Red Dwarf X: In Stellar Form

We all have favorite TV shows or movies that can be watched over and over again, rather like throwing on a favorite record.  For me, one of these shows is Red Dwarf.  If you’re a fan of sci-fi, or you’re a fan of fun, silly sitcoms, and you haven’t seen Red Dwarf… well, you have a bit of catching up to do.  Ten seasons’ worth, in fact.  But fear not!  It’s a show from the UK, so each season is tiny.

A bit of history: If you haven’t heard of Red Dwarf and you live in the US, it’s not too surprising – it’s only been shown here and there on random PBS stations.  However, in the UK this comedy about a few guys adrift on a ship in deep space was wildly popular, running from the late 80s to the late 90s for eight seasons.  Then it ended abruptly, and while there were rumors about a movie, pretty much nothing happened for the next ten years.

A few years ago, Red Dwarf came roaring back with a three-part special called Red Dwarf: Back to Earth.  It’s considered the “ninth season,” and it garnered enough renewed interest that this year, in the UK, Red Dwarf Series X has a full season of six episodes.

As you might imagine, I was thrilled to pieces when the ninth-season special aired.  It was great to see the old familiar faces again.  The show had sort of derailed in the previous season or two, and I felt the special made strides forward in repairing some of that damage.

Alas, the Back to Earth special never did make it into my regular DVD rotation.  It was cute, but it just didn’t have the same replay value.  Part of what made Red Dwarf such fun was that it embraced its sitcom nature.  The special was aiming for something more epic and cinematic; it wasn’t filmed before a studio audience, and the absence of the laugh track that had been there before was jarring.  Though Red Dwarf has never shied away from complex sci-fi elements, the plot of the special felt more convoluted than usual, and it was very self-conscious, self-referential and, well, meta.  Not terrible to watch at the time, but ultimately not the sort of thing I want to watch repeatedly.

So when I heard the show was having a tenth season, I was naturally curious, but less thrilled.  I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that perhaps the silly heyday of Red Dwarf had passed.  Yet, amazingly, it appears this is not the case.  In fact, I’d say the tenth season of Red Dwarf is the best it’s been since Series Six.

Series X continues all the changes I consider positive from the mini-series: they essentially ignore the events of the eighth season and continue with the “light reset.”  Kochanski exists as an eventual possibility, but she’s not present.  There’s only  the “boys from the Dwarf,” and whomever they might encounter.

However, they’ve also further harkened back to the “golden era” of the show and returned to filming before a live audience.  The plots of the episodes dabble in sci-fi concepts like time travel, paradoxes and quantum entanglement, but only as devices for the humor, as you’re not really expected to think through much of it (in sharp contrast to, say, the cleverness of Doctor Who, which is expected to hold up under scrutiny, even if it doesn’t always).  The humor itself is not really considered “smart” humor, though; it’s often funny due to repetition, slapstick and scatological elements.  In fact, I’d say the humor is more on par with another favorite of mine, The IT Crowd – another quite silly show nonetheless aimed at “geeks.”

And, honestly, the jokes are in top form this series, as is the acting.  Whereas in Back to Earth I was constantly reminded that these were actors who are ten years older, in this series I’m far more able to suspend disbelief and run with the idea that these characters are ten years older.  The actors have really settled back into their characters, and it feels like the writers have settled back into writing for the show.

I honestly feel like I’ve discovered a missing season of the original Red Dwarf.  Or at least missing scripts from the original Red Dwarf.  And I couldn’t be more pleased about it.

We should be able to get Red Dwarf X on Blu-Ray and DVD in the US as of January 8, 2013.  And I suspect that it will indeed make it into regular viewing rotation.

What about you?  Have you seen Red Dwarf, either the newest series or the other nine?  Share your thoughts below! 

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