Monday, 13 April 2009

From small red zombies to near-success

Warning - contains spoilers.

Red Dwarf was a TV phenomenon. What started as a so-so attempt at comedy in a science fiction setting became one of the funniest shows on the air. It got such a cult following that the UK satellite TV lads channel was named Dave after the human character in the programme, Dave Lister.

So it was with real anticipation that we got three new episodes of Red Dwarf after 9 years in suspended animation.

The first show was dire. The cast were like zombies, going through the motions of being alive but without anything really going on inside. The second perked up a touch, but was cringe-makingly predictable as they came through to the 'real' world and found that they were characters in a TV show. But then things got stranger with information from a character who made rubber noses, who was clearly a big reference to the movie Blade Runner (and suddenly the Cat's making little foil sculptures was an echo of Deckard's partner doing this in the movie).

With the third show, we were plunged into a surreal landscape, as the crew arrived on the set of the UK's longest running and most popular soap opera Coronation Street, where Craig Charles (who played Dave Lister) now works. This was entertaining.

Finally the Blade Runner reference was made much stronger, with a London that inexplicably had a Blade Runner style building plonked next to the Houses of Parliament, a recreation of the scene from the movie where Deckard crashes through shops hunting down a replicant, and an ending that owed more than a little to the more recent cult show Life on Mars.

Though the whole was not perfect, that last show dragged it up from disaster to surprise near-success. The whole thing was a bit of a showcase for Craig Charles - none of the other major characters really had much of the storyline. What was also very apparent was that of the two original writers, Rob Grant was the one who could do the funnies. He left two series from the end of the show, leaving Doug Naylor writing on is own, and after his departure it was never the same. This special was also written only by Naylor, and though the ideas were there, the humour was virtually non-existent.

A worthwhile exercise, then, and don't give up after the first show, but don't expect classic Red Dwarf either.
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