When there has been a recent season, and talks of a new season coming in the next year, it’s may seem strange to say that ‘Red Dwarf’ is a throwback. Still, it’s most famous seasons aired from 1988-1993, and they quickly became a staple on PBS and gained a cult following. That’s why ‘Red Dwarf’ is the focus for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s look at great science fiction of the past.
Except, when I say “science” fiction, I should say that I really do mean that with the quotations.
The show is possibly the least scientific thing you have ever seen. From luck viruses, to time traveling to eras that are going in reverse, the thing ‘Red Dwarf’ is good for is a laugh. The only science fiction about ‘Red Dwarf’ is that it mostly takes place on a spaceship, and only one of the characters is actually a human.
The entire premise is is based on four unlucky passengers of the mining ship Red Dwarf wandering around in the universe long after humanity has died. Bonus depression points for having no alien species to interact with… and yet, it is still some of the funniest television you will ever see.
The series focuses on David Lister (Craig Charles), a sarcastic, lazy Space Corps employee who went into a cryogenic stasis after refusing to disclose the whereabouts of his pregnant cat, and his antagonistic relationship with his former superior, Rimmer (Chris Barrie), a “smeghead” of a space technician who accidentally murders everyone on the Red Dwarf including himself. Rimmer’s memories are loaded as a hologram, and he interacts with the plot and the ship as such. After three million years, the deadpan computer Holly (Norman Lovett) declares the ship safe for Lister to emerge from stasis and he finds out what has happened to everyone on board. Then he meets Cat (Danny John-Jules), a humunoid feline who descended from his pregnant cat. He also finds that in cat mythology, he is a god. The four wander about the universe and get in disagreements with each other.
That’s right. The first season of ‘Red Dwarf’ is basically a series about four unlikely and badly mismatched roommates stuck with each other for the rest of their lives in an empty universe. And it is fantastic. From Lister’s lilting comebacks, and long rants about Rimmer’s personality, to Rimmer’s neurotic speeches about his past and obsession with getting ahead despite being dead, to Cat’s love affair with himself and his whinging about the color of blood not matching his outfit, the series is so absurd, it brushes with genius.
Eventually, they meet more cast members in order to flesh out the plot, though these tend to drift in and out of the series. A mechanoid servant joins the crew in the second season to round out the ranks, and they fight holographic viruses, meet gender-swapped versions of themselves, go to alternate timelines, meet completely holographic ships, and fight androids who travel through time to judge people of worthiness. Still, every episode until the sixth season has them return to the status quo of five unlikely roommates traveling through space, and it’s in that very simple concept that its genius lies.
We all know space epics, but it’s almost beautiful how mundane ‘Red Dwarf’ can make science fiction. Even with the cheesy eighties effects, the show’s dialogue and grasp of farce and parody makes it stand out from the sea of bad 80s science fiction television shows.
The series is available on Netflix right now (as of 1/2014), so if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for!