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Red Dwarf: Back to Earth

I was thrilled to hear that one of my favorite TV series was making a comeback, even if for three short episodes, but when I actually saw it… I kinda wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t that great either.

Red Dwarf” was a scifi sitcom from the late 1980s that was broadcast on the BBC. It detailed the life of Dave Lister, the last human as he traveled the universe in the gigantic spaceship Red Dwarf with a hologram of his late bunkmate, the ship’s computer, a highly evolved cat, and a robot servant, among others. I’m oversimplifying, but suffice it to say it was a great, and usually hysterical program. It lasted on and off for eight seasons, and even spawned two terrific books, two not-so-terrific American TV pilots and also inspired a twisted and terrible version of itself for the UPN called “Homeboys in Outer Space” that is probably best forgotten.

The show returned over Easter on the new station called simply ‘Dave’ with the three part “Back to Earth.” My first impression is that it was lacking. Absence of a laugh track is not always a problem, but on shows where one is traditionally can be. I think the no-laugh-track was a major factor in my impression. There were awkward silences where laughter would have covered up a failed joke. I wouldn’t have thought that was needed in “Red Dwarf,” but here’s the evidence.

The other bothersome point for me was that the show seemed to traveling farther and farther away from what I liked about it originally. That may have something to do with the creators. Rob Grant and Doug Taylor, as the mythical ‘Grant Taylor,’ are credited with creating the show and guiding it through several seasons. When Rob Grant left, it was evident in the stories, and only got worse from there in my opinion.

The story of “Back to Earth” actually does resonate from an episode from the good old days however. In “Back to Reality,” possibly designed as a series finale, the crew finds that nothing is real, and that they are really players in a total immersion videogame. This is, of course, only the machinations of a creature called the Despair Squid. In “Back to Earth,” the crew finds themselves in a similar situation, brought to Earth, an Earth in a dimension where the crew are merely characters in a TV series called, you guessed it, “Red Dwarf.”

As good as it sounds, the three episodes barely deliver. There are moments that are inspired, like an appearance by actor Craig Charles (who plays Dave Lister) on the set of “Coronation Street,” a soap he appeared in after “Dwarf.” After that however, there’s not much there except lost opportunities. Even the old stuff comes up lame. The Cat is more cartoony than usual, and Kochanski is barely there and Holly is not even mentioned. It’s more than a little disappointing.

Another thing that bothered me was the lack of continuity. “Red Dwarf” was always a sitcom and always played for laughs, but the scifi, specifically the science part of it, was always logical and made sense within their world. There are unexplained flaws and questions in what happened between the end of Series 8 and “Back to Earth.” These could be explained away by the existence in ‘the real world’ of a Series 9 and 10 that supposedly came before “Back to Earth” – but, um, we never saw these mythical episodes.

All in all, I was happy to see (most of) the crew back together and on the screen, but more than a little disappointed with the whole package. Here’s hoping for a real Series 9 or 10…

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