Hasslein Blog: Revisiting Red Dwarf, Part Five: Goldfish Shoals Nibbling at My Toes (Series VIII)


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Revisiting Red Dwarf, Part Five: Goldfish Shoals Nibbling at My Toes (Series VIII)

Guest blogger Joe Bongiorno's review of the first ten seasons of Red Dwarf continues, helping us to celebrate the recent announcement of two more upcoming seasons of the series. (View part four here.)

* * *

By Joseph Bongiorno

Series 8: I'd seen this season back in the day, and forgotten nearly all of it, with the exception of Cassandra (by which I mean the character, not the episode).

There are lots of surprises here, not least of which is the return of Rimmer and the rest of the original Red Dwarf crew. The resurrected Rimmer is great to have back, in large part because the Lister he's dealing with is a different Lister, so the dynamic is similar but different. Putting Rimmer and Lister in jail was a way to give fans more of Seasons 1-2 type stories, but without undermining anything that came before. Lister acknowledges that he's not the same guy from years earlier; he's not the irresponsible, curry-stained slob of the first season. But hysterically, Rimmer pushes him so far to the extreme that he reverts for a moment back to that guy, which makes for a great punchline that is still grounded in character.

This is not the Red Dwarf you were expecting.

Also wonderful in this season is the fact that Naylor puts Rimmer in different situations that force him to grow and develop along a new trajectory in a way that honors Season 1's craven version of Rimmer without carbon copying him, and which brings him closer quicker to the heroic Rimmer of Season 7. Lister's maturity plays a large role in this in that he's more forgiving of Rimmer's idiosyncrasies and willing to take him on as a partner and friend, something that just wasn't possible in the early seasons.

Having Kryten, Kochanski and Cat sent off to a different area of the prison (the women's part in the case of the former two) AND having all of them part of the Canaries creates a strong bond for them as a team. And for a change, Lister and Rimmer work together in an Us-Against-Them scenario, which drifting through space couldn't have accomplished.

Some felt that Series 8 got away from the bare essentials, but in many 
ways, it stripped the show down to what made it funny in the first place.

So, the writing is really well thought out in this regard. On the downside, the humor is considerably weaker than in prior seasons, particularly in the dialogue department. A large part of that might be a return to the jokes that only British audiences will get. I can't entirely blame them for that, but it does leave quite a few places where you just stare at the screen and say "I have no idea what they're talking about."

There's also a return to the sitcommy style of the earlier seasons, which after the brilliant and bold direction they took in season 7, feels odd to me. But that's ok because Series 8 is meant to be a kind of Series 1. The whole season is about starting over again. The original captain and crew of the Red Dwarf are back and our heroes are not only the low men (and women and droids) on the totem pole; they're in prison, and for unjust reasons!

Holly is a bit one-dimensional to me this season; I find that his senility routine grows tiresome after awhile. I definitely prefer and miss Hattie.

Spin my nipple nuts!

But where the humor in this season works, however, it works fantastically, as in "Krytie TV," which is a wonderful Kryten episode that almost takes him as far off center as the polymorph did! Krtyen is horrible in this episode (for a good reason), and it's hysterical! Also it's another in the "fake out" episodes, for those who are counting.

Now, the "Pete" two-parter gets a little ridiculously cartoonish for me. The repeat trips to Captain Hollister are very funny, though his behavior is a bit unbelievable (e.g., why does he give THEM, of all people, the time-wand?) The time-wand itself is over-the-top, even for this show. And why does Kryten not just use the time-wand on the T-Rex?! Why does he toss it to the skutter? These are minor quibbles, but I don't personally find the cartoony episodes to serve the show well. But they are part of the fabric of Red Dwarf ("Backwards" was silly too), so I'm not really complaining. It IS unfortunate that "Pete" became the two-parter because it was "Only the Good" that should've been. But more on that below.

Captain Frank Hollister: a fan of donuts, but not dinosaurs.

I like the decision to go arc-driven again with this season, and some of the concepts (the time-wand notwithstanding), like the mirror universe and Cassandra are great.

Some of it feels rushed. And bit more time fine-tuning with the scripts would've straightened that out. The season touches heavily on authoritarian oppression, injustice, the prison underground, gender issues and exploitation, and yes, it's Red Dwarf and a comedy, but I'd have liked them to go a little darker with it because if it's too silly it loses its tension. Perhaps it was in reaction to the feeling that Season 7 had gotten a bit too somber (which it didn't), but given the themes they were dealing with, a bit more of the tone of the last season would have made, I think, for a much more dynamic and satisfying season. But nothing to really complain about. Great too to see Gavin McTavish (Balin from The Hobbit trilogy) here! Good casting that!

Cassandra predicts that if, like many fans, you dismissed this season
years ago, you'd like it a lot more if you gave it another shot.

I heard that fans complained, but there's nothing really to complain about. Next to Seasons 5-7, this is a bit weaker for the reasons I mentioned above, but overall, it's another great entry that's restarting the story and yet moving it forward.

The REAL problem with Season 8 is that there's no Season 9.

"Only the Good": Not only should the last episode have been two episodes, but if they weren't going to conclude the storyline, there should've been a proper ending. With "Back to Earth," they dropped a main character and the conclusion of this storyline, which adds to the feeling that Season 8 is incomplete and lacking.

Some people welcome death. Some people cheat death.
Rimmer, on the other hand, gives him a swift kick in the family jewels.

To resolve this, I recommend cutting together a version of "Only the Good" that contains the deleted scenes and the original ending PLUS the part of the second ending that has Death appear (which is really funny and shouldn't be lost). Then end it with the celebration of the main cast who have their ship back, and lost Captain Hollister and the other jerks! Also, the deleted scenes are better. Kochanski as a ditsy blonde is funnier and more appropriate than the snotty version; plus we get to see the Mirror World version of Lister! And there's a proper ending.

Because as far as I'm concerned, Series 8 is the true last season of Red Dwarf. After this, Naylor abandons the storyline, betrays the characters and attempts to appease those vocal "fans" who only like the first three seasons.

Read Part Six 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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