Red Dwarf Review: Series X, Episode 6: "The Beginning"

Airdate: 8 November, 2012

Synopsis: In the year 2200-ish, at IO Tech, Rimmer’s teacher, Mr. Rimmer, uses Rimmer as a guinea pig to make him unsure of his decisions through life… as punishment for being late to class.

Three million years later, a rogue droid named Hogey wants apparently another duel across time and space with the Dwarfers. They aren’t even fazed. Making matters stranger this time around is that Hogey stole a map of the various black holes through the universe from a Simulant Death Ship. Said simulants weren’t too pleased, and begin attacking Red Dwarf. The crew escape in Blue Midget, where they fear death. Rimmer, in particular, fears death so much he brings a holo-lamp that his father gave him to play the day he became an officer. With his father on his mind, he is unable to concentrate on a plan of action. Thus, he decides to take the ultimate dive, and play the holo-lamp early, proving that he doesn’t care about his father’s opinion anymore. There, Rimmer’s father reveals something stunning about Rimmer’s lineage.

Review (SPOILERS): There are three absolutes in life: death, taxes, and Red Dwarf episodes being constructed as “last episodes ever”.

Ever since Series V’s epic “Back to Reality”, every series of Red Dwarf (bar VII) ended with an episode ambiguous to the future of the series. Ironically, the even numbered series since V have ended with Rimmer called upon to save the ship. “Out of Time” was an epic ending for Rimmer. “Only the Good”, eh, not so much.

Thankfully, this is quite the improvement over “Only the Good”, by giving us actual character development for Rimmer. Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: Series X, Episode 5: "Dear Dave"

Airdate: 1 November, 2012

Synopsis: Lister’s having one of those days where he mopes around about being the last human alive. To interrupt his sadness, he realizes that two vending machines are fighting for his affections. Making matters worse? He gets a letter from the past, telling him that he may have sired a kid. Meanwhile, Rimmer is threatened with demotion by the ship’s on-board computer (not Holly, sadly) for failure to perform duties, putting him on par with Lister. He realizes that he’ll be able to avoid being put on equal footing if he can convince the computer that Lister’s nuts, thus giving him an excuse as to why he didn’t perform.

Review: Let’s get this off the bat – this is the weakest episode of Red Dwarf X. The reason? It seems like they wanted to siphon elements from Series I and II, yet forgot what made those series… quirky in the first place.

Here’s the deal- Lister has been the victim of both cheating accusations from vending machines, while realizing that his ex-girlfriend cheated on him, yet he still might have sired the kid inside of her. Remove the vending machines for a second. That is as stock a sitcom plot as you can possibly get. Engaging? Not in the slightest.

What’s worse is that the “remembering the ex-girlfriend” plot was used in Series II’s “Thanks for the Memory”. “TFTM” is one of my all-time favorite Red Dwarf episodes, because it gave some insight into the characters of Lister and Rimmer, the tragedies the two faced. That, and we actually saw Lister’s former girlfriend, giving us an emotional connection. It’s brilliant. Seeing elements of that episode used in a stock sitcom plot? Tragic.

That’s just the largest of the ways this episode apes from the earlier series. Let’s have a list!

  • Rimmer tries to maintain his position of power over Lister? Inverse of “Balance of Power”.
  • Post arrives alerting a character of bad news? “Better Than Life”. (Oh, and also “The Last Day”.)
  • Lister moping over the fact that he’s the last human alive? “Timeslides”.
  • Rimmer has no idea about women? “Parallel Universe”.
  • Lister mistaken for robosexual by Rimmer? “Polymorph”.
  • Lister needs to know about his children? “Ouroboros”. Yes, that failure of an episode.
    • Lister realizes that he might have a child? Again, “Parallel Universe”.
  • Ambiguous ending? “Out of Time”.
What made those episodes work was the soul, the creativity in those plots. Even “Ouroboros”, as bad as it was, was at least an attempt to shake up the status quo. It failed miserably, but still. There, they tried. This episode? Doug could’ve removed the vending machine, and shipped it as a spec script for Two and a Half Men. Nobody would’ve noticed the smegging difference.
Is there anything good I can say about this episode? Well, the gags worked, for the most part. They petered out by the time Lister takes one of the vending machines around the corner. Still, even the chrades scene was decent. While it did give off some Series VII vibes, it at least was funny. Curse thee, giant worms!
What a shame. After a solid, if not overly spectacular, first four episodes, we get this mediocre mess. I’ll pass it, if only because this episode didn’t really infuriate me as much as “Krytie TV” and “Pete” did. That, and it actually made me laugh more than thrice. Oh, and it was made in a week, pretty much, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Tidbits:
  • Speaking of Series VII, this episode was a replacement for a two-parter that would’ve seen Kochanski re-enter the picture. Ah, at least “The Beginning” looks promising.
  • The toilet paper joke? Damn, that ran on just a bit too long.
  • Oh, and one more positive? The acting is pretty damn good. I still question the french accent used for one of the vending machines. Why?
Favorite Scene: The chrades scene. Like a Series VII gag, but better.
Least Favorite Scene: The mail scene. Too similar to “Better Than Life”.
Score: 5.5

Red Dwarf Review: Series X, Episode 4: "Entangled"

Airdate: 25 October, 2012

SYMBOLISM!

