the plots here make little, if any, sense.

Oh, and why are they taking a risk with another cliffhanger? Didn’t Naylor learn his lesson from the three-year hiatus that the show endured?

It’s not a total loss of an episode. For one, despite my complaint of “not a whole lot of laughs”, there are a few scenes that are a bit funny, such as the reconstruction of Lister’s arm. The second half of the episode does pick up in terms of good lines, also. Again, I will not fault the actors here: they all put in an awesome performance, up to and including Chloe Annett.

It’s just not a very good episode. The plot is muddy, and the comedy is dry. Kinda fitting that a poor series ends with a poor episode.

Actually, I forgot one thing…

HOLLY’S BACK!

“What’s happening, dudes?”

Yes, folks. Norman Levitt, after 8 years, reprised his most famous role, barely any balder. Maybe it’s just me being ecstatic because it’s a link to a much happier time in Red Dwarf history, but every line that Holly delivers is fantastic. That’s a plus for this episode.

Tidbits:

  • This was the first and only episode of Red Dwarf to have three writers, albeit only out of a technicality. James Hendrie wrote the first draft. He was unavailable to write the second draft, however, and was replaced by Paul Alexander. The episode was “brushed up” by Doug Naylor.
  • I know I’ve mentioned this for the 7th time, but the CGI is garish. Some might argue that I should give the show the benefit of the doubt: it was a BBC production, and BBC once had a reputation for being notoriously cheap with its sci-fi entertainment, one it never really shook off. That, and I will concede that it was a necessary evil to get the last scene of the episode.
  • Nice to see the small rouge one again… even if it is in cheesy CGI.
  • This episode (and the past two seasons, in fact) actually have a webcomic prequel, “Prelude to Nanarchy”. It’s pretty decent, I guess.
Favorite Scene: “All right, dudes?” And with that, the last episode of the series became memorable.
Least Favorite Scene: The “ball” scene is long and boring.
Score: 3.75. Holly saved this episode.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 6: "Beyond A Joke"

Airdate: 21 February 1997

Synopsis: Kryten gets so jealous, his head blows up. The rest of the group need to find a second droid to help repair him, or something. They come across a simulant, that tries to show Kryten why he was created.

Yes. This went to air.

Review: The fine folks at the Red Dwarf fansite Ganymede and Titan (which is something like a Dead Homer Society-type blog) have dubbed this episode “Barely a Joke”, for its supposed lack of good humor and dull plot. Is it that bad?

Sorta. Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 5: "Blue"

Airdate: 14 February, 1997

“Sorry. Doug Naylor and the BBC offered me too much money to come back one more time.”

Synopsis: The effects of Rimmer taking off finally hit Lister when he realizes that he has to toss his stuff to make Starbug lighter, and he begins… gasp… missing him. Lister even begins dreaming about him, much to his disgust. He tries to get psychoanalyzed and some help from the other crewmembers. This, however, brings the battle between Kryten and Kochanski into play, with Kryten wanting to one-up Kochanski, even if it involves creating a TIV eerily similar to a certain ride at Disney World… except its intent is confirmed to annoy the riders.

Review (SPOILERS AHEAD- READ AT OWN CAUTION): Maybe it’s just because the previous episode took away my hopes for this series, but this is actually somewhat watchable… after the first few minutes, which are entirely pointless! Some of this comes from my opinion that, unlike “Duct Soup”, which was like watching a baked potato cook for 10 minutes, this episode actually contains more laughs along the way… yet, it also contains some psychoanalytic theory. Continue reading

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.

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.

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…