Red Dwarf is coming back! Is that good news or bad news? I’m not sure either way, and I say that as a man who owns Series 1-6 on DVD, once had an Ace Rimmer T-shirt that said ‘Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast,’ and can recite most early episodes from memory.
Satellite and cable channel Dave is making four new 30-minute specials to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the show to be broadcast at Easter, probably inspired by repeat viewing figures. A making-of programme and improv-based Red Dwarf: Unplugged will ensure Dave gets its maximum return on the project. Red Dwarf: Back to Earth will see the crew finally return home, but further details are not forthcoming.
I’m unsure as to how this news will be greeted. There’s a really odd snobbery about Red Dwarf these days that I expect grew out of the frankly dire seventh and eighth series and the sight of spotty geeks wearing their Red Dwarf T-shirts and calling each other ‘smeg head’. On that basis Red Dwarf’s terrible reputation is well-deserved, but that ignores the fact that in its pomp it was probably the funniest show on TV.
Starting life as a character-based sitcom that just happened to be set on a space ship, early Dwarf is often referred to as ‘Steptoe & Son in Space’, a show about two people locked together by circumstance who loathe each other. Fast-forward a couple of years and the show becomes an all-out sci-fi parody, riffing on SF cliches and upping slapstick, scatology and the swear-count.
I find both versions genuinely hilarious and up to 8m of the British public did too. Two US transplants were made; the show won a BAFTA and a freakin’ Emmy; and co-creator Doug Naylor went to Hollywood in a doomed attempt to get a film made. Co-creator Rob Grant bailed after season six, and two more ill-judged and woefully-unfunny series – clearly made to tempt the US market – followed.
It’s been fully ten years since then, when Rimmer ended the series by kicking Death in the bollocks. I’ve been fairly non-plussed by TV remakes since then, which all look the same to my jaded eyes. Barring the regenerated Doctor Who I’ve found the modern updates to the likes of Survivors, Robin Hood and comedy shows like To The Manor Born jarring and weak.
I hope Red Dwarf can buck the trend, Doug Naylor can recover some of his earlier talent and the cast don’t look too shagged-out. Until Easter, here’s some of Red Dwarf’s best bits:
‘That is his crime, it is also his punishment’
‘What could possibly be amiss?’
And because the BBC are complete smegheads when it comes to their Youtube syndication, here’s ‘The Light Switch’.
• Oh yes, here’s some Liverpool connections: Dave Lister, played by Liverpool’s Craig Charles, hails from the Capital of Culture and was found in a box under a pool table in the Aigburth Arms; Rob Grant and Doug Naylor went to University of Liverpool, lived in Carnatic Halls and drank in the Aigburth Arms; and I once interviewed Craig Charles in Liverpool – one of the funniest and most welcoming guys I’ve ever interviewed, or met.