Red Dwarf Review: Series XII Wrap-Up

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Well, here we are. The end of another series of Red Dwarf. Now, there are three questions to ask…

  1. Was it good?
  2. Will there be another series?
  3. Should there be another series?

Series XII of Red Dwarf was the fourth series commissioned by Dave, bringing the number of episodes to 21. Combine that with Series VII and VIII, this means that there are 37 episodes written without Rob Grant – one more than the number of episodes written in part by Rob Grant. Yes, you read that correctly – the post-Grant era is officially longer than the Grant/Naylor era.

Yay? Continue reading

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Red Dwarf Review: “Mechocracy” (Series XII, Episode 4)

Red Dwarf Mechocracy

“They’ve sunk as low as us!” “That disgusts me!” – Rimmer and the Cat, talking about the ironies of politics.

Airdate2 November, 2017
Written By: Doug Naylor
Plot: A false alarm leads to a near-evacuation of the ship… one that does not involve the snack dispensers. After the fault is resolved, the machines through the entire ship declare a massive strike, feeling that they are permanently underrepresented. To resolve this (read: get their power back), they agree to run for a general election. Rimmer and Kryten, recently at odds, run against each other… and everything descends into a smear campaign.

Review:

Back in July of 2017, I raised a question in my review of the Steven Universe episode “Political Power”. It was a rather simple question, but one that bore asking and bears repeating as we settle into 2018. Why did this man, pictured here…

PIZZA HUT? REALLY, PRESIDENT TRUMP?

…get elected President of the United States? The answer, I concluded, was that besides the turmoil present in 2010s America and an impressively subpar alternative, Donald Trump was able to market himself effectively to a segment of the electorate that was livid, whether they lost their jobs, had their wages stagnate since the 80s/90s, or in a few cases, were merely bigots. Much as I personally think he’s a charlatan, rather incompetent, a complete and utter nutjob, and an all-around jerkass, Trump’s victory speaks to the art of political statecraft when it comes to campaigning.

Still, such a comically unprecedented election result (we elected the guy from The Apprentice, people) was ripe for analysis, whether it be slavish praise from FOX News, unceasing horror from MSNBC, or even this particular Red Dwarf episode, “Mechocracy” – where Rimmer and Kryten host a presidential election. For vending machines. Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: “Cured” (Series XII, Episode 1)

 

A scene from the Red Dwarf episode
…this is less weird in context, guys.

“Selfie!” – Adolf Hitler. Um…

Airdate: 12 October 2017
Written By: Doug Naylor
Plot: While looking for new thrusters for Starbug, the Red Dwarf crew come across a base operated by America dedicated to curing evil. Stored there is Professor Telford, who seems to have dedicated his life to rescuing the world’s most infamous and insidious figures – Hitler, Stalin, Messilina, and Vlad the Impaler.

Review:

Well, feels like nothing changed, right?

As I mentioned in my preview, Series XI and XII were written and filmed in one go. This could’ve proven a dual-edged sword – the chances of burnout and a decline in quality go hand-in-hand with a general drive for a more consistent series, visually and in terms of script. In this regard, Series XII’s first episode – “Cured” – doesn’t feel too much different from Series XI’s first episode, “Twentica”.

Indeed, the two debuts are vaguely similar – using a science fiction trope, mixing the presence of America inside of it, and combining that with a bit of social commentary. Last time it was prohibition and the underground market. This time, it raises the question of whether evil is innate or a learned behavior.

So does it answer that question well? Or, at least, does it make me laugh? Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner” (Season 11, Episode 3)

Simpsons Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner

“Only your father can take a part-time job at a smalltown paper, and wind up the target of international assassins!” – Marge Simpson. Don’t worry, ma’am – at least he hasn’t become the enemy of the Federation of Jockeys. Yet.

Airdate: October 24th, 1999

Written by: Al “President for Life of The Simpsons” Jean.

Plot: While on a field trip to the Springfield Shopper newspaper, Homer winds up tracing the smell of food back to a food critic’s retirement party. His love of edibles convinces the paper’s manager (played by Ed Asner) to ask him to run a pilot. Unfortunately, he can’t write a good review, so Lisa helps him land the job. While things go well at first with his glowing analysis, he’s pressured to shift to a more critical tone. The lengths he goes in this new style not only alienate Lisa, but lead a mob of restaurant owners to plot his assassination.

Review:

The art of critique is strange. The cliché “everybody’s a critic” comes from the fact that anybody can look at a work of art and deem it either sublime or subpar. And on the age of the internet, even a dork like me can rant about Steven Universe, and somebody can read it before clicking onto Roger Ebert’s review of My Dinner With Andre. Such is the brilliance of our relatively egalitarian society, as well as the beauty of the internet.

