TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Classic Era (1988-1999)

Original Run: February 15th, 1988 – April 5th, 1999
Created by: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Directed by: Ed Bye, various
Written by: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, various
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Norman Lovett, Hattie Hayridge, Chloë Annett

Grant Naylor, BBC, 52 Episodes, 28-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Red Dwarf is one of the greatest television shows ever produced. In its classic run, it was a near perfect comedic masterpiece until the early parts of season seven and the entirety of season eight. Still, six really stellar seasons is more than most shows can accomplish and even if the quality dipped, by that point, we were still spending time with these beloved characters.

The plot is bizarre but pretty original and kind of cool. Dave Lister gets put into stasis for bringing a cat on board of the mining space ship Red Dwarf. When he wakes up, he’s three million years in the future, the crew is dead, except for a hologram of his annoying superior officer and bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, as well as a character evolved from his pet cat, appropriately named Cat. In season three, the crew are joined by the butler mechanoid Kryten. There is also the ship’s computer, Holly.

There first two seasons of the show are actually my favorite, mostly because it’s new and fresh and for a long time, it was the only portion of the show I had access to, thanks to VHS tapes sent to me from a friend in the UK. But I loved the sets and style of the first two seasons. After that, the show evolved visually where there were a lot of aesthetic changes and inconsistencies from season to season.

The real spirit of the show is strongest however from seasons three to six. That’s where the show found its proper footing, had its full cast without any extra flourishes and also featured the best writing. While Lister, Rimmer and Cat were fun in the first two years of the show, seasons three through six are where they really become real people that you care for, which is just a testament to the great writing as well as the talent of Craig Charles, Chris Barrie and Danny John-Jules – the original three stars. Robert Llewellyn’s addition to the cast as the full-time version of Kryten (he appeared in one episode of season two, played by a different actor) was a real cherry on top of the sweet sundae that was this group of characters.

In season seven, things go a bit downhill. Rimmer left the show in episode two and just had two very brief cameos in the season. In the cast, he was replaced by the show’s first and only real full-time female star, Chloë Annett. She played Kochanski, the woman that Lister obsessed over since the first episode of the show. While I actually did like Annett and the character, where most fans did not, she still felt out of place and it disrupted the dynamic of the show. I don’t blame Annett, it was just that the show had a certain formula and with her there, that formula was gone.

Season eight was pretty atrocious though and is the main reason why I can’t give the classic run of Red Dwarf a perfect rating. It was an ambitious season, as far as how drastically the show was altered but ambition is often times misguided. Had the show ended at season six, it would have been absolute perfection.

The show would then leave the airwaves for a decade. Over the course of that time there was a Red Dwarf movie being discussed but it was in developmental hell for quite some time. In 2009, the show would return with the three-part special Back to Earth, which I will review on its own. A few years after that, the show was resurrected and is still in production today. I’ll also review that separately.

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