Hasslein Blog: Hasslein Review: Red Dwarf—"Trojan"

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Hasslein Review: Red Dwarf—"Trojan"


Review of Red Dwarf X: Episode 1 — "Trojan"
By Paul C. Giachetti


Welcome to the first of many (well, six) reviews of Red Dwarf X. We begin with the new season's premiere episode, titled "Trojan."

First off, let me start by stating a fact well-established among those who know me: I. Love. Red. Dwarf.  I love it all... the good, the bad (and by bad I mean the not-as-good, as I truly don't believe there is such a thing as "bad" Red Dwarf); I even liked series VII and VIII, as well as Back to Earth. Hell, I even loved the storyboarded "lost" episodes "Bodysnatcher" and "Identity Within." So admittedly I'm a tad biased, and probably not the best choice to write an objective review; I could have asked Rich Handley (who watched the episode with me) to write it instead, but his level of fanaticism parallels mine, so it probably wouldn't have helped.
>>>WARNING<<< POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD  

Episode Synopsis: 
As the crew investigates the abandoned SS Trojan, a distress call arrives from a second vessel, commanded by Rimmer's far more successful (and now hologramatic) brother, Howard. Desperate to impress his brother, Arnold convinces his crewmates to pretend to be the crew of the Trojan, with him as their heroic commander. The situation becomes complicated, however, when a simulant in Howard's crew, named Crawford, reveals her true intentions. Lister and Cat, meanwhile, become obsessed with ordering a Stirmaster—an automated coffee-stirrer—from the Droid Shopping Channel.


Review:
The episode was prefaced, as they all are, with a montage of clips from the current series accompanying it's opening credits, which don't really give much away apart from the info we already know from the episode synopses released by Dave TV: an image of a simulant, the crew in desert garb, ships attacking Red Dwarf; the one curious clip seemed to be the last, of what may have possibly appeared to potentially have been an image of Red Dwarf exploding, with a Blue Midget shuttle racing away. Could be something, could be nothing; we'll have to wait and see.

And then it began: Huddled in front of my computer, we couldn't believe it. We were as giddy as two 14-year-old girls at a private Justin Bieber concert. Three and a half years since the last episode—thirteen if you don't count BtE as proper episodes—and a year and a half after the first announcement of Series X (which, to both my elation and dismay, came about ten days AFTER I decided to write the Red Dwarf Encyclopedia!), we were finally watching new Dwarf. The result?

First viewing: 6/10
Wow, what a mixed bag! I'm filled with both utter enthusiasm and slight trepidation. The first half was damned near brilliant: The opening scenes were seemingly ripped straight from the comedy stylings of the show's heyday, albeit with a tad more set dressing. The writers obviously strove to fix the issues that fans felt had plagued the later seasons: using model shots vs. CGI, bringing back the studio audience, returning to the familiar "4 guys in space" motif. If you've read any other reviews prior to this one, you've no doubt heard the phrase "a return to form," and it's quite accurate. The gags, though often predictable, were still spot-on and delivered with absolute perfection.

Unfortunately this "return to form" also brought with it the show's infamous tendency to completely disregard continuity and scientific logic. Halfway through the episode, the plot kicked into full force, and with it came more holes than a chain-link fence. The laughs/minute ratio dropped considerably; I'm not sure if it was because the writers lost steam halfway through the creative process, or because we were distracted trying to figure out certain elements of the plot, such as how Rimmer's brother could exist in this time period, when there was no mention of time travel. It may have possibly been the occasional sloppy continuity error (Rimmer claiming to have failed his astro-nav test 9 times instead of 13), or the blatantly obvious attempts to fix future plotholes (Really, a simulant suffering from a hard drive crash precisely shoots every single teleporter in the room, effectively wiping out any chance of the crew ever using them? Really? She couldn't have just destroyed one console? Ugh...) Maybe it was the sense that the writers and actors, specifically Craig Charles, still needed some time to reacquaint themselves with their own characters, who occasionally seemed to drift OUT of character. 

Whatever the cause, by the end credits, we were both left staring at the screen, each trying to work out our own individual feelings about what we'd just watched. There's no denying that we enjoyed it; it was, after all, new Red Dwarf. But there's also no denying that we've both grown exceptionally cynical and critical in our older years, and the nitpickers in us couldn't help but feel that "Trojan" could have—should have—been done just slightly better, at least during the second half. I  hoped that maybe another viewing would help.

Second viewing: 7.5/10
With the shock of "OMGITSNEWREDDWARF!!" no longer an issue, I have to admit the episode flowed MUCH better during the second viewing. Things that bothered me the first time seemed less important now—issues I'd thought were there were nonexistent, or could more easily be rationalized away, and I felt that, knowing the full story in advance, I could now focus more on the dialog and jokes, which held up well.