But what, exactly, makes a good critic? That’s a question that can only result in subjective responses. If on one hand, you take a critical eye to everything, then you come off as an unpleasable grouch. On the other hand, if you take a positive view of everything, you come off as a sycophant to the show. The latter, personally speaking, is my biggest fear. I’ve criticized Gravity Falls and Steven Universe on occasion, but I sometimes wonder if I was (or am) too loose on occasion because I love(d) the show so much. And many of my early reviews, man… I don’t delete them on the grounds that, hey, we’ve all gotta look back on our early stuff sometimes and wonder how far we’ve come.

The art of critique is put on display in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”, episode 3 of Season 11 of The Simpsons. So, let’s critique an episode… about critique…

…this is strangely meta… Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Brother’s Little Helper” (Season 11, Episode 2)

simpsons-brothers-little-helper

C’mon people – this poetry isn’t gonna appreciate itself!” – Bart Simpson, of all people. Drugs – they do weird things.

Airdate: October 3rd, 1999

Written By: George Meyer

Plot: One of Bart’s stunts during a Fire Prevention event at Springfield Elementary results in the destruction of the gym. Having had enough, Skinner concluds that Bart has Attention Deficit Disorder, and makes his enrollment at the school conditional on a prescription of Focusyn – an experimental drug meant to combat ADD symptoms. While Bart does become much more focused, there’s also the odd side effects, such as a paranoia about satellites spying on him…

Review:

Well, episode 1 of Season 11 was a bust. Next time I want to watch a satire of Mel Gibson, I’ll just throw on that South Park episode where he turns into Daffy Duck and goes full blown Road Warrior because two kids dared criticize his movie. Not even the shifty-eyed dog could save that.

Thankfully, the season does improve with “Brothers Little Helper”. While flawed, I do think it does more to capture what The Simpsons can do at its best – analyze our society, in this case, mental disorders and how we diagnose/treat them, alongside the pharmaceutical industry. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” (Season 10, Episode 22)

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Worth noting – it ain’t the last time Homer winds up attacking a national sovereign.

Knife goes in.
Guts come out.
That’s what Osaka Seafood Concern is all about!” 
– Osaka Seafood Concern Squid Mascot, supporting his company and his nation by gutting himself.

Airdate: May 16th, 1999

Written By: Donick Carey and Dan Greaney

Plot: Their savings depleted, the Simpsons have to rebuild their hopes of taking a vacation. After scrounging in dangerous ways, they are able to afford last-minute plane tickets to an unknown destination – this time, Tokyo, Japan. Bart and Homer are interested in the tastes of home… tastes that get them arrested and rapidly deplete the family’s savings. Running out of money, they are forced onto a game show to get plane tickets back home.

Review:

You know, I had the strangest dream. I spent two years watching one of the most iconic comedy shows in the history of the western world decline into a shell of its former self, resorting to goofy climaxes and transforming their central character into a pompous dolt. It was a strange dream, one that also had me start watching a show about rebellious aliens and…

…oh, wait… it wasn’t a dream. Damn.

Yup, I’ve finally reached the end of Season 10. And having jumped over truckers and captured the Loch Ness Monster, what else to do but go out with a travel episode? Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: “Officer Rimmer” (Series XI, Episode 4)

Merry Christmas, everybody! The reviews of Series XI, I guess, will serve as my Christmas Spectacular Thing. It’s gonna go into January (I think), but given that it feels like stores have begun selling Christmas goods in August, what’s the problem with going a few extra days?

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A first lieutenant must keep his priorities in order, prepare for any sort of danger. Truly, Rimmer is the MacArthur of his fleet.

“Things are about to get a whole lot more Rimmery!” – Rimmer.

Airdate: October 9th, 2016
Written By: Doug Naylor
Plot: As the title suggests, Rimmer becomes an officer. He does so by saving a JMC officer that was printed out by a 3D printer. After getting this promotion, he uses the printer to make several clones. Unfortunately, like real-life printers, this one encounters some errors… a few of which are deadly.

Review:

The idea of cloning somebody isn’t necessarily a complex idea. How this episode deals with it, though, is by analyzing the style of DNA reproduction by making temporary copies in a printer. It’s rather horrifying, especially given that the printer is connected to a network of individuals whose genomes are available for anyone to use, regardless of their intent.

Red Dwarf, like most sci-fi tropes it takes on, puts a comedic spin on it by tying it to one of the main plot threads present in the show – Rimmer’s utter failure to reach what he feels is the next class level.

