Monday, October 24, 2011

Red Dwarf--"The End"

I mentioned a while back I might double up on television reviews until the end of the year for the sake of variety. Red Dwarf probably was not on anyone’s wish list, but it is a recent discovery I have enjoyed, so the British science fiction sitcom gets the nod. If you are not a fan, you should not fret too much. The Star Trek: Voyager reviews will keep going until they end. I will start another, short lived series with reviews running concurrently with Red Dwarf when the time comes. There are only a scant 55 episodes of Red Dwarf to cover, though due to the BBC’s interesting production schedules, the episodes stretch from 1988 to 2009 with another series announced for late 2012.

Red Dwarf carries on a theme very similar to VOY. It involves a misfit crew on a mining vessel in the far future making their way back to Earth. “The End” is used to set up the premise and introduce us to the main characters. The star of the show is David Lister, a lazy slob at the bottom of the pecking order. Lister has joined Red Dwarf, a ship from the Jupiter Mining Corporation, in order to save up enough money to buy a farm on Fiji to settle down with his cat. His immediate superior is Arnold Rimmer, an over-ambitious, by the book sort who aspires to be far more than his talent will allow. Along with Lister, Rimmer is the lowest of the low, but what little power he has, he uses far too excessively. When we first meet the two, they are repairing a vending machine. It is just another boring task to Lister, but to Rimmer, ir might as well be marching into battle.

Rimmer is on the verge of taking the officer’s exam yet again. He has already failed it eleven times, but he keeps at it. This time he has a cannot miss plan--he is going to cheat by writing the answers on his arms. But when the test time comes, he is so nervous, he sweats off the answers. Having spent his time preparing ’cheat sheets’ rather than studying, he draws a blank, slaps his inky palm print on the test, and promptly passes out. All thid tells you everything you need to know about Rimmer. He is an insufferable jerk who lords over anyone he can to compensate for his failure to live up to his ambitions. He will lie, cheat, and abuse anyone in sight when his lying and cheating fails to get him where he wants to go.

Lister, on the other hand, is a likable guy, although his lackadaisical attitude towards literally everything would probably be grating if you actually had to depend on him. Naturally, his personality gets on Rimmer’s nerves, and that is going to be a running theme throughout the show’s run. Lister is not too bright, either, as is shown in the set up for the show’s overall story arc. Lister has smuggled a pregnant cat on board the ship. Unquarantined animals are forbidden, so when it is discovered he has the cat because he sent photos down to the photo lab to be developed, the captain of Red Dwarf: give up the cat for dissection to determine if it is carrying any disease or be put in stasis for the rest of the trip.

Lister chooses the latter. Unfortunately for everyone else, there was a radiation leak because Lister was not around to do needed repairs. The computer, Holly, brings Lister out of stasis once the radiation levels are safe, but that is three million years in the future. Lister’s reaction to the news and Holly’s response ‘Everybody’s dead, Dave," is so iconic among those ultra-geeky enough to have seen Red Dwarf, I have to include the real deal:The real Rimmer is dead, Dave, but he is revived as a sentient hologram, as noted by the ’H” on his forehead. He acts identical to the real Rimmer, much to Lister’s chagrin, but is not solid. Remember this is long before the Doctor on VOY or even Al from Quantum Leap, so the idea of a holographic character was new at the time.

Lister and Rimmer soon encounter Cat, a descendent of Lister’s old cat who has evolved into a human with all the worst feline qualities. Cat is selfish, vain, and possessive. He is also very, very dumb, so he serves much more as comic relief apart from the plot than participating in much of anything Lister and Rimmer do. That will change as the show progresses into more of an ensemble piece, but for now, the comedy grows out of the antagonistic relationship between Lister and Rimmer as they turn the ship around and take on the likely impossible task of making it back to Earth.

“The End” is heavy on introducing all the characters. As I said, that is where most of the laughs originate. I have to admit, there are not a great many laughs in the premiere episode. The actors do not get much of a chance to shine because so much time is spent on setting up the show. Literally the entire plot is established in the final six or seven minutes of the episode. However, it is worth watching because of the set up. The entire first series will be devoted to fleshing out the characters and giving them a chance to engage in their respective antics.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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