By now, most people know the premise behind this show that just won’t die. A hapless ne’er-do-well is three million years from Earth in deep space with no one for company except a hologram of his dead bunkmate, a creature descended from the ship’s cat and a neurotic droid.
For a fan of both science fiction and comedy, this is pretty much the quintessential premise. Any and all science fiction tropes are up for being turned on their ears, so this motley crew can go anywhere, any-when anyhow and get into any type of trouble. It’s Star Trek on steroids wherein the bridge crew has been replaced by a bunch of screw-ups who rarely have a clue what they’re doing. Result: some of the best comedic moments in science fiction history.
With only four characters, the casting had to be tight and it took a few seasons to nail it down, but now it’s as right as can be under the circumstances. With season twelve starting this fall and this year marking 29 since it first went to air, the boys from the dwarf are now long in the tooth, but that doesn’t stop this well-balanced grab bag of personalities from playing off each other as well as they did way back in season three when Kryten first became a permanent part of the crew.
Despite assurances to the contrary coming from cast interviews over the years, this show plays as if the director stayed home and let the cast run wild. Not that this is a bad thing. This seeming non-interference works because all the director (apparently) has to do is keep the kittens in the box. Not to discount what Mr. Naylor has done with season twelve’s opening episode, but he’s been down this road so often now he might just be able to do it with his eyes closed and still give us a great show.
This series did take some time finding its feet and now and again seemed to teeter as if about to take that inevitable plunge into oblivion, but somehow it always recovers. Perhaps this is because at a base level, even after all this time, Dave’s plight—being the last lonely human in the universe… as far as he knows—is still something I can empathize with… not that this bone has any more meat in Cured, this season’s first flight of the Dwarf. There’s no pathos here, only a single moment when story really comes into play, but does so in such a silly way, I found myself laughing rather than feeling sorry for the codgers.
There isn’t much to the raw mechanics of this episode, but how much does it really need? It’s a typical Star Trek… that is, Red Dwarf… mechanism when it looks like someone needs rescuing (or maybe there are women down there) and the crew gets suckered into another adventure that turns out to be anything but what it seemed on the surface. A twist or two later and they’re in hot water which is just about all I could ever expect. And it kept me watching until the end.
Mr. Naylor—yes, he wrote this one, too—has matured nicely as a scriptwriter. He doesn’t fall back on senseless banter in Cured, nor does he resort to bouncing the same lines back and forth from one character to another trying desperately to squeeze out a joke as he has in the past. The dialogue flows well, the scenes all fit into the plot and together they bring out the story… as shallow as that story is. Again, a shallow story is all that’s needed, so overall, it works.
There were times when I thought Red Dwarf was finally dead. The plot ideas seemed to be grasping at nothing and the characters seemed tired of living out there in the loneliness of deep space. In times like that, I wondered why they didn’t hit the cryogenic chambers and be done with it.
But with this season opener, it looks like the boys—or codgers—are actually back in the saddle. It doesn’t even matter that they all look like they’re all two weeks away from needing a Zimmer frame—although, I have to wonder how Dave lived this long considering his diet.
Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic, but Red Dwarf, as far as I can tell from one episode, is making a strong comeback. This season feels like season three or four all over again, a time when the Dwarf was working on all thrusters. The characters may not be as athletic as they once were, but as long as they continue to think like teenagers, they’ll be fun to watch.
My only regret with Red Dwarf has and will always be that it’s limited to six episodes per season. If Cured has set the tone for season twelve, all I can say is: bring it on.