On that note, anybody remember Series VIII’s “Only the Good”?

Continue reading

Red Dwarf Review: “Samsara” (Series XI, Episode 2)

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Lister’s hair is not food. Repeat: Lister’s hair is not food.

“They’re dead!” “Hey, the medical reports aren’t in yet. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions.” – Rimmer and the Cat, discussing the bodies of Col. Green and Prof. Barker. Second time Rimmer’s introduced himself as a captain to dead people, by the way.

Airdate: 29 September, 2016

Written By: Doug Naylor.

Plot: The crew investigate a ship that crashed on an oceanic planet, as well as a pod that contains two deceased (read, dissolved) crew members. On that ship, they discover that the Samsara contains a karma drive – one which praises virtues and punishes callousness. The four split up – Lister has to deal with the Cat, while Rimmer and Kryten team up.

While this is happening, we learn more about the dynamic duo, who were locked in an affair with each other… and whose reaction to getting caught may have damned the ship.

Review:

My thoughts about “Twentica” was that it was a rather solid opener to the series. While not ranking among my top 10 episodes of the show, it still managed to please me for 30 minutes. It was rather unique, but more of a way to establish something of a tonal shift. “Samsara” takes the tonal shift a bit further – rotating between two stories, past and present. Does it work? Well, let’s take another analysis at this.

Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Lisa Gets an A" (Season 10, Episode 7)

This grade is wrong, but not for the reason you might think…

Airdate: November 22nd, 1998

Synopsis: Lisa falls ill after being stuffed in a freezer to try and get some ice cream (no prizes for guessing who did it). Rather than study, she gets sucked into a video game, “Dash Dingo”. She gets so hooked into the game, she forgets to read The Wind in the Willows… and comes back to a quiz on the book. (“Game over, mate!”) Bart gets Nelson to hook her up with test answers, and she passes the test at such a level that the state no longer considers the school absolutely pathetic, and is willing to give them money.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned fridge-stuffer gets a pet lobster at the same supermarket. By “gets a pet”, I mean Homer prevents Marge from cooking Pinchy, a lobster that the family brought for dinner.

Review (SPOILERS): Lisa Simpson is one of the more divisive characters in the Simpsons canon. This stems from the trend during the “double digit” seasons to have Lisa as the mouthpiece for the generally leftish writers, with little reasonable dissent or critique of said positions. While I see where they come from, my opinion of Lisa stems from the early seasons of the show – as it should. And while she did have moments where she seemed overtly opinionated, they were just part of her role as a wiser, more mature eight-year old, who still fell victim to the same weaknesses that eight-year olds have.

“Lisa Gets An A”, surprisingly, has her fall victim to a trap that students tend to face – that of cheating. Not a bad idea, although does this episode execute it well?

Almost.

The idea itself isn’t exactly original, per se (“Bart the Genius”, anybody), but the proper tools can make something that seems cliche at first glance come off as rather well-done. This isn’t just an average kid deciding to cheat because of his or her laziness – this is Lisa Simpson (read, girl who only got one B… so far) getting so sucked into Dash Dingo, that she outright forgot that she had a homework assignment.  While one would question this lapse in judgement, I think it works to show that even Lisa isn’t infallible from everyday life. She’s eight years old – she’s going to have those moments where her judgement lapses.

It also fits into her perfectionist tendencies. When she got the aforementioned “B” in “Kamp Krusty”, she almost had a meltdown. (Yes, I am aware that The Simpsons has a wonky continuity.) Fearing that failing a test would have her banned from Harvard and sent to Brown fits in very, very well – Lisa isn’t the most pragmatic person out there. When push comes to shove, she’s willing to throw her ethics out the window… albeit not willingly.

Of course, episodes that focused on characters having to wraggle with themselves on their own failings have been done quite a few times – “Bart the Genius”, again. This episode decides to shift the focus somewhat from “Lisa cheats” to “Springfield Elementary is a cesspool”. Admittedly, this is a bit of a swerve in focus, but it does force Lisa to swallow her ethics even further.

The third act is kind of interesting, speaking from the keyboard of an aspiring teacher. The focus on Springfield Elementary’s finances is brought in again – episodes such as “The PTA Disbands” touched on it before. This time, there is an analysis of how financial grants and funds are spent. Springfield Elementary was doing so poorly in terms of grades that they were denied assistance from the state – seemingly keeping the school in a cycle of pathetic academia, technical lag, recreation decay, and funding drought.

Yet, when the school gets the grant – $250000 – Skinner proceeds to blow it on scoreboards, outdated tech (even by 1999 standards), and, most damningly, liquor for the teachers. The grant is thus kind of self-defeating, and at best, only serves as a short-term ailment to grave problems Springfield Elementary faces.