The episode's biggest running gag ("It's a moose!") had me laughing just as loudly the second time, despite my having just watched the episode less than two hours earlier. Unfortunately, logistical issues still plagued the story, especially having to do with the primary plot—but this is, after all, Red Dwarf, and even during the series' best years, scientific accuracy was never all that high on the writers' priority list. 

Conclusion:

Next week can't come fast enough, as those who attended the tapings have reported that it only gets better with each episode.

Highlights:
  • “It’s a moose”
  • Kryten's expression after erasing the last five minutes of his memory
  • Kryten's reaction to Rimmer's lie about the android's past
  • Lister's and Cat's obsession with the Stir master
Nitpickers guide:
  • Rimmer's inaccurate account of his test tally
  • Who exactly is transmitting the pig races?
  • How did Howard's ship come to be in their era? Did the rod have some sort of time-travel capability, perhaps, or was his ship still active and crewed in Red Dwarf's timeframe—3 million years in the future?
  • Why is the Droid Shopping Network still active? And who are they selling products to 3 million light-years into deep space?
  • According to "Better than Life," Rimmer's mother believed Arnold to be a rear admiral, due to his having lied about passing his exams. Assuming she stayed in touch with Howard (Arnie had heard that Howard was a captain, presumably from her), why would Howard be surprised that his brother had "made it" to the captaincy? For that matter, shouldn't he have wondered why Arnie had been demoted from the admirality? 
  • Why was Howard so much younger-looking than his younger brother?
  • How exactly does a T-Touch read the mind of a hologram?
  • Wouldn't the JMC computer Kryten refers to several times be Holly?
  • Missed opportunity: Why didn't the simulant have double eyebrows, like the models seen in "Gunmen of the Apocalypse?"
  • How did Howard build up so much resentment in such a short time, given that it took his brother a lifetime of resentful thoughts to max out? Likewise, how did Arnold max out again so quickly after being drained of all his resentment?
  • The simulant's dead-on accuracy while "crashing," conveniently taking out all of the teleporters... really?

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4 Comments:

At October 5, 2012 at 11:42 PM , Anonymous Hamish Wilson said...

Look, I am a huge fan of Red Dwarf as well having grown up with the show, and it is flooring me how it is the show's die-hard fans that are being so critical when the general public seems to have loved the new episode. You know what the problem is? We have placed the earlier series on a pedestal, and have simply forgotten or are now ignoring their faults.

Lets face it, the continuity of the Red Dwarf universe has been trashed so often already that much of these complaints seem to have been made mute anyway. In preparation for watching the new episodes, I went through my Dwarf DVDs, and the show is an inconsistent mess. A brilliant, hilarious, often poignant, sometimes even profound mess that we have all learned to love.

That does not excuse everything about Trojan - Doug Naylor in particular does tend to get his facts wrong on certain things, such as with Last Human which is one of the few novels to have glaring inconsistencies in what is actually a much more thought out cannon. But to complain about this and not the myriad of already documented holes in the previous series seems to me to be painting the new shows with an unfair brush.

Plus, I am sure that this is just the beginning of the story. I think that this is just the start of a larger plot arc. I do not know this to be so, but that is what I have read between the lines based on the plot descriptions and already released materials.

So stay tuned, and have fun.

 
At October 6, 2012 at 12:15 AM , Blogger Hasslein Books said...

I think you and I are actually on the same page, really; If you read carefully, you'll notice I specifically said that a "return to form" includes the bad as well as the good aspects of the older episodes, which mostly refer to logistical problems with an otherwise brilliant scientific concept. What I maybe didn't make clear is that, upon second viewing, many of those criticisms melted away, and I enjoyed the episode much, much more. I think my final score proves that, as critical as I may have been, ultimately I considered it a very good start to the new series, after I shook my head from the new Red Dwarf haze and realized that continuity and logic issues are very much a part of the Red Dwarf mythos, and should be considered an endearing trait of the series. I think maybe the problem with my review is that I focused more on the knee-jerk reaction to it as opposed to the second viewing, where I was able to take it in on a much broader level. That was an error on my part, I'll try to correct that in future reviews.. =)
As far is it being a small part of a bigger picture, I have a sense that may be the case as well, and if it plays out that way I'll certainly address that in future reviews, but for now each one has to stand on it's own, or at least with whatever preceded it.

 
At October 6, 2012 at 12:31 AM , Blogger Hasslein Books said...

Just as an aside: It's usually the hard-core fans that are overly critical because they're the ones that know the show best, so any issues or problems are more apparent to them. It's like that in any fandom, it's not exclusive to Red Dwarf. Take Star Wars, for example... it wasn't casual viewers trashing the prequels, but hard-core lifelong fans, who broke them down, analyzed them and ultimately considered them shit compared to the originals. Fortunately Red Dwarf's revival is looking to be a much better experience!

 
At October 6, 2012 at 12:58 AM , Anonymous Hamish Wilson said...

Indeed. I should also point out that my comments were never specifically targeted at you, but to the fan community in general. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming comments.

 

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