Red Dwarf Back to Earth
The start of secondary school (or ‘high school’ if you’re American) sees a bunch of disparate kids banded together from a bunch of different junior schools.
Kids are forced to somehow thrive in an alien environment with other kids they don’t know and whose backgrounds are vastly different from their own.
Starting at a secondary school is an alien experience. It can be funny, it can be bizarre and when you’re young, the prospect of ever turning 16 and leaving seems like further than an Ethiopian runner does from a starting line.
It is no surprise then that a programme like Red Dwarf, a sci-fi comedy about four very different personalities trapped in space, holds a warm place in my heart and why I was looking forward to watching the Back to Earth special that aired over the Easter break.
Great British sitcoms are fundamentally about people who are trapped. Basil Fawlty is both a prisoner to his wife and the hotel he runs. Blackadder is sandwiched between toffs and idiots. The flatmates of PeepShow are boxed by their own neuroses.
At its heart, Red Dwarf was about four very different people trapped with each other, but brought together by the loneliness of space. The sweeping panoramic opening shots of the Red Dwarf ship at the beginning of every episode shrink the viewer. You realise just how big the ship is and feel small.
However, the eventual slow zoom on to a lone figure painting the ship with a roller brush, just so that it looks its reddest despite 99% of the crew being dead, is a testimony to hope and the willingness of heroes Kryten, Rimmer, The Cat and Lister to overcome their problems.
Being 12 is like being trapped in space. You’re unsure of yourself and the world around all while being held hostage to teachers, parents and an inability to hold a driving license.
Despite this, you have your friends. They’re not perfect. You’re not perfect. But you’re appreciated for what you bring to the fold – faults and all.
On Red Dwarf you had Kryten, uptight but with brains, Rimmer, whose reach exceeded his greedy grasp, Lister, whose sense of honour was overshadowed by his caveman tendencies and the Cat, whose reason for living was striking the perfect pose.
The storylines plundered all that was fertile about Science Fiction and were all spun with the foibles of real life thrust upon them.
You held genuine wonder for the creatures they would encounter on each episode, and laughed out loud when you realised that most of them were psychopaths who wanted to erase them from time altogether.
The ‘Back to Earth’ special wasn’t that funny – the jokes were like lukewarm leftovers from other more polished episodes that had been reheated. But there were scenes with real heart. Lister, who discovers he is a fictional character and is understandably depressed, is given a pick-up by two young fans on a bus who tell him how cool he is.
Growing old may bring fears of unfulfilled ambitions or not ever having made a contribution, but a reassuring thumbs up from young fans can put the ammo back in your bazookoid.
If the story had emphasised more points like this – points which may be more relevant to the audience that had grown up with the show – while dishing out better gags, it would have been a much better Easter.