One Britain's great science fiction comedies, "Red Dwarf" is one of the United Kingdom's finest television exports. This is due to the fact that alot of the comedy, through the characters, satirizes British stereotypes (slobs, snobs, neurotics) and makes its own commentary on the bleakness and absurdity that is human life.
The format, which has become considerably more flexible in recent years, started thus. Set in space, some two or hundred years or so in the future, on an enormous mining ship called Red Dwarf, working class slob Dave Lister (Craig Charles) finds himself placed "in stasis"(frozen in time) as punishment for illegally hoarding a cat on board the ship. Awakened by the ship's senile computer Holly (Norman Lovett), Lister is shocked to discover he's been in stasis for three million years and the rest of the crew have been killed by a freak accident.
Asides from the now-senile computer, Lister's only company is a vain, narcissistic lifeform who evolved from his cat (Danny John-Jules) and a hologram of Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie), his bossy and officious superior.
This was the set up for the first two series of Red Dwarf. The format changed in series three when Holly swapped sexes and became Hattie Hayridge, and the crew recruited Kryten (Robert Llewllyn), an eager-to-please mechanoid with an overactive guilt chip. In series six, Red Dwarf and its computer were abandoned, and the crew were forced to survive in modified shuttlecraft Starbug.
Chris Barrie left as Rimmer in series seven and was replaced, courtesy of an alternate universe storyline, by Kochanski (Chloe Annett), the love of Lister's life. The ship, complete with resurrected crew, returned for series eight and saw the adventurers, along with a back-from-the-dead Rimmer, thrown in the ship's brig for their adventures in the previous series.
In the first two series with a minimum main cast, the much-despised grey sets lent an appropriately barren, lonely backdrop to the very character based comedy. Most of this consisted of intimate comic banter between Lister and Rimmer, occasionally livened up by the Cat's hilariously self-obsessed prescence or an off-the-cuff joke from the laconic Holly.
Seasons three to five broadened the scope of the series, making it more experimental with different science fiction concepts. The added prescence of Kryten helped this, his 'groinal socket', susceptibility to the whims of a sometimes deranged Rimmer and increased attempts to break his restrictive programming brought new comic dimensions to the series.
Series six and seven reverse the comedy-science fiction ratio of the series in that the former now takes a back seat to the latter. In other words the comedy of the series accentuates the main science fiction based plots. The comedy emphasis was restored for series eight, although, much like series seven, this element was alot weaker than before.
The series benefitted from alot of strong characterisation. Craig Charles embodies carefree slob Lister, while Chris Barrie turns in a wonderfully uptight performance as the hopelessly neurotic Rimmer. Dancer Danny John Jules brings alot of colourful charm to the Cat, while Norman Lovett is wonderfully sardonic as Holly, whose almost apathetic stupidity allows for alot of comic misunderstandings. After being replaced by Hattie Hayridge for a few seasons, Lovett returned in series seven.
Robert Llewellyn, his entire head covered in a prosthetic mask, has some fine moments in a character that is very much a comic take on the android "Data" from "Star Trek:TNG". Chloe Annett is wonderfully superficial as Kochanski, but is attractive enough to make plausible Lister's attraction to her.
Series eight was helped considerably by the return of Mac MacDonald as Red Dwarf's hapless Captain. During the two-part episode "Pete" he is subjected to a series of increasingly hilarious indignations, prompting a wonderfully humiliated performance from MacDonald.
Time will tell whether or not the series will return, but the series remains one of the definitive comic staples of British television.
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