Monday, October 8, 2012

Red Dwarf X review, part 1: Trojan

(At this point, I will stop apologizing for not posting gaming content in awhile. It is kind of dumb that I keep starting posts with such apologies. Quick summary: I've been gaming, not as much as I would like, but it's been pretty good. And XCOM comes out tomorrow, yay!)

So.. I first discovered Red Dwarf back in the days when "channel surfing" actually happened; there was a marathon on PBS. It must have been season 3, because I distinctly remember the Backwards episode.
At this point, it wasn't clear to me that The Cat was a Cat, the Hologram was Dead, and that they mostly spent their time on the ship.  But I got hooked, pretty quickly.
A few other friends in high school were Red Dwarf fans, so we'd nerdily discuss the details and make inside jokes.

Eventually, via VHS and (mostly) PBS, I caught up with series 1-6 through high school. I also read the books, which take a different path down Continuity Lane.

When I got to college, and I had a Unix shell account (The Internet!), one of the first communities I felt comfortable in was the Red Dwarf community.  alt.tv.red-dwarf, and its sister IRC channel #starbug/#bluemidget, were where I spent a lot of time in the days before the internet was dominated by the web.
I first picked a nickname "Rimmer", but quickly changed it after I was propositioned by a person who introduced me to the other definition of the word.
Then I settled on "Legion" for the longest time (in my angsty days I always saw myself as the "sum of all parts" of the people around me), until I got sick of "Legion Of Doom" hackers threatening me to change my nick on IRC.
For most of my internet adulthood, my nickname has been "Jozxyqk", a relatively obscure Red Dwarf reference (from one of my least-favorite episodes, incidentally) that I only know of one other person (in Australia) using. My primary internet domain is lunarcity7.com (another relatively obscure reference).
I've only recently been steering my online persona away from Red Dwarf references and taking on Ossian. GRR! :)

Throughout the years, I met a few people through Red Dwarf -- while I never managed to take that trip to London or meet any of the cast/crew, I had a few visitors from around the world and traveled to meet some in person in the US. And I'm still in contact (at least facebook/twitter-level contact) with a handful. Some of you are likely reading this. Hi!
I even got a copy of the book "Last Human" signed by Doug Naylor (which does say "To Legion"), amongst other memorabilia.

Through college and the few years afterward, I managed to get VHS copies of series 7, series 8, the SmegUp/Out blooper tapes, and the "10th anniversary night" from my friends in the UK. I even scored a VHS copy of both American pilot attempts, and got to enjoy the Exit Sign Joke, the only really good thing to come out of those.

In college I had a friend introduce me to all of the Indian foods mentioned by Lister in the series, and I am still a vindaloo fan to this day thanks to Red Dwarf.
I also convinced my "science fiction literature" teacher, freshman year, to allow me to show a few episodes of Red Dwarf as a part of a unit, after he subjected us to some episodes of Star Trek (which I loved to hate).

By now, I own all of the episodes on DVD, including the special Skutter that came with Series 8. I even own the Region-2-Only Remastered "Bodysnatcher" boxset, which I've managed to watch on my computer. On that note, let's just say that I'm grateful that Grant Naylor chose to return to the originally-mastered versions of the shows as canon, unlike certain other owners of popular sci fi properties. But my completist nature forced me to watch them.

I've always said I was a bigger fan of series 1-2 than the later stuff; I preferred it when it was "a sitcom that happened to be in space", than when it was "a sci fi show with jokes".  On the other hand, I can separate the two, and I genuinely love the whole first 6 series, in their own ways.
I enjoyed pulling apart continuity errors, getting deeply involved in discussions over nothing, and generally love the show. Why else would I still be writing a blog post this long about Red Dwarf?

I didn't hate Series 7, although it was certainly a departure. I think the JFK episode, if you stripped out the Dwarf-specific references (and maybe fixed up the JFK accent a bit) is one of the most brilliant and internally-consistent JFK Conspiracy Theory stories ever.
Series 8 on the other hand -- I stand with many fans who thought it was pretty crappy. It didn't feel like Red Dwarf.  The characters, the humor, the forced situations.. We all wish we could forget it.

When I was first dating my now-wife, she was a complete foreigner (literally). 90% of my pop culture and nerd-culture references went several feet above her head. She hadn't even seen Star Wars (and that's a whole other blog post for another day)!
So when I said "you have to sit down and watch the entirety of this obscure British sci fi comedy show with me, it's called Red Dwarf", and she said "Is that the one with the Cat? I love that show!", I pretty much proposed right there.

