April 8, 2005

Mr. Flibble Doles Out The Harshness

Ok, it's been a hard week, and it's only gonna get harder. It's easy to fall into angst-o-rama at this point - but thanks to a nice tax refund, I have received the greatest post-birthday present that I could give myself. A show at least one blogger considers a guilty pleasure, but which I have enjoyed since my good friend Craig showed it to me whilst I was down in the dumps in my early days here in St. Louis.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you....series 5 and 6 of Red Dwarf.

It came around in Britain just around the time Doctor Who was canceled, and (in my opinion) is one of the funniest shows that deals (quite cleverly) with science fiction concepts. Holograms, time travel, parallel universes - all were treated seriously as concepts, but were wrapped in frequently clever writing, and there were very few dull bits - in fact, even the episodes that didn't work have a sparkle and snap that American sitcoms never did.

Series 5 and 6 (or "seasons" five and six) continued RD at a high point, with season 5 being the definite climax of the season. It started with "Holoship", and with dead hologram Rimmer given a chance to be among his own kind. "The Inquisitor" dealt with choices, as two of the shipmates were deleted from the space-time continuum and replaced with their "sperms-in-law." One of the crew's deepest, darkest psyche came to life in "Terrorform", and disease results in Lister, Kryten, and the Cat placed in "Quarantine". A triplicator ends up splitting Red Dwarf into its good and evil selves in "Demons and Angels", and the series ends with "Back to Reality", where the crew find that things are not all as they seem....

Unfortunately, series 6 (the last series with Rob Grant's involvement - after this, Doug Naylor would write with Paul Alexander) begins showing some the cracks, and a few of the episodes just don't have that gleam. There are some great moments - Lister shows musical talent ("Psirens"), dorky Dwayne Dibbley and mega-heroic Ace Rimmer return ("Emohawk - Polymorph 2", a sequel to an earlier episode), a unique way to defeat a gestalt entity ("Legion"), but somehow, the scripts lack that certain oomph. This season also contains the first real clunker - "Rimmerworld". However, this series also contains the near perfect "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" and "Out of Time" - the last ten minutes is the greatest cliffhanger in Red Dwarf history.

However, during this time (as the bonus disc on series 5 reveals), there was an American pilot of Red Dwarf, leading to some slight tension between the leads. Looking at footage from the American pilot, it's easy to see why it failed - most British drama and comedy is character-driven, with the jokes coming from the characters' behavior. Much of American comedy is based on set-up/punch line, and as the Dwarfing USA drama suggests, television production is reminiscent of Douglas Adam's comment about Hollywood filmmaking being like heating a steak by having people breathe on it. In fact, the network that sponsored the RD pilot even recast for another pilot, with my crush du jour as candidate for the Cat, but it never happened.

Cheers to Warner Home Video/BBC Home Video - for approximately $30, you receive six episodes with commentaries, a bonus disc with extras, including deleted scenes, bloopers, small documentaries, Easter Eggs (including Macromedia Flash-esque animations, and on Series 5, Danny Jule-Johns reenacting a scene from a sci-fi classic). However, I may end up skipping series 7 (easily the weakest, even with the obvious charms of Chloe Annett) and going straight to Series 8, which easily reflected the best of the past, and has the greatest series-ending scene in history.

So, on other words, don't be a smeghead, be a special agent with a PhD in trashing bozos like my pal Brian - and if you need to catch up, you can also purchase the first four series on DVD. You'll laugh harder than you ever have in your life.

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