I came to Red Dwarf fairly late in my life. I’d heard about the series but didn’t know much about it. I think b first thing I ever saw of it was Series 10 a couple of years ago but without knowing Red Dwarf’s history or characters, it was all nonsense to me. I didn’t know enough to even get the jokes. Hell, I thought Cat was a vampire.
Then after hearing Gabriel Morton and Yahtzee Croshaw rant about the series in our of their Let’s Drown Out videos, and thanks to the magic of Netflix and some dodgy YouTube channels, I went back to the first series and watched it all. Well, at least the first eight seasons. I still have a few more to see which is amazing.
Ok, so what is Red Dwarf? It’s a sci-fi sitcom that started in the 80s in the UK. It’s set aboard the eponymous mining ship Red Dwarf and follows the life of Dave Lister, the last remaining human in the galaxy and the rest of his insane “crew.” Much like Futurama would do it decades later, Lister ends up in his situation because he was in stasis. The difference is that he didn’t go to wild future with mutants and aliens, but woke to realise the entire crew had died of a radiation leak over a million years before but the computer never woke him from his cryogenic sleep. To keep him sane, the somewhat deranged and absolutely dumb computer Holly creates a holographic version of Lister’s bunkmate Rimmer, complete with his obnoxious personality. To round out the original crew is Cat, a humanoid feline evolved from the black cat Lister brought aboard Red Dwarf against regulations. Later on, the emotional housekeeper robot Kryten joins them on their increasingly ludicrous adventures, involving crises on the ship, alien threats and even multidimensional and time travel.
Some of what makes Red Dwarf so special is how it plays certain scenarios and plots seriously while the cast and dialogues do their absolute best to crack you up. They might be facing certain doom, but that won’t stop them from spouting some outrageous pop-culture references. Some of the humour is very British of course, and if you don’t get British humour, you won’t truly enjoy Red Dwarf, but if you do get it, then you’ll be laughing to tears with most episodes.
And I say “most episodes” because while the overall series is good and hilarious in the best of cases, there are some dull episodes, where the premise isn’t engaging enough or the jokes don’t balance out the seriousness of the scenario as well as they should. There’s one episode in particular where the crew “wakes up” to find the entire thing a dream and have to return to mundane lives without any memory of them. The concept is brilliant but it’s too dark overall and the jokes don’t work very well, making the episode a bit of a downer.
But then you have an episode dealing with Kennedy’s Assassination and it manages to be poignant and hilarious at the same time. That’s very difficult, but they pull it off!
Characters in Red Dwarf are a crazy bunch, with distinct histories and personalities but one thing in common: they’re all essentially selfish bastards. Cat is extremely vain and will do anything he can to look and feel good, most of the time at everyone else’s expense. He’s also dumb as a rock and goes on wild and nonsensical tangents. Lister has simple needs and understandably mopes around as the last man in the universe, but given half the chance he’ll risk the universe and the time continuum for the chance to have sex with his ex-girlfriend. Either that or mess with Rimmer, who’s the butt of many jokes. The thing is, the entire cast has redeemable qualities and even Lister and Cat will set their desires aside to help out…but Rimmer won’t, at least not usually. Rimmer is incorrigible and a complete smeg-head, so he deserves whatever happens to him.
When Kryten joins in, he starts as the straight man to make their jokes much better but then eventually they start playing with him overcoming the limitations of his programming and developing human emotions, which in turn makes him act as insanely as the rest of the crew.
But my favourite character is one that shows in seasons 7 and 8 as a main cast member, though they reference her and she shows up in cameos in many episodes: Kochanski, Lister’s ex, a real badass and perhaps the only intelligent member of the crew. Though that doesn’t stop her from making dumb mistakes like the rest of them. But she adds such a nice contrast to the personalities aboard the ship that it makes everything else much better. I was sad to learn that Chloë Annett didn’t return for Red Dwarf Back to Earth or seasons IX or X, but I do hope she returns in the coming two series.
The performances are fantastic to be honest and as is the case with most super-funny sitcoms, the fact they can go through their lines without cracking up every time is something amazing. Though if you watch the “Smeg Up” videos, the blooper reel you can see how much some of those lines took to take, with them forgetting them or even just laughing mid-way.
If you don’t get what “Smeg” is, it’s the made up curse word that Red Dwarf invented, a mix of the F-word and other such curses, all bundled together and used quite freely. How can you make your characters saltier than sailors and still go through censorship unscathed? Make up your own language and the writers of Red Dwarf did just that, most of the time inventing their own curses and expressions when they really wanted to be dirty.
If there’s one negative thing about Red Dwarf it’s something that happens to many sitcoms and it’s character evolution, growth and overall universe changes thrown out the window between episodes and seasons. It doesn’t happen often in Red Dwarf, as they tend to reference older episodes quite frequently, and season finales usually bridge into the following ones, but many times you’ll see something happen to the characters, significant personal growth and then the next episode they’ve regressed to their earlier selves, which to me is always disappointing. It happens most frequently with Rimmer and Lister.
But overall, I’m now a convert, a massive fan of Red Dwarf and I need to finish watching everything up to Red Dwarf X, so I can prepare for season XI, coming out later this year and season XII coming out in 2017. You can find Red Dwarf on YouTube and on UK Netflix.