8 Ways Red Dwarf Can Be Saved

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, TV
Monday, September 19, 2011 at 8:02 am
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Debuting way back in 1988, Red Dwarf has rightfully earned its place alongside of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Futurama in the holy trinity of sci-fi comedy series'. Set in the far future aboard the titular mining vessel, the series chronicles the misadventures of space slob Dave Lister, Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of his annoying dead roommate, the stylish (and kind of dim) Cat, the cleaning obsessed robot Kryten. To date, there have been eight seasons of the show as well as a three-part special that aired in 2009. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor created Red Dwarf, working on the show together until Grant's departure from the series after the sixth season. Since then, Doug Naylor has taken the reins of the show, implementing several changes to the series' basic concepts and characters. Unfortunately, many of these decisions about the creative direction of the show have not sat too well with longtime Dwarfers.

Next year will see the series returning to TV for its first full season since 1999. With that announcement came an explosion of fan debate about whether or not Red Dwarf's time has passed. So what, if anything, can be done to help Red Dwarf regain the greatness it once possessed? That's exactly what today's Daily List is going to attempt to figure out.

8) Admit Back to Earth Was a Waste of Time

A decade after the eighth series of Red Dwarf ended, the series returned for a three-part special called Back to Earth that aired on the appropriately named UK cable channel Dave. Unfortunately, the new shows seemingly existed only to promote the network and offer up lame Blade Runner-inspired gags. The trouble was that the episode -- which had the boys from the Dwarf arriving in circa-2009 London to discover that they were actually characters on a sci-fi comedy -- was just a meta-humor-infused retread of the excellent "Back to Reality" episode that came complete with an appearance by the despair squid. Worst still, fans who waited ten years for a resolution to series eight's "Only the Good..." cliffhanger were rewarded with some lip service about how the unseen ninth season was the series' apex instead of any real answers about how Rimmer escaped Death (at least this bit of audience contempt on the part of the show's producers wasn't entirely unexpected given how poorly the "Out of Time" cliffhanger was handled at the start of Red Dwarf VII). In the interest of fairness, it's worth mentioning that Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John Jules and Robert Llewellyn are all actually still great in their roles, and the (brief-yet-pointless) appearance of Peep Show's Sophie Winkleman infused the show with some much-needed new energy. On a fundamental level, the main issue with Back to Earth is that it seems to be full of ideas that are either undeveloped or misfires in general. This has been somewhat of a problem with the series as a whole since Rob Grant left. With his departure came a move away from character-based humor and an increasing reliance on pop culture references (i.e. the jarring Reservoir Dogs sequence in "Back in the Red") that serves only to erode the show's legacy. For the record, I don't actually expect for Doug Naylor and company to publicly state say that Back to Earth was a huge smeg-up. But wouldn't it be nice if when the new episodes aired they ignored it completely?

7) Increase the Show's Visibility in the U.S.

We live in a time when Doctor Who is nearly as popular in the United States as it is in Britain. This turn of events was inconceivable back when nu-Who premiered in 2005. Thanks to a relentless publicity campaign by BBC America, Matt Smith's Doctor was reached a level of recognition in America unmatched by his predecessors. It's not just genre fans tuning in anymore either, the Doctor has officially hit the mainstream. In the wake of his success, Torchwood: Miracle Day came to the U.S. as a joint production between the BBC and Starz. While it is true that the series has been struggling both creatively and in the ratings this season, Captain Jack and company have never been more high profile... or had as high of a production budget. I realize it's a stretch to compare Red Dwarf, what with its offbeat humor and aging cast, to these properties. The point I'm making here is that it now more possible than ever to break a British show on these shores in a revenue-generating way. If BBC America would regain the rights to Red Dwarf, they could capitalize on the influx of new Doctor Who viewers who are voracious for other quirky British programming. Another example of a current love for UK sci-fi is the way that Misfits -- a British Heroes (well, except that it is actually entertaining) -- is currently getting a lot of promotion from Hulu. Seeing how you are reading this website, chances are you are already familiar with Red Dwarf. But amongst the general public it is still as much of a cult show as Children's Hospital or The State. The BBC no longer wanted to produce the series, which is why Dave got involved. The trouble is that Dave is a small outfit that doesn't have the finances to promote the show for a global audience. A partnership with a network or company that has a strong presence in America could not only drum up more attention for the show, but help make the money needed to actually produce the show in the first place. All that said it's important to remember that an Americanized version of the series is a terrible idea. Just watch the above clip to refresh your memory as to why this is.

6) Lose the Self-Indulgence
Pre-Red Dwarf, Danny John Jules was a noted dancer and choreographer (he can be briefly glimpsed during the "Da Doo" musical number in Little Shop of Horrors). He has had the opportunity to strut his stuff on the series several times, most notably in the hilarious "Tongue Tied" dream sequence. Still, this isn't always the best idea. In the series eight episode "Back in the Red" Jules was involved in a painfully long dance routine that feels like it was a contract stipulation. Unfortunately, the scene does nothing to further the narrative (though it irritatingly presents itself as doing so). Self-indulgence has been a problem in recent years on Red Dwarf, from the unnecessary return of supporting characters to the entirety of Back to Earth. These moments are annoying at best and indicate that the series has lost its way. Speaking of which...

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