This actually raises quite a few questions – should education funding be punitive, or should there just be grants for better schools? Should there be more oversight on how the schools spend their funds? Are private resources in schools dubious? “Lisa Gets an A” does a good job at putting these ideas down on the table.

Here’s where the episode gets a little wonky. First off, the fact that Lisa’s A+++ managed to get the school a basic grant is a bit out there. It could work to show just how bad the rot is at Springfield Elementary, but the out there-ness stands. Secondly, there’s the entire concept of how the school was able to pull off a second awards ceremony to throw the State Education Comptroller.

Also, the first act of the episode seemed a bit light on the laughs. Not bad, but when you’re focusing more on comedy like Scully seems to be doing, you kinda need the laughs.

Before I go… the B-plot. It’s stupid, has Homer as a bit of an idiot… and I love it. It’s actually a very fun, cute plot, what with Homer coddling his pet lobster and treating it like a dog. That, and the end of that plot is one of the best examples of dark, tragic comedy in the show’s history.

After a rather rough start to the season, we seem to be getting back on track. Two good episodes in a row? Maybe Season 10 won’t be so bad after all…

Tidbits:

  • For the uninitiated, Dash Dingo is a send-up of Crash Bandicoot, a PlayStation game which is actually set in Australia. And yes, there are quite a few Australia jokes in Dash Dingo. Thing is, I can’t help but feel that this was the start of the show’s transition from parodying concepts for the sake of mocking and deconstructing them to simply referencing them with a few word changes. (Mapple? Really, Jean?)
  • Oh, wait, there is “Ken and Harry’s”. So, yeah, anytime you catch newer Simpsons episodes using “Mapple” and “Funtendo Zii”, this episode has some blame.
  • Gil reappears. This seems to be all his sthick is – just a down-on-his-luck salesman who needs to go take business classes. I mean, I don’t hate him, but that may be from nostalgia – The Simpsons: Hit and Run and the ability to buy stupid cars off of him. Still, I don’t think he’ll ever be as brilliant as Lionel Hutz. (I think he gets a lot of scorn because his first appearances came when the show was in the midst of a decline – that, and he starred in the widely disliked “Kill Gil” episode.)
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the third act is a bit stupid, but otherwise, not too bad.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2 – the point is mainly for sticking his daughter in the freezer to get some ice cream, plus the borderline neglect of his kids once Pinchy comes into the picture.
Favorite Scene: I loved seeing how utterly decrepit Springfield Elementary is, but the gold moment has to be Mrs. Krabappel using a periodic table provided by Oscar Meyer.
Least Favorite Scene: Did we really need to see the entire second grant presentation?
Score: 7.5. Would’ve gotten an 8, but the relatively joke-free first act brought it down a bit.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "D’oh-in’ in the Wind" (Season 10, Episode 6)

Airdate: November 15th, 1998

Synopsis: While tracking down his middle name, Homer comes across a farm run by two former hippies, Seth and Munchie. Upon learning his middle name, and learning more about his rebellious mother and her interactions with said hippies (she painted a mural with Homer’s full name), Homer takes an interest in the carefree lifestyle of hippies, and becomes one… not understanding that Seth (Martin Mull) and Munchie (George Carlin) have moderated their practices, even embracing the capitalist aspects of the 90s.

Review (SOME SPOILERS, POSSIBLY FOR OTHER EPISODES): In hindsight, maybe the 60s counterculture was too good to be true. Intended as an anti-establishment movement meant to get humanity more in touch with Earth and the fellow man, as well as generate social reforms, ironically, not only has it become the defining image of the 60s (to the point of cliche), but arguably became absorbed and moderated by the mainstream itself. Not that this was a bad thing, though. However, there is an irony here.

In many regards, The Simpsons was a counterculture in and of itself, or at least represented a counterculture. After the seemingly conservative, politically and socially stolid 80s, where American morals and archetypes were reinforced, came this show that managed to lampoon (if not subvert) every single aspect of Americana. Unfortunately, episodes like “When You Dish Upon A Star” seemed to represent the show becoming mainstream. Here’s where the absorption of the counterculture in the mainstream proved to be detrimental – modern Simpsons episodes seem to run on cliche plots and hackneyed dialogue, attempting to be trendy and cool, and just coming off as a pathetic show that needs to be axed. Soon.

Now that that’s out of the way, “D’oh-in in the Wind” is, in all honesty, quite an improvement over the aforementioned last episode. (That’s not a hard feat, but still.) Continue reading