TV Review: Red Dwarf, Star Trek Discovery, The Orville

Red Dwarf is like that uncle who used to make you laugh to the point of pant-wetting when you were a child. You hailed him as a comedy genius, and constantly recited his routines to all who would listen, and to all who refused to listen, too. His visits brought light and laughter into your life, and you anticipated them with levels of excitement usually only reserved for Christmas.

Years passed. You got older. Your uncle’s visits became less and less frequent. One day, completely out of the blue, when you were busy doing something excruciatingly banal and thoroughly adult, probably putting up a shelf or something, there was a knock at the door. ‘It’s your uncle!’ came the cry. You ran to the door, almost injuring yourself in the process. ‘He’s back!’ you cried, grabbing the door handle and yanking it open… ‘My hilarious uncle!’… and there he was, standing in-front of you, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a light-up neon bowtie spinning around on his collar. He pulled his face into a gurn, and then brought his face a few short inches from yours. “BOOOOOOBIIIIIEEEEESSSSS!” he screamed, before loping off and around your house like a maniac, occasionally farting as he went. You later found him slumped in an armchair, staring out of the window.

A little part of you died that day.

After he left, you had a good, hard think about it. Maybe he was never funny; maybe you only thought he was funny because you were a kid and, well, everything’s funny when you’re a kid. Someone saying ‘socks’ is funny when you’re a kid. You prepared to jettison every fond memory of his visits and the laughter they brought; a time to put away childish things, and all that. But then you dug out some old home movies; watched him at work in his prime. And he was funny. God, he was funny, just as funny as you always remembered him being. So what the hell happened to him? Did he have a full mental breakdown?

You later hear that he was checked into a sanatorium, possibly never to re-emerge.

But he came back, your well-loved wonky uncle, like you always hoped he would, and you felt eager and hopeful again, despite all evidence pointing to more pain, disappointment and heartache on your part. And do you know what? He was better. He wasn’t quite the uncle you remembered, but neither was he the goofy, slavering imbecile who’d cast a worryingly unfunny shadow across your soul and doorstep. He kept coming back after that, each time stronger, more coherent, funnier. Last week, a near miraculous thing happened. Your uncle, despite his age and the trauma he’s been through, was almost – not entirely, but very, very, very nearly almost – indistinguishable from the man you remembered.

What I’m trying to say, as I wrestle with this rather tortured and over-long analogy about a mentally-ill uncle, is that the opening episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth season, Cured, in which the boys from the Dwarf encounter the frozen figures of Hitler and Stalin in a disused moon-base, was something of a relief and a delight. The cast seemed to be back in the full swing of their characters, there weren’t too many laboured puns or clichés, the sci-fi premise behind the episode was interesting without over-shadowing the jokes, and the episode made me laugh out very loud a hearty handful of times. Sure, some of the sequences in Cured – particularly the threat montage and the overlong guitar jam – felt a little rushed and perhaps fell a little flat, but overall I don’t think the episode would’ve felt out of place in the show’s fourth of fifth seasons. Red Dwarf may never recapture the thrill of its heyday, but each time it returns it builds a stronger and stronger case for its continued existence.

I’ve been boldly watching Star Trek since I was a teenager: I started by gorging myself on cassettes of the Next Generation lent to me by a friend, which led me to seek out the seminal exploits of Kirk and Spock. Later, I fell in love with the rag-tag, war-torn crew of Deep Space 9. Janeway was next, whose adventures I really rather enjoyed, give or take a few Kes’s and de-evolved lizard people along the way and … next there was… em, you know, Enterprise… and stuff. It was… well. I guess Captain Archer’s dog was sort of okay?

Maybe it’s an inevitable consequence of getting older and becoming less passionate in general, but when news broke of Star Trek Discovery’s imminent arrival I never found myself getting particularly excited. When the trailer was released, and it seemed to suggest that Discovery would be another Star-Trek-for-People-Who-Don’t-Like-Star-Trek generic space romp in the vein of the recent ‘reboot’ movies, even less so.

But, expectations be damned, it’s bloody good.

