Hasslein Blog: Revisiting Red Dwarf, Part Four: ...in the Sun, Sun, Sun (Series VII)


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Revisiting Red Dwarf, Part Four: ...in the Sun, Sun, Sun (Series VII)

To help celebrate the recent announcement of two more upcoming seasons of Red Dwarf, guest blogger Joe Bongiorno's re-watch of the first ten seasons continues. (View part three here.) Here's his latest smeggin' review...

* * *

By Joseph Bongiorno

Season 7 is, I think, amazing! For one thing, it shows what a great writer Naylor has turned out to be, in large part because he not only lost his writing partner, Rob Grant (for reasons no one yet understands), but also because recognized that the show needs to continue growing and trying new things, moving forward while honoring the past. He also uses the partial loss of Chris Barrie to great potential. And he introduces Kochanski, essentially a new crew-member, using his foreknowledge that fans are going to reject her by having Kryten reject her, and by keeping her relationship with Lister ambivalent. Season 7 is also to be lauded because it gives itself permission to be serious and dramatic and even emotional at times, elements that are actually foreshadowed in earlier episodes like "Me2," "Thanks for the Memory" and "Marooned."

The season also looks gorgeous; it's wonderful for them to have a budget to be able to realize their vision, and yet they don't sacrifice the story or characters for effects (we'll get to that sad reversal in my review of season 10). In fact, this is the strongest character arc yet.

Oliver Stone would have had a field day with this one.
"Tikka to Ride": Lister's insatiable lust for curry could've been a simpler Season 1 type episode, except that it takes place in the midst of resolving Season 6's cliffhanger, dealing with time paradoxes and bringing Kennedy's assassination to the fore! The latter is interesting, as well, because there's an unexpected sad note in the fact that Kennedy sacrifices himself for the greater good, which is very resonant when you understand the progressive promise he embodied in that era, and what a blow his loss was to the country. That unexpected bit of melancholy sets the stage for what's to come in the next four episodes.

"Stoke Me a Clipper": Not only the return of Ace Rimmer, but the ostensible death of Arnold Rimmer, which is played, for the first time, not for laughs, and Lister's speech for him at the end is genuinely and surprisingly moving. As Rimmer has enabled Lister to stay sane, Lister has enabled Rimmer to reach his highest potential, and with that comes sacrifice. So, while scenes like Ace riding an alligator is one of the funniest of the entire series, the final transformation from Arnold Rimmer to Ace Rimmer is shocking, touching and really well-deserved. Definitely in my top 10.

Kochanski returns, proving that in space, no one can
hear you scream "Hey, that's not the same actor!"
"Ourobouros" Very cleverly, Naylor builds on Lister's backstory for our first post-Rimmer story, bringing his long lost, pined-for Kochanski back into the story. This was an especially daring move because for the first time, a) we have a female presence onboard whose not a computer, which creates an entirely new dynamic, and a necessary one, b) we have a strong actor in the role of Kochanski, and c) we have an opportunity to explore Lister in ways we couldn't before. More on this with...

"Duct Soup": Yes, it's a cost-saving episode, but like Kryten's speech in the episode suggests, it's a necessary one to establish who THIS Kochanski is (remember she's from a parallel universe in which she wasn't working class, but upper class), in the context of the drama and action, which comprises the first and second halves of the episode. The loss of Rimmer was going to upset fans, and having him replaced by a love interest for Lister is a daring move. So, having Kryten's emotions and actions play on this knee jerk reaction to a new character and cast member is a stroke of genius. Naylor actually goes against type, both in how he's previously established Kochanski in the first two seasons, but also against type in terms of who the crew consists of. 

The newer, hotter Kristine ponders whether
she's hearing a "nureek," a "retut" or a "hanunga."
Kochansksi is the first time we have someone from a different class on Red Dwarf. Up until now, every person represented a character type in the British working class. Lister, the punk/rock 'n' roll rebel, whose not very talented, is slovenly, but has a big heart; Rimmer, the desperate middle-class manager who never achieved much but longs to be part of the upper class; Kryten, the servant who has a love/hate relationship with his desire to be obsequious to others, but who learns to find joy in the balance he strikes and with the people he serves; Cat, the dandy who gets by on his appearance and charisma because he's intellectually and emotionally stunted. 

Even Holly I and II are working class types, who despite having a supposedly high IQ, use their intelligence for sarcasm and banter than for anything really useful. Enter into the mix someone who actually IS of the upper-class, accustomed to being spoiled and pampered, but who recognizes that she's a bit of a twat because of all that, and yet still carries that arrogance with her despite wanting to be a better person. It's a cool dynamic, and I feel bad for those who couldn't wrap their arms around it. I don't feel bad for the misogynists and anyone who hates on Chloe Annette, whose took on this challenging role brilliantly.

