Red Dwarf X premieres on Dave tonight at 9pm. In a few short hours we will know if that ‘X’ signifies buried comedy treasure, or if it will make us all think of a solitary dead eye on the corpse of a cartoon character that’s been drawn by a three-year-old.
And, yes, I know it’s Roman numerals for ten, before some clever cunt who genuinely thinks I’m some sort of drooling malcontent tries to point it out.
Red Dwarf was my favourite comedy as a youngster, and memories of the show are inextricably linked to memories of my childhood, and of growing up. I shared favourite quotes and crap cast impressions with schoolmates (I did an impressively shite Kryten). It’s fair to say that each new episode was ‘event TV’, and fellow geeks and I would spend the day after transmission reliving the entire episode to the point of suicidal tedium.
When the first series was released on VHS in two-parts I scrimped and saved summer holiday money to get my hands on it. £13.99 for three episodes at a time in good old combustible, snappable video format – and no Monster Munch for a month – but it was worth the sacrifice.
And what a show: Smeg, Talkie Toaster, two Rimmers, the first Kryten (‘They’re dead.’ ‘But I was only away for a minute.’), Lister having twins, the Better Than Life video game, the fried egg, chilli, cheese and chutney sandwich, the Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society (or CLITORIS for short), Lister eating dogfood and burning books, inflatable Rachel, a self-destruct system that dispenses chocolate bars, Gandhi with a machine-gun, Kryten dating a blob, Lister fighting a curry monster, Kryten having a penis, Rimmer going nuts in a Gingham dress, Mr Flibble, group hallucinations thanks to aggressive marine life, Lister marrying a mutant, Rimmer being able to touch again, the Polymorph, Ace Rimmer, Dwayne Dibbley!
So many classic moments and characters have been etched into my brain. I was so obsessed with the show that I was moved to write this in my diary when I was 16:
“I brought down Red Dwarf with me that I’d videotaped the night before, because Papa likes it. I don’t mind watching it for the second time, as instead of concentrating on the programme, I like to concentrate on the reaction of the person watching it. Let me explain why: if you enjoy a certain thing on the television, it must contain elements you can relate to, therefore each one you enjoy reflects a facet of your personality. Every time my grandfather would laugh at one of the jokes, I would take that as a personal victory. It’s not as simple as merely saying, ‘Oh, he enjoys the show,’ because on some level his laughter is telling me, ‘Oh, he likes me.'”
I think it’s clear from reading that diary excerpt that I was a bit of a wanker. And incredibly creepy. After all the bizarre staring I subjected him to, my grandpa must have thought I was some sort of cross between Droopy and the little dead girls from The Shining. It also appears that my self-esteem was almost entirely based upon other people’s enjoyment of a 1980’s sci-fi comedy show. I must remember to write that one down for my psychiatrist.
Still, as much as I loved – and still love – the show, something went wrong: Rob Grant, one of Red Dwarf’s creators and one half of its writing team, quit the show after series six. It became clear that Rob was the writer responsible for the ‘com’ part of the ‘sit-com’ equation, and a noticeable dip in quality was evident following his departure. Series 7 still had some excellent moments – most notably the JFK-themed curry hunt – but the dissolution of Red Dwarf’s writing partnership, along with the decision to forgo a studio audience and film the show more like a comedy-drama, changed the atmosphere and ‘feel’ of Red Dwarf for the worse. Kochanski didn’t help either. She was shit (the character, rather than the actress) (yeah, add that rider to spare her feelings, Jamie, because she’s definitely going to be one of the three people who actually read this shite, you fucking egotist).
The Cat in particular became a one-dimensional retard, who seemed to spend his time pulling stroke faces and uttering the odd hackneyed and unfunny line about corduroy trousers. It was the cat’s almost sociopathic selfishness, vanity and callousness that made him funny in the earlier series, not his stupidity, which was never so much emphasised. Things picked up a bit with series 8, although I do agree with one Amazon reviewer who said that the show became like ‘Chuckle Brothers in Space.’ Also, in general, I feel it would have been better if the series had stayed with the six-separate-stories format and left the two-and-three-parters alone. I really liked the episode ‘Cassandra’, though, with the super-computer that could predict the future. It felt like classic ‘Dwarf’ again.
Then came the three-part special ‘Back to Earth’, broadcast on Dave in 2009, that was so hellishly bad it felt like Doug Naylor had travelled back through time to 1989 to personally spunk in my face. The entire first part – especially the tomato banter between Rimmer and Lister, and the distressingly cringe-worthy scene in which Rimmer conducted away to himself oblivious to the plight of his ship-mates as they battled a giant squid on the monitors behind him – almost made Citizen Khan look like the single greatest comedy ever produced. Fair enough, some of the ideas in ‘Back to Earth’ were inventive, if not a little derivative, but so what? It’s a comedy. It’s supposed to make me laugh, first and foremost.
Anyway, ‘Back to Earth’ was discussed on a comedy forum a few years back, and I found an interesting bit of chat about it from Scottish comedian Stu Who?.
When we are younger and haven’t watched a vast amount of comedy, sit-coms, etc, we adopt some programmes which grow, with the passing of time, to be our nostalgic, firm favourites.
In their time, they were quite good, but weren’t really the classics of comedy that we think they were.
If the show is revived, we tend to compare it with the rose-tinted view of the previous series, rather than reality.
Or … in other words:
Red Dwarf was a pile of juvenile shite back then … and still is.
Red Dwarf was funny. Red Dwarf IS funny.
I know it’s just a TV show, and if I’d started watching it when I was 40 I probably wouldn’t give this much of a shit. I know I’m displaying a fanaticism and a personal stake in this akin to a religious fundamentalist defending his holy book. But please, please, please let tonight’s episode exceed my expectations, and blot out the years of disappointment I’ve suffered since Rob Grant left. Let the little embers and flickers of past genius that still glowed in the show, in some form or another, in the later series rage into a comedy bush fire. Let me love Red Dwarf again. Let me laugh.
Give me back my fucking childhood, Doug Naylor! And wipe that cum off my forehead.