It’s different, of course: bigger, slicker, grittier and glossier, but every Trek series – whilst remaining true to the central Roddenberryian vision and ethos – has been drastically different from those preceding it, and always a product of the time in which it was made. Star Trek is about the future of humanity, sure, but that future is always given shape and voice by contemporary concerns. Discovery is about tough choices, moral relativism, a clash of cultures and the ethics of war. Shades of grey abound. In fact, there are enough shades of grey in Discovery’s opening few episodes to make Captain Picard’s hot tea and the entire canon of Deep Space 9 seem positively technicoloured in comparison. That’s one inevitable consequence, I suppose, of making your lead character a mutineer and a war criminal who’s sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of the first episode.

Sonequa Martin-Green is terrific as the aforementioned mutineer, former Starfleet officer and Vulcan-raised orphan Michael Burnham. The Walking Dead never really afforded Martin-Green the opportunity to showcase her full range and talents; here she’s mesmerising, compelling, tackling with aplomb the tricky task of playing someone who’s both human and Vulcan, and all at once both more and less than either.

Having Burnham front and centre allows Star Trek to do something it’s never done before: have a captain who’s something of an asshole. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) may be the Doctor Who Number 6 of Star Trek, but Burnham ‘aint no Peri. (Incidentally, though it places me in a minority, I really like Colin Baker as the Doctor, so my comparison isn’t intended as an insult to Jason Isaacs or his character).

Discovery also gets top marks for its reinvention/retconning of the Klingons. Like this new incarnation of Star Trek itself, its Klingons share a through-line with the past, but are for all intents and purposes shiny and new. They look more like Cenobites than the 80s/90s-era Klingons we’ve come to accept as the official standard of the species. And they’re other-worldly, and eerie, and menacing, and interesting, something they haven’t been for a long time. Throughout the life-span of The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 the Klingons – with their stiffness, pomposity, laddish bragging and love of drinking – came to possess all the terror and nuance of an obnoxious drunk uncle at a party to celebrate grandma and grandpa’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. My apologies to uncles, who appear to be getting something of a rough ride today.

If Star Trek Discovery isn’t Star Trekky enough for you, then you can always seek out The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi doesn’t-really-know-what-it-is-edy. Despite the show’s mind-bending ideas, improved CGI and novel blend of sci-fi tropes and dick jokes it looks and feels exactly like early-90s Star Trek – which of course is no accident, given that the show’s creator and captain Seth MacFarlane is a life-long fan of the show, and forged his vision for The Orville through collaboration and consultation with such heavy-hitting Trek luminaries as Rick Berman and Jonathan Frakes.

And do you know what? I like it. It combines two of my favourite things: nostalgia and puerility. I’m still not convinced about Seth MacFarlane’s ability to carry a live-action show, but his Captain Mercer is growing on me with every episode, and the characters of Bortus (Peter Macon) and Isaac (Mark Jackson) have already proven themselves to be deep wells of dramatic and comedic possiblity. Keep making it so, Seth.

You can read a piece I wrote about Red Dwarf series X and XI for the lovely people at Den of Geek here.

USA Declares War on Scotland

Megrahi: Guilty of a terrible crime - those glasses are fucking horrendous.

al-Megrahi: Guilty of a terrible crime – wearing those fucking horrendous specs.

CIA files leaked earlier this week reveal the extent of the hostility felt by the US towards Scotland in the wake of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s (but buddy, you can call me Al) release from a Scottish prison in 2009. US officials were so incensed by the decision to release on compassionate grounds the Libyan man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 that a plan was set in motion to destabilise Scotland by sabotaging its national cultural identity and legacy.

"I WANNA SPEND MY LIFE WITH YOU!" Nah, you're alright, pal...

“I WANNA SPEND MY LIFE WITH YOU!” Nah, you’re alright, pal…

The first victim of this diabolical plan – codenamed Operation Bomby Scorch land – was Scottish ‘musical’ act The Proclaimers (it’s a fallacy that The Proclaimers consists of two brothers; in reality, The Proclaimers is a single entity, believed to have been created in a laboratory). Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill, the man ultimately responsible for releasing al-Megrahi, received a ‘Letter from America’ informing him that the Proclaimers had been brutally murdered. A mysterious phone-call followed:

‘The Proclaimers are dead,’ said the anonymous caller.
‘What have you done with their bodies?’ demanded MacAskill.
‘You’ll find them if you take a look up the rail-tracks, from Miami to Canada.’
‘That’s quite a long route,’ said MacAskill, ‘could you be a bit more specific?’
‘Oh, all right, then, their corpses are just outside Miami Central Station.’

