Red Dwarf: Not Serious Sci-Fi, But Seriously Funny

Way back in Stardate…  uh, 1988, while Captain Picard was commanding the Starship Enterprise, there was another popular show about a spaceship and its crew: Red Dwarf.  Over the years (it had eight seasons) it became one of the most popular shows in the UK, yet, like Doctor Who, it’s a show that most Americans weren’t exposed to unless they knew a fan or caught a random episode on PBS.

Ten years after the show went off the air, a new miniseries got the blood pumping in critics and fans alike, and now several actors from the show are saying there will be a proper new series (season) in 2011.  Since all eight series of the old show are now available on DVD, it’s a perfect time to get caught up.

The premise of the show is fairly simple:

Dave Lister, a maintenance man on the mining ship Red Dwarf, gets placed in stasis as punishment for smuggling a pet cat on board.  When he comes out of stasis, he finds it’s not mere months later like he expected – instead, it’s millions of years.  A radiation leak killed the entire crew, and Lister was only released when it was safe.  Now, the only inhabitants of the ship are Lister’s insufferable hologram roommate, Rimmer; Holly, the ship’s computer (a floating head, really); and the Cat, walking, talking, evolved great-great-etc grandkitty of Lister’s smuggled pregnant cat.

They’ve been floating into deep space for millions of years; will they ever get home?  Is there even a home to return to?  Of course, every week they visit a new planet or salvage a long-abandoned ship, and hilarity always ensues.

Interestingly, there are no actual aliens in Red Dwarf; deranged mechanoids, Holograms, genetically engineered life forms run amok, sure.  Still, no actual alien life (to date).  When they’re not battling a “monster” of some kind, there’s often a healthy dose of timey-wimey sci-fi: planets that run backwards, wormholes, even ways to visit the past.

Make no mistake, though: this is no Star Trek ripoff – it’s more like a sci-fi sitcom.  The science plots have holes big enough to drive a truck through, but that’s not the point, really.  It’s just a good old-fashioned romp through space, with cheesy monsters, bad early 90s fashion, and countless one-liners that will pop into your head at the most inappropriate moments.

Because the show was made over a span of ten years, it evolved quite a bit.  Fans like to argue over which seasons were the best.  Personally? I find the very first episode is a little slow, and not always the best way to draw in a new fan.  My favorite era is probably the third to sixth seasons, though the first two are worth watching, too.  The seventh and eighth seasons feel much different, but they, too, have moments that have left me crying with laughter.

I don’t talk about it much, but for me, Red Dwarf is one of Those Shows.  A show I can watch when I’m falling asleep or sick because it’s not scary enough to give me weird dreams, and it’s as comfortable as a teddy bear.  A show I can literally watch over and over.   I’m not usually one of those people that can quote shows and movies, but I probably know all eight seasons backward and forward.

If you like a bit of silly with your sci-fi, this is a show you simply can’t miss.

For those of you that are already familiar with it: what do you think about news of a possible new series?  Are you excited, or do you think it’s beating a dead horse?  Let me know!

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