Older but cer­tainly no wiser

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The re­turn of the space cow­boys. Was it worth the wait?

UK Broad­cast Dave, fin­ished

US Broad­cast TBC

Episodes Re­viewed 11.01-11.06

The show may be set three mil­lion years in the fu­ture but some­how it al­ways feels like 1988 aboard Red Dwarf. Oddly, this is no bad thing. The show’s been through its big FX, no-au­di­ence-laugh­ter and faux-film-look pe­ri­ods, but now it’s be­ing made by dig­i­tal channel Dave on a bud­get that prob­a­bly wouldn’t cover Jim Par­sons’ geeky t-shirt al­lowance on The Big Bang The­ory, and it’s as healthy as ever… de­spite the ex­tra few inches round the col­lec­tive waists of its stars.

Some fans might snort with de­ri­sion at a state­ment like that, and true, there’s noth­ing of the stand-out qual­ity of “Back To Re­al­ity”, “Fu­ture Echoes” or “Queeg” in Red Dwarf XI, but those are three episodes out of 51 of the orig­i­nal BBC se­ries. There may not be an out-and-out clas­sic here – though a cou­ple of episodes come close – but nei­ther is there a com­plete clunker; you could even make a de­cent ar­gu­ment that all six episodes of se­ries XI are bet­ter than any in sea­sons seven and eight.

The cru­cial ques­tion, though, is how does se­ries XI com­pare with sea­son X, the first “proper” Dave se­ries (“Back To Earth” doesn’t count be­cause, well, no­body re­ally wants it to count). Se­ries X was a rev­e­la­tion. No­body ex­pected it to be much cop; it proved ev­ery­body wrong by feel­ing con­fi­dent, brash and burst­ing with bizarre comedy sci-fi con­cepts that felt as fresh as ever. The stars looked like they were re­ally en­joy­ing them­selves, and the gags were of­ten very sharp in­deed. It was a re­turn to ba­sics – four mis­fit losers stuck to­gether on a gi­ant space­ship, usu­ally spend­ing at least half of each episode talk­ing ir­rel­e­vant bol­locks, all in front of a live stu­dio au­di­ence. It was cheap but it was in­cred­i­bly cheer­ful.

Could XI keep up the stan­dard? Well, very, very nearly, and we’ll set­tle for that. If there’s any slight degra­da­tion it isn’t in the scripts so much as the stag­ing.

The bot­tom line is: it’s of­ten very, very funny

Oc­ca­sion­ally great gags are scup­pered by odd edit­ing choices, slightly off tim­ing or per­for­mances that have a “not-enough-time-in-re­hearsal” feel. You have to won­der if writer/di­rec­tor Doug Nay­lor re­lies a lit­tle too much on the well-es­tab­lished chem­istry and comedy of Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn to try to pa­per over some cracks, but some scenes sim­ply end up with a slightly seat-of-the-pants feel.

It’s not a fa­tal flaw, though, be­cause mostly the scripts shine through. Sure, there’s a slight re­cy­cling of ideas (the scripts even of­ten draw at­ten­tion to the fact with ex­po­si­tion along the lines of, “This is like that thing we en­coun­tered in such and such an episode”) and there’s lit­tle of the sense of grudg­ing ca­ma­raderie and hu­man con­nec­tion that de­fined the ear­lier sea­sons (ev­ery­one just hates each other now, pretty much) but the bot­tom line is: it’s of­ten very, very funny.

“Kr­y­sis” is the high point, with Kry­ten’s red sports car makeover and a phone call to a uni­verse hav­ing a mid-life cri­sis. But “Of­fi­cer Rim­mer” isn’t far be­hind – any episode that gives Barrie mul­ti­ple roles to play is a win­ner, but this also boasts printer-jam Xerox man; a truly bril­liant con­cept. “Twen­tica”’s con­ceit of a world where sci­en­tific ad­vance­ment is il­le­gal is bril­liantly ex­plored (“I don’t do the Bang Bang,” says a physi­cist-cum­flap­per girl), while the saga of Lister’s miss­ing kid­neys ends up as the un­like­li­est ex­cuse for time travel ever in “Give And Take”.

So, yeah, it’s creaky at times, but Red Dwarf is still a blast. Dave Golder

The act you’ve known for all these years.

Was this scene di­rected by Ni­co­las Wind­ing Refn…?

Rim­mer: smar­tie pants (and top).

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