What the...??
"Blue": Another Top-10 ten episode (I know I probably have like 15 top ten episodes by now). Lister embodies—and hysterically goes beyond—the fan whose missing Rimmer. This is a fascinating development—hinted at in the prior three episodes—because Lister finally has what he's always claimed to want: Kochanski in the flesh (and prettier than she ever was!) But while he does want to be with her and he is starting to make small changes to be more appealing to her, he's also inexplicably beset with grief! In the last episode it was demonstrated by his sudden bout of claustrophobia, a metaphor for marriage and feeling trapped, and Kryten's paranoia of being seen as superfluous (because as the show hilariously points out, all married couples leave behind their former mates), is great writing, and it plays on the fears of fans who think the show will be irrevocably ruined by the intrusion of a woman (and what that implies for Lister).

The source of Lister's grief isn't Kochanski, but Rimmer. Naylor and Bye straddle the line between comedy and drama again, going so far as to have Lister dream romantically about Rimmer, one of the show's funniest moments, and which is both absurd and yet oddly organic to these characters! Kryten's jealousy (which itself plays on homoeroticism) also pays off in another of the show's funniest and most surprising moments of all time, "The Rimmer Experience," which demonstrates that he'll always be valuable because it wasn't Kochanski who cured Dave of his melancholy, but him.

What I think is so perfect about this episode is that it's really about loss. Every character, except Cat (of course) is missing people they think they've lost forever (or are going to lose as in Kryten's case). And each deals with that feeling differently. Lister turns out to be in the worst shape, and it's heartening to see the other two overcome their own unhappiness to help him. In fact, this four part arc really develops this theme of loss, and allows itself to be honest about those emotions. That a show like Red Dwarf can pull this off so well is a testament to Naylor and Grant who developed such strong characters. But kudos to Naylor for having the courage to serve the story first, buck the fanboy desire to just want more of the same, and evolve the show and its characters.

Lister is molested by Tutankhamen's horny grandma
"Epideme": Hard to believe, but yet another striking episode; zombies, dismemberment, talking viruses and the near death of Lister. In much the same way that Rimmer had to "die" to transcend who he'd been, the writers have been developing a similar theme with Lister. 

This episode is the culmination of what's been a consistent pattern of taking things away from Lister; he loses his best mate, he appears to regain Kochanski, but it's a version that doesn't want to be with him; he loses his arm; and then he loses his life. The virus itself has a really cool, sometimes creepy, sometimes over-the-top, sometimes hilarious delivery. Good choice of voice-actor! As with "Demons and Angels," both threats, the zombie and the virus, seem palpable and real, and this is demonstrated by the fact that Lister gets infected and then has his arm chopped off (and in a such a gruesome way)! Season 7 is all about taking chances and going into the deep end! Love it!

"Nanarchy": And thus, the process of rebuilding begins, and this is both metaphoric in that the Red Dwarf is rebuilt, but so is Lister's arm, but not until he has to cope with its loss and the struggle to live life very differently. I love that they don't shortchange that. One of the best moments of Lister's arc is when he's trying to raise the prosthetic arm! There's such a funny, yet horrifyingly real emotion going on, and you can really see what a great actor Craig Charles in these moments where he demonstrates genuine pathos and is funny! But after that crucible, Lister starts to gain again: he wins a deeper friendship with Kochanski; he gets Holly back (the return of Norman Levitt); and Red Dwarf itself returns.

Dave does not find his new arm uplifting.
So, I have to say that hands down, Season 7 is my favorite season. Naylor and Paul Alexander in the documentary acknowledged that it was more a comedy drama and NOT a sitcom, which the show had been, and that had perhaps threw people off. Craig Charles noted that with time it'll be viewed in a much better light than it had been. Frankly, I loved it then and I love it now. These past three seasons 5-7 represent the peak of Red Dwarf and are the reason I'll always re-watch this show.

In some ways, the series could have ended here. It's at a logical place for it, with Lister and Rimmer having gone through their arcs that each brought them to different places. Had it done so, you'd have imagined a kind of happy ending in that for the first time a more traditional family is in place on Red Dwarf in which Lister and Kristine are husband and wife. Kryten is their butler, Cat their cat, Holly their computer. Their twins are the next inevitable part of the scene.

Of course, this being Red Dwarf they couldn't let that happen, and in many ways Season 8 is the logical next stage.

Red Dwarf lets its stray Cat strut.
But before we go there, it's important to talk about the unproduced Cat episode, "Identity Within," which was really quite good! Sadly, I can see how budget-wise it couldn't be done, but what a shame because there's some great things going on here, and Cat's been overdue for an episode focusing on him and his strengths and weaknesses. For one thing, there's a female cat, and she's nothing like our Cat! In fact, she sees Cat as tamed and domesticated by humans; for the first time Cat goes into a depression because he realizes that he has lost some of his more catlike abilities and senses, and his attempts to get them back are hilarious! 

We also enter a GELF market, which is a really cool setting, and again you feel that sense of danger. The show caps off with a card game, another great staple of the Western, that's turned on its head by the fact that Lister (whose playing the game) is getting more and more drunk, but doesn't realize it, and is ruining their chances at getting out of the mess they've gotten into! So, even though it wasn't produced, it's great to have this storyboarded version voiced by the ever-amazing Chris Barrie, to show us the story.

Read Part Five 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.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home