Synopsis: Kryten and Cat wind up in sync due to an experiment with the quantum rod. The two are full of coincidence, say the same thing at the same time, etc. Lister, meanwhile, winds up on the wrong end of a poker game against Biologically Engineered Genetic Gobblers, losing both Starbug and Rimmer. Making matters worse? A bomb is attached to Lister’s pelvis. If he doesn’t turn over Rimmer within 24 hours, or tries to tamper with the bomb, he gets blown to bits… thus ending Rimmer’s life, as Lister’s lack of existence terminates Rimmer’s runtime. (We can also presume that the bomb could do decent damage to the ship, putting the lives of Kryten and Cat in jeopardy.)

With little hope, Lister has to go down and renegotiate a poker game. However, the Cat mentions that Lister has a tendency to choke. Thus, the BEGG’s choke to death. Literally. They eat power cords and choke on them. Kryten and Cat, thankfully, are able to use their newfound power to find the maker of the ship, a chimp who was once a forgetful scientist named Professor Edgington (Sydney Stevenson).

Review: It’s often said that “Pete” and “Back in the Red” are the worst ever Red Dwarf episodes. One of the (many) complaints against the episodes is that they had too much material for the originally planned timeslot (one for “Pete” and two for “Back in the Red”), so they were extended to an extra episode. Now, though, this gave them two much time, so they had to add tons of filler. Thus, we got the claymation crew, a wretched Kryten story, and tons and tons and tons of Rimmer and Lister walking into the damn captain’s office.

This episode shows that singular episodes with tons of material, while a bit rushed, can actually work… that is, if you pump in tons and tons of comedy, as well as a very quirky theme. Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: Series X, Episode 3: "Lemons"

Airdate: 18 October, 2012

“Oh, Jesus!”
“Yes?”

Synopsis: The crew of Red Dwarf manage to acquire a Swedish rejuvenation shower. Being the Red Dwarf crew, they assemble it… haphazardly, to say the least. End result? They wind up in Britain in the year 23AD. The remote that can transport them back? Lister tossed the battery, thinking it was used up. Rimmer suggests making a potato battery to power the remote.

Kryten: Britain in 23AD, sir, doesn’t have any potatoes and won’t get them until the 16th century.

Rimmer’s backup plan- lemons.

Kryten: Britain in 23AD, sir, doesn’t have any lemons, either. They won’t get those until the 14th century.

Cat: He’s getting closer!

The nearest lemon source is India… 4000 miles away. At a local lemon market, they manage to procure lemons. Whilst talking about how primitive 23AD is, they manage to attract the attention of a certain fellow. He calls himself Jesus.

Review: No matter what your thoughts on Christianity (or organized religion) might be, it’s pretty much a fact that The Bible is the most quoted and referenced book/anthology in the history of modern media. It’s influence extended beyond typical media, and has created numerous tropes- forbidden fruit, the Judas archetype, the house divided, etc. Name a trope, it probably originated in The Bible.

Red Dwarf has routinely referenced the book, both via jokes and as plots. Rimmer’s middle name? Judas. The religion of Mr. Rimmer? Based on a misprint in 1 Cor 13. “The Last Day”? Total send up to the idea of puritanism and the afterlife. Red Dwarf, when dealing with religion, leans heavily to the “atheist” side of the spectrum- bashing organized religion as a means of controlling the masses, as seen in “The Last Day”. (Robert Llewellyn is a self-described atheist.) The show also seemed to encourage people, however, to not use their “one life” and completely waste it- “The Inquisitor” was proof of this, with the titular character erasing those whose lives were spent totally slobbing around, unlike Lister.

Most of the brutal critiques of religion were done in the vein of “silicon heaven”- the afterlife for robots.  So, how could Red Dwarf take on the figurehead of arguably the largest religious belief in the West?

Amazingly, he’s treated pretty well, and yet they were still able to write a damn good script surrounding the character.

What makes Red Dwarf work is its combination of subtle humor and louder comedy. There are several send-ups to the bible, several of which your average viewer won’t firmly get unless they’ve been paying attention in Church. Of course, they also make some more… obvious send-ups. One, in particular, caught my eye.

Of course, The Last Supper has been sent up by almost every piece of media in existence. The Simpsons, for one, used it as a parody of The Da-Vinci Code. (Too bad it was a Season 16 episode, and thus, probably is subpar.) Take a closer look at this, however.

In Da Vinci’s painting, the man who’s face is right next to Jesus is Apostle Thomas, who is pretty miffed about Jesus’s plan. The man sitting next to Jesus on his left? Rimmer, who is not only always miffed about something, but still is a bit stunned that he appears to be meeting the most famous man in history. To the far right, Cat, who is just as confused as anybody else… much like the three disciples to the left of Jesus were. Sitting right next to Jesus on his right? Kryten, who Jesus declares a man of peace- possibly his favorite. To the right of Jesus in The Last Supper were Judas, Peter, and John, who Jesus regarded as his closest disciples (two of whom betrayed him). To the far right? Some guy who also looks surprised.  Lister’s just there for comedy purposes.

