Hasslein Blog: Revisiting Red Dwarf, Part Three: Fun, Fun, Fun... (Series V-VI)


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Revisiting Red Dwarf, Part Three: Fun, Fun, Fun... (Series V-VI)

Guest blogger Joe Bongiorno continues his re-watch of all ten seasons of Red Dwarf. (View part two here.) Here's his smeggin' review...

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By Joseph Bongiorno

Series 5: Again, a bit of upgrade in the quality of the production, and the writing is through the roof. With one exception, these are some of my favorites episodes, and I think this whole series represents the best of what this show was striving to attain:

"You make love like a Japanese meal:
small portions, but oh, so many courses."
"Holoship": This episode is good because it's not only funny and conceptually interesting (a ship of hologram people who have different sexual mores than humans), but it continues the Rimmer arc, particularly in that it furthers the evolution of the show to the more serious character-focused episodes we're going to see in Season 7. Rimmer starts off watching Casablanca, and mocking the idea of love and romance; yet when he meets a hologrammatic woman who sacrifices her life for him, he rises to the occasion and puts her life and well-being over his own. It would have been easier for the writers to go for the joke and simply have Rimmer be the Rimmer of the first season and take advantage of her sacrifice to advance his career and standing in life; that they don't do that, and instead go for the character moment, is so much more interesting and exciting. And it's where the show needs to go. Those who only proclaim the first two seasons as worthwhile generally don't care for the depths of the writing that's there from day one and just want an endless stream of punchlines. But I don't know that I see those people as a legitimate fanbase.

"Terrorform": Some of my favorite episodes are the ones that get into Rimmer's mind, and this is one of the best. I like that it also builds on what "Holoship" started, which is the transformation of Rimmer from a wannabe upperclassman whose kind of a jerk to the character that becomes the next Ace Rimmer, and this involves him starting to see his neuroses for what they are. Remember that this was a character who didn't even acknowledge having problems in the first season (it was everybody else who was the problem). Now, he sees just how screwed up his psyche is, but from the audiences' perspective, we begin to see that transformative power of love on him. Which is pretty heavy for a supposed sci-fi sitcom.

"Quarantine": Brilliant from start to finish. Rimmer with Mr. Flibbley is one of the great moments of not just Red Dwarf history, but TV history. One of my top 10 episodes.

"I'm going to thrash you to within an inch of
your life. And then... I'm going to have you."
"Demons and Angels": Tied for my favorite episode of this series, in large part because the extremes of each of the Red Dwarf crew is amazing! In particular, the darker versions of the characters are really effective and disturbing, but also hilarious at the same time, which is not an easy thing to pull off. And I wish they'd gotten this quality in Series 8 with the oppressive elements of being in a prison. Here, there's a very palpable sense of terror and danger. And in fact, characters die, which is funny actually, but it's black humor, which we haven't seen in Red Dwarf except for "Meltdown." Grant and Naylor are very good at this kind of writing. It's probably the closest to horror that Red Dwarf gets. Would like to see more of this. There is one minor thing that annoys me, but we'll discuss that when we get to Series 10 because it repeats there.

"Back to Reality": Best fakeout episode ever, and also really well done. Plus Dwayne Dwibbley is priceless. The whole thing is brilliant. It's notable as well because of the Deception Squid, a concept that's going to play a role again in a future episode, though to less effective results.

Kryten: This is the inquisitor. He prunes away the wastrels,
expunges the wretched, and deletes the worthless.
Rimmer: We're in big trouble.

The only episode that ruins the season is "The Inquisitor," which is a great concept (albeit one that's been explored in episodes like "Justice" and "The Last Day"), but a piss-poor execution. The direction is confused, and as a result the audience is confused. Plus, it doesn't help that everything looks so cheap. This could've been a first season episode in how bad it all looks. The director did a great job on the other episodes, but here she really loses the plot, which may be why the plot itself feels lost. The time stuff is not well enough explained, so that by the end, you're like "huh?" Also, while the bad effects are often part of the fun of the show, the Inquisitor's fake-looking mask pulls me out of the story. Unlike the effectively evil versions of the crew in "Demons and Angels," which were both funny and scary at the same time, I just don't believe the Inquisitor as a character; half the time it's hard to even hear him, which is just bad production; and then he just looks cheesy to boot. The court scene, however, is great and it redeems the episode from being the worst of the series. In fact, Kryten's defense alone is outstanding.

Series 6: I love this season, and this is really where the boys split from the men. It is transitional in many ways, like a bridge season from 1-5 to the more evolved 7. And for some reason the episodes seem much shorter. I did all six episodes in a sitting, and because they're now arc-driven for the first time, they all play out like a single episode. So, where a lot of fans complained about the running jokes, they totally worked for us, e.g., Cat's supernatural sense of smell and Rimmer misquoting the space-core directives (which was, incidentally, set up in "Quarantine") all play out great. And you just can't beat episodes like "Gunmen of the Apocalypse." I love Series I as much as anybody, but nothing there comes close to this.

