The Return of Red Dwarf: Still Flying High

I first found out about Red Dwarf’s return to TV many months ago, and I have to admit, I’ve been filled with trepidation as I waited for the broadcast.  After all, it’s been ten years since there was a proper series of Red Dwarf.  The low-budget, slightly cheesy 90′s sensibility was much of Red Dwarf’s charm.  Would they get so involved in new green-screen technology and nostalgic navel-gazing that they would lose the thread of what makes Red Dwarf great?  It’s a fine line to walk.

I’m pleased to report that the answer is, in a word, no.

There are many nods to past series of Red Dwarf, but they pretty much ignore the entire eighth series.  I can’t complain, as it was my least favorite of the bunch.  Plus, it’s not the first time they’ve ignored cliffhangers and aspects of previous episodes, so it’s even in keeping with the show.  Suffice it to say that when we meet up with the boys from the Dwarf, Rimmer’s a hologram, Lister’s disgusting, the crew is gone, and all is right with the world.

I’m impressed with the acting of the entire cast, but especially with Craig Charles (and man, I never expected to be writing those words).  The plot focuses on Lister, and he handles the challenge with greater skill than I’d ever expect.  Beyond that, the entire cast has a sort of weariness that really supports the claim that they’ve been living the space life, both mundane and dangerous, for the last ten years.  It’s not a ten-years older man trying to jump back into Rimmer’s skin; it’s Rimmer, who’s been around for ten years more.

The special effects have to be mentioned, because let’s face it, a lot has happened, technology-wise, in the last ten years and many have been a victim of the siren song of the green screen (George Lucas, I’m looking at you).  While Red Dwarf does employ CG, it doesn’t detract from the show (I think I was only aware of it once, in a hallway).  The sets still have the organic feel of the Red Dwarf of old, for the most part. The changes are tastefully done, making the whole feel like a slightly shinier, more epic version of the show.  It’s the sort of change that would work well on the big screen.

Don’t worry; for all the mature acting and epic sets, it’s still definitely Red Dwarf.  The jokes are often awesomely cheesy (and it was a bit of a shock adjusting to those without a laugh track, let me tell you) and current references make their way in, just as they did in the 80s and 90s.  Cat’s outfits are even more outrageous than they ever were, and he manages to be even more cool than he ever was.  Rimmer is still cowardly and unscrupulous, and a scene featuring him with the rest of the cast in a submersible is probably my favorite scene in all three parts.  Kryten is probably the most familiar – he is still solidly Kryten, with the same level of energy – and that makes sense, coming from a mechanoid.

There’s a palpable love for the fan base that has endured all these years as well, and the show manages to refer to the fans and poke fun at itself in a way that’s endearing instead of obnoxious.  One tightrope navigated successfully.

The plot was what made me most nervous.  To be honest, I don’t know why I was so nervous; the strongest points of Red Dwarf have never been plots that were scientifically sound or consistent.  It never mattered if the plot was a device to put the crew in the Wild West or bring up Ace Rimmer or Dwayne Dibbley; the point was that it was a ton of fun, no matter what.

Don’t get me wrong; I was on pins and needles the entire time.  The plot is such that it could, at any time, take a dramatic turn for the lame.  When I reached the end of the third installment, it was sort of like riding a roller coaster:  I tentatively patted myself down, realized I was alive and it really was pretty fun, and immediately wanted to ride again.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but let me just say that whatever misgivings I had about this new trio of episodes were pretty much wrapped up by the ending, which, in retrospect, I totally should have seen coming.   There were a few characters that I would have liked to see more (or seen them at all), but hopefully this will be rectified if they ever do more specials.

All in all, a revisit worth revisiting.  Hopefully it will get released on DVD here, where it will probably get constant replay, like the rest of my Red Dwarf DVDs.

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