The characterization of Jesus is actually pretty brilliant, from a comedy standpoint. Here we have this group, possibly in the presence of the wisest man in history. They send this man from the Roman ages to the future. What is his reaction to the year 3 million? He’s fascinated with the bags. You can store stuff in them! Oh, he also needs a kidney stone removed. Joy.

Of course, there’s a twist at the end that puts all the puzzles, all the characterisation, in place.

This episode features some well-spread out character development. Compared to “Fathers and Suns”, which focused quite a bit on Listy, and “Trojan”, which focused more on Rimmer, this episode splits the development between the two. Lister, for one, is again back to his loveable characterization one that tries to focus on positive impacts of issues of conscience, even if he has disagreements. He maintains that Jesus’s teachings helped the world, despite the wars fought and despite his belief that he’s “the ultimate atheist”.

Rimmer’s revelation that his middle name was Judas because his mother wanted him to be named after somebody honorable is actually pretty deep in and of itself. You see, Rimmer, through the series, is shown to be cowardly and callous, quick to sell out. This comes at the cost of whatever virtues he has, such as those shown at the end of “Out of Time”. Same with Judas. While Judas’s betrayal was pretty low, little is known about any potential virtues that he had. It’s actually a pretty deep naming trick.

Only cons? Well, did we need the Shakespeare gag? Not really. Oh, and why did they have to name-drop eBay? Why? I’m just glad they didn’t name-drop IKEA.

Still, this is easily the best episode of Series X so far. Fantastic plot, great humor, great structure, great character… what more do you need?

Tidbits:

  • They actually made a battery out of lemons. It did put out eight volts.
  • This episode actually used… location filming. I wouldn’t be surprised if that ate the budget of half the series.
  • Interestingly, the “tongue of Albion” wasn’t spoken in 23AD England. The tongue spoken back then was Gaelic.
  • This episode actually shares some traits with “Tikka to Ride”. Both episodes feature the Dwarfers going back in time, meeting a historical figure known for their idealism, trying to set history right, and cannibalism may or may not have been involved. The differences? Well, this episode was funny, and didn’t make me want to slap Lister.
Favorite Scene: Pretty much every scene involving Jesus. The “last supper scene” was fantastic.
Least Favorite Scene: Again, what was with the Shakespeare gags?
Score: 8.75

Red Dwarf Review: Series X, Episode 2: "Fathers and Suns"

Airdate: 11 October, 2012

AHHHH!!! DATA DOCTOR FLASHBACKS! GET EM OFF! GET EM OFF!

Synopsis: Every year, Lister sends a Fathers Day card to himself, then proceeds to get wasted so that, when he sees the card on Fathers Day, he has no recollection on what he put in it. With Rimmer telling Lister that he’s a pathetic father, and with the help of the Medi-Bot, Lister decides to give himself tough love. Meanwhile, Rimmer and Kryten install a new computer, Pree. Compared to Holly, Pree has extreme intelligence, yet with a twist: her mission is entirely tied to the crew, such as repair standards and final destinations. This proves problematic when, in Lister’s act of tough love to himself, he resigns his position on the ship.

Oh, and Kryten is also wondering… is a table game that he played with various vending machines the night before offensive?

Review: This was a bit of a strange episode to organize my thoughts about. While the episode had a plot (two, even) that could’ve fit solidly in the first two series, the end result felt a bit more awkward than it should have been. Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: Series X, Episode 1: "Trojan"

Airdate: 8 October, 2012

Synopsis: The scouters aboard Red Dwarf pick up a derelict ship, the Trojan. Despite the derelict being unworthy of flight, this ship fascinates the crew, who are still stuck on a ship “slower than the speed of dark”. After Rimmer fiddles around with a quantum rod, the Trojan comes in close contact with the Columbus III. The hologram on that ship is Howard Rimmer. Yes. Rimmer’s brother. Already dejected from failing the Astro-Navs again, Rimmer’s resentment fills up his hard drive, causing him to suffer a crash. After being cleared of some of the “malware”, he realizes he has two options- fess up to his failures, or lie to his brother.

No prizes for guessing what he chooses.

Review (SPOILER-ISH): One of the central tenants of Rimmer’s character has always been the conflict between the guy and his family. It’s strongly implied that, as much as he uses them as a crutch for his aloof and insensitive behavior, that his strained relationship really did mess his psyche up. His father physically abused him, mentally abused him, his brothers tortured him beyond typical “brotherly” fights, and his mother was aloof to the whole situation, sleeping around to avoid the situation. Bringing Rimmer’s supposedly more successful brother to the center of an episode- the premiere of the first “regular” Red Dwarf episode in 13 years, mind you- was, in hindsight, a bit of a daring maneuver. Does it work?

Mostly. Continue reading