When the "Back to Earth" special was announced, I was skeptical that it would be any good. I watched it. I was not thrilled.

So when they said "Yeah we're going to follow this up with another full series", add me to the chorus of skeptics. It's going to suck. They're too old. The magic is gone.

And here we are, with Red Dwarf X, episode 1: "Trojan".
Downloading this episode (I swear I will buy the BluRay, regardless of how I feel about the whole show!) felt a little risky, considering its name. :)
But I got it, and I watched it, together with my wife, who hadn't even been aware that it existed yet.

So.. even considering the setup of Back to Earth.. the first question is: "How did we get here?"
(Well, the zeroeth question is "how do we explain them being so much older?" but I let that one go for now)
When last we saw the crew in series continuity, Original Rimmer was long gone in his role as Ace, there was some metaphysical weirdness going on where Nanobot Alive Rimmer was kicking death in the nuts, and the rest of the Boys (and Kochanski) had escaped to a parallel universe.
Here we are on the bridge of Red Dwarf itself (another thing I'd completely let slide; the set looked amazing and nobody wants it to look like it did in the 80s).  Rimmer is Rimmer, a hard light hologram.
Lister is Lister, Cat is series 5-ish Cat. Kryten is Kryten.  Kochanski is.. where?  She gets mentioned, and not in an "is dead" way, so.. ?  Maybe she was just in the bathroom for this whole episode?
And, naturally, Holly is where?  Or at least some sort of ship computer which doesn't require these 4 idiots to manually pilot a 5-mile-long ship?

If we were taking this episode on its own, it would make sense that it was in a "Series 7 never happened, this picks up a little bit after series 6" kind of timeline. But blurbs about future episodes say that Lister is wrestling with the idea of being his own father, which means at least Series 7 must have happened, with Kochanski as part of the crew.
Also, ignoring all of the unlikelihoods of encountering another ship where they are (or a robot home shopping network) for the sake of sanity:
Howard Rimmer is just all wrong. First of all, why is he a hard-light hologram? It makes sense that Arnie was one, because the brilliant scientist Legion converted him. It even, OK,  makes sense that Ace (the last Ace before Arnie took over), was hard-light, because it is his job to be awesome and perfect and Better Than Rimmer.
But Howard being hard-light is just a sign of lazy writing, or an interesting backstory that warranted a mention, perhaps.
Second, we've already seen Howard (and the other brothers) as being these amazing Space Corps Officers, so how does it make sense that he was a chicken soup machine repairman, no better than the runty little brother he used to cover in fire ants?
Third -- and most strange -- he claims that the "attack" that wiped out his crew was fairly recent, and his Simulant Friend has just been hanging out with him not doing anything evil since then. How's that, exactly, unless they've traveled through a time bubble back 3 million years? (which maybe they did; see the First Question)
Or maybe that entire thing was an Artificial Reality test.  Arnie is no stranger to being the center of those kinds of situations.
Will we get an explanation? Maybe, maybe not.

All that being said, you'd think I hated the episode. But I liked it. I genuinely liked it!
The character relationships, and the jokes, were very reminiscent of the "middle seasons", the most comfortable era of the show. Even where the jokes fell flat, they fell flat in exactly the same way as those old seasons. It's orders of magnitude better than Series 8 and that BTE special.
As the credits rolled, my wife sang along with the theme tune, so I took that as a sign of approval as well.

I am genuinely interested in watching more, and seeing where they take things. I'd be happier if they at least pretend to address the continuity issues (other than the Space Quest IV-like "we skipped series 9 where all of this stuff happened"), but I will be at peace with that if the second episode doesn't go there.

I will try and not be too critical of the rest of the episodes, and only follow up with a reaction after the end of the series. But this seemed like a good time to start writing it all down.

1 comment:

  1. I agree about Howard. there shouldn't have been Howard. Or it should have been one of those things that the Simulant was using after scanning Rimmer's brain or something. But I was so glad the feel was like the old series and I was SO grateful they didn't do a whole lot of "whoops we are lying hope he doesn't catch on". I wish it hadnt' had such a happy ending. It's not right that Rimmer gets a happy ending. The ending should have been Howard making fun of him. Or Rimmer being really pissed that his brother had a heroic post-death death.
    I know as a female this isn't something I'm expected to say, but I REALLY LIKE the original formula with no ladies on the ship. The characters can be at their ultimate worst when there's no ladies present. And they're funniest when they're at their worst!

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