Review of Red Dwarf (1988)

Moving picture, 25 hours

Seasons 1 through 8.

Lister, an assistant vending-machine repair man, gets thrown into stasis on a large mining vessel. It’s his punishment for smuggling a cat on board. Lister’s neurotic superior, Rimmer, then kills the entire crew by accident. Three million years later, the radiation has dropped to safe levels. The AI releases Lister and resurrects Rimmer as a hologram to keep the last living human sane. “Jean-Paul Sartre said hell was being locked forever in a room with your friends”, and Rimmer is nobody’s friend.

There are no aliens. Life never evolved anywhere except on Earth. The comedy is character-based, with the superficial and self-centred Cat—one of two humanoid survivors of evolution inside the hull—and the AI breaking the often philosophical monotony. Seasons 3 to 7 are more colourful. Kryten, an android who appeared in season 2, joins the crew permanently. The AI has a sex change in season 3 and disappears for season 6, along with the entire mining vessel, the Red Dwarf, which is hijacked.

Through seasons 6 and 7, the characters survive in the much smaller vessel Starbug, forced to beg and bargain their way closer to the Red Dwarf, which they never reach. Space seems more densely populated, although mostly by murderous androids and unpleasant genetically engineered life, the legacy of humanity. Lister’s great love, a superficial snob of a woman, replaces Rimmer when he leaves at the end of season 6. In season 8, nanobots have rebuilt the Red Dwarf, complete with a resurrected crew. The characters of the previous season return along with a reset and living Rimmer and the original (male form) senile AI. Isolation is broken at last but disaster strikes.

SF comedy with greater ambition and elegance than Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). Good music, great British archetypes, sometimes repetitive writing on interesting themes. Continuity problems pile up over time, but I think the series actually maintains quality even in the last two seasons. The mix of abrasive bleakness and struggling warmth is very effective.

References here: Rick and Morty (2013).

moving picture fiction series