Pete Tranter's sister
"Psirens": A nice opening that sets up the season arc. As an episode itself, it works, but in some ways it's a bit of a throw-away episode that would've been fine in Season 2. It does lead to a minor quibble in that I'm starting to have a hard time believing the GELFs aren't seen as aliens, particularly since have their own culture, language and behaviors that are utterly nonhuman. It's kind of like Doug and Rob cheating, really. Why would the GELF's have unpronounceable languages if they were created by humans? It's a nitpicked point that I never even noticed the first time I watched it, and may not have noticed it this time if there wasn't the ongoing concept that there no aliens in Red Dwarf. Since the writers abandoned the core idea (embodied in the song's line "I'm all alone, more or less"), they might as well have also abandoned the "no aliens" rule. Because in the end it doesn't matter if man, God or evolution created the GELFs because they're an intelligent non-human lifeform that live on other planets and in every way, shape and form, are ultimately alien.

"Legion": Great concept, pulled off because the actor playing Legion was excellent. His voice and look have an otherworldly quality to them. One element, however, hampers it being even better: the crew are almost too unified in wishing to escape their gilded prison. Why wouldn't Lister or Rimmer or the Cat want to stay in an environment that would cater to all their wants and needs? In "Back to Earth," Lister does this very thing, at least initially. This could've been a good opportunity to explore more of their character flaws by having Kryten try to convince the others that it's best to live honestly than to live a fake life. So, it feels like a missed opportunity, particularly because the ending third of the show is just okay. These characters are all in stages of development, but I don't think they're quite so noble yet that the search for Red Dwarf would overshadow the fulfilment of their own desires.

"Now, if you'll forgive the rather confrontational
imperative... go for your guns, you scum-sucking mollusks!"
"Gunmen of the Apocalypse" Such a good episode, but as a Kryten one, and as one that allows Rimmer to actually be heroic, which I think makes it worthy of inclusion in the larger Rimmer arc. Cat is also hysterical, and the soundtrack is through the roof fantastic. As with "Meltdown," it's good to see the Dwarfers in different environments and settings; that's also healthy for the longevity of the show which needs to change things up and give fans some variety; so the classic Western motif was wonderful.

"Emohawk: Polymorph II": Another top 10 episode for me with the return of Ace, Dwayne Dwibbley and the ever awesome polymorph. And woah, the Gelfs look fantastic, the settings looks great, and Lister's comedic skills are top notch. How anyone could see this episode and say they didn't like Series 6 is beyond me.

"Rimmerworld": More great Rimmer development that expands on Me2 from the first season by having a whole country-full of obnoxious and paranoid Rimmers. What's fascinating here is that Rimmer no longer defends his bad behavior or justifies his uglier traits, but there's rather a kind of sad resignation of who he's become. So, this is a Rimmer seeing reality for what it is instead of hiding behind a delusion of what he pretends it is. Which is of course half the battle won. It's also just really funny that the other Rimmers put him in jail!

"Better anything than that toupee!"
"Out of Time": I can't get enough of these high-concept episodes that contain social commentary. This is the third one after "Parallel Universe" and it has the crew heroically rejecting their amoral future selves (although one has to wonder how a brain in a jar can be amoral) who eat endangered species, fraternize with dictators and murderers, and basically behave like the amoral wealthy 1%. And we're left on another cliffhanger! How did this season go by so fast?!

Read Part Four here...

A New York native, Joe Bongiorno began his writing career as a journalist and medical editor, and soon began contributing stories to Star Wars Gamer magazine and Hyperspace.  After creating the Star Wars Expanded Universe Timeline, Joe turned his fascination to Baum’s Land of Oz, and he created The Royal Timeline of Oz website, a comprehensive chronology of all the Oz and Oz-related stories written since 1899, the X-Files Chronology and A Chronology of Middle-Earth.  

For several years he served as reviews editor for The Baum Bugle before turning his attention to a different kind of Oz, the upcoming eight-part series Black Sabbath: The Illustrated Lyrics.  Joe returned to Baum’s Oz again, creating a publishing company called The Royal Publisher of Oz, which has released several new books, including Paul Dana’s The Law of Oz and Other Stories and The Magic Umbrella of Oz, Karyl Carlson and Eric Gjovaag’s Queen Ann in Oz, and Sam Sackett’s Adolf Hitler in Oz.  

Joe has recently contributed essays for Sequart Books and is currently at work on stories for the official Star Wars blog.  He lives on Long Island where he collects fantasy books from the 19th and 20th centuries, serves as an animal, environmental and human-rights activist, and caters to a demanding pack of two dogs and five cats.

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