The US army: ready to kick Scotland right in the bad teeth.

The US army: ready to kick Scotland right in the bad teeth.

Thankfully, it was a false alarm. The Proclaimers were alive and well. Government spooks had accidentally murdered two very, very ugly guys wearing shit glasses who had travelled to Florida from Glasgow on holiday. Their families were informed, and they just laughed. ‘Aye, they do look a wee bit like The Proclaimers, right enough,’ said one mother.

‘Daft cunts,’ she added.

Despite The Proclaimers setback, the CIA pressed on with their mission, and successfully  managed to:

  • Go through every episode of the original Star Trek series and change Scotty’s name to ‘Englishy.’
  • Spread a rumour that the Loch Ness monster is a homosexual communist with ties to Yemen.
  • Convince every American celebrity to refer to Annie Lennox as ‘Tranny Lennox’, and always make the gesture of possessing a massive cock whenever she walked past. The joke was on the US, though, as Annie Lennox later hung herself. No, I’m sorry, I read that wrong… what I meant to say was, it turns out Annie Lennox WAS hung after all.
  • Fund a tourism campaign, with the slogan: ‘Don’t go to Scotland, it’s shit and they don’t brush their teeth.’
  • Destroy every existing copy of Braveheart, and then reshoot the movie with an uzi-toting Arnold Swarzennegger as King Edward, and the guy who played McLuvin as William Wallace. They also changed William Wallace’s name to ‘Full-Blown-AIDS McCunty’.
X-rated Krankies: a black helmet pushing through a big purple cunt.

X-rated Krankies: a black helmet pushing through a big purple cunt-hole.

The US only backed down from its onslaught when McAskill threatened to deploy The Krankies on US soil. A US government spokesman said: ‘OK, we’ll back off. But know this: if you assholes ever again even think about sending The Krankies to America, we’ll melt your disgusting little country into hot mush like it’s a fucking petrol-laced welly boot in a microwave.’

Use of any Krankie as an instrument of warfare, either singularly or in conjunction with another Krankie, is prohibited under International Law, and is in direct contravention of the Motherwell Convention of the United Nations. The Krankies are currently the only weapons of mass destruction to regularly appear in panto.

CLICK HERE FOR THE ‘ICKE DON’T BELIEVE IT’ MAIN MENU, and more bizarre news stories.

Space: The Final Cashier (or ‘An Old Man Sells Star Wars’)

Harold Shipman’s at it again!

News of Lucasfilm’s purchase by Disney, and the prospect of a new trilogy of Disney-produced Star Wars’ sequels, was met with the anger and reprobation of a bunch of people who really shouldn’t give this much of a shit about the creative direction of a space-based fairy-tale movie franchise for small children. An enormous 48-year-old fat geek, who only got his hole once in his life and only then completely by accident, told us: ‘I feel like Lucas has sold my soul for corporate gang-rape. All six Star Wars movies were pure art, like Wim Wenders’ films set in space, and this cheapens it. I’m so angry I could trash everything in my house, and I probably would, if I didn’t live here with my mum and dad.’

The Death Star – A deadly giant bollock hovering in space.

The twitto-verse, the realm of Twittingdom, the Twitanium steel wordosphere, Dick Twittington and his knapsack filled with fucking tweets – or whatever bullshit marketing-speak is currently being used to describe the short sentences that people type into a wee box on a social networking site – is aflame with the erm… burning… fire of… passion of people getting all… hot and ignited… and… ach, blast this ineffective flame-based metaphor all the way to roaring fucking Hell: a lot of people are talking about the future of Star Wars, okay? That’s what I wanted to say. In a non-flaming nutshell, that’s about the crux of it. Right? Just leave it. OK?? Anyway, there are millions of people who seem to care more about Disney’s Death Star taking aim at Planet Geek than they do about the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, global disease and poverty combined. A starving Ethiopian was asked for his reaction to the Star Wars news, but he was too busy dying of thirst to comment.

