RED DWARF XI
Older but certainly no wiser
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).