So what do we know about Disney’s plans for Star Wars?

‘Motherchucker, get this spaceship in the air or I’ll horn your young ass.’

Well, we know for sure that there will be some major character changes in the new trilogy. R2-D2 will be replaced by a wise-cracking, talking goat with attitude, voiced by Chris Rock. This ‘new’ character, Gh-oato Superstar, will forever be admonishing C-3PO with lines like, ‘No way I’m getting’ on no space ship wich yoo, you uptight, John Inman motherfucker. This goat ‘aint gonna be the butt of some three-eyed, six-titted motherfucker’s jokes. Find me a field an’ leave me there, honky.’ Changes to C-3PO won’t be quite so all-encompassing, but they will be radical. Although his personality will remain the same his appearance will change some 2000 times over the course of the three sequels.

‘C-3PO always struck me as a little, well, dull and samey,’ said some guy at Disney whose name we forgot to write down, ‘So that’s why, in the new films, he’s going to have the ability to change his colour and armour at will, instantly, and as often as he likes.’

How could you not warm to the adventures of a sexually confused, metal English butler and his wee pal, the Tesco Value pedal bin on wheels.

When we insinuated that this new change might have more to do with the ability to issue a wider and more profitable selection of C-3PO action figures, and less to do with what’s best for the plot, the Disney man stabbed an Ewok in the throat, and then ran down the street laughing like a crazy bastard. Filled with panic and horror we rushed to help the adorably cute and choking creature, but once we remembered that Ewoks aren’t real and that it was probably just a dwarf in a costume, we went for a coffee instead. Don’t worry, though, dwarves are immortal. Aren’t they? Or they’ve got special powers or some shit.

Changes abound for Han Solo’s hairy side-kick, due to the long-standing fear of Disney executives that Chewbacca’s name could be viewed as subliminal advertising for chewing tobacco. ‘We don’t want America’s children hawking into spittoons like it’s the Wild West, getting mouth cancer and then keeling over like victims of Vader’s telekinetic throat-choke,’ said Disney CEO, Dave Jewstein. ‘Or even getting Chew-baculosis! HAHAHAHA! Oh, I crack myself up, I really do. Anyway, that’s why, in the new films, we’re renaming him: Chewba-cocacola.’

Jar Jar Binks: in a world gone bat-shit crazy, this animated fictional character is despised more than Hitler.

Building on the universal popularity of Jar Jar Binks, Disney have outlined a new character called ‘Ting-Ting Kablammo’, whose slitty eyes and hilarious catchprase – ‘Me no rikey these raser guns’ – will go down a storm with the ‘0-3yrs’, ‘heavily brain damaged’ and ‘people from Greenock’ demographics.

Harrison Ford will return, this time playing Indiana Jones, and Mark Hamill will be back, as an extra in one of the bar scenes.

Sneak Peak

Star Wars VII will be set on the planet of Toy, with the action focussing on Luke’s children, who are eking out a meagre, miserable existence under the tyrannical rule of Toy’s evil dictator, the Grand Merchandiser. With his army of dreaded Action Figures, and uncompromising brutality, the Grand Merchandiser looks set to make Vader and the Emperor look like a pair of bum-fingering space pussies. Audiences will be treated to some stunning set-pieces as rebel forces, led by Luke’s youngest sons, Pluto and Goofy Skywalker, battle the Action Figure army through the giant roller-coaster theme park that borders The Grand Merchandiser’s impregnable Disneyland Fortress.

Rivals

Fuggedaboutit, Vader.

HBO also fought for control of Lucasfilm, and only just missed out on the bid. Executives at the cable network had already outlined their vision for the franchise, which would have kicked off with Star Wars 7: Motherf***ing C**ts in Space, starring James Gandolfini and the late David Carradine.

STAY TUNED: We’ve been privileged to see a promo poster for Star Wars VII, which features a fat, middle-aged man in a Yoda T-shirt feeding £600 and his dignity  into a shredding machine.

(And, yes, geeks, I know the title of this ‘report’ references Star Trek before it’s pointed out to me with geek-like glee. Or gleek. And how do I know this? BECAUSE I’M ONE OF YOU!!! I just don’t like Star Wars that much.)