Monday, February 8, 1999


It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere, I'm all alone, more or less. Let me fly, far away from here, fun, fun, fun, in the sun, sun, sun... I want to lie shipwrecked and comatose, drinking fresh mango juice. Goldfish shoals, nibbling at my toes, fun, fun, fun, in the sun, sun, sun...

OK I'll admit my recent schedule has meant I have neglected my TV viewing obligations. I feel bad about not having the time to do my cultural duties but I figure my four to five hours of sleep a night can't be sacrificed. The two shows I will not miss under any circumstance these days are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Red Dwarf (Channel 2 Sundays 10:30 - 11:30 p.m.)

I think most of you know about Buffy but for those of you unfamiliar with Red Dwarf, let me advise you to check it out. No bigger an expert on TV than our very own Al Brown, got me hooked on the show. Al, of course, is the finest connoisseur of British comedies I've ever come across. Perhaps the thing I miss most about working in the stores is having the chance to have Al point out another British show I should check out. I'll be forever in his debt for my many hours of being entertained by such fare as The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The Black Adder, Allo Allo!, and Yes, Prime Minister.

Red Dwarf is the story of a northern English working class man, Dave Lister, who was caught for three million years in suspended animation on a giant space ship, the Red Dwarf. The human race no longer exists and this spaceage version of "Everyman" is joined on the ship by an doting android, Kryton; an intelligent but vain and shallow descendent of the cats that remained on the Red Dwarf after the human crew died; a hologram of a dead crew member, the prudish officer wannabe, Rimmer; and a less than intelligent computer, Holly.

What makes the show special is that it isn't so much a parody of the genre as it is a true science fiction show. The show's creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, obviously have a fondness for sci fi. There also is a certain poignancy in the characters plight. They are forever stuck on this giant spaceship annoyed with each other's company at the same time as needing one and other to endure the doldrums of every day existence. Isn't it the universal truth that the ones we often have to spend the most time with are the ones that annoy us most? Lister is the perpetual underachieving slob; Rimmer the insipid egoist; Cat the self absorbed superficialist; Kryton the robotic dichotomy- forever just wanting to be what he knows is the inferior being.

Red Dwarf is one of those rare situation comedies that the more you watch the more you really come to appreciate the writing and the unusually well developed characters. You come to like the characters not despite of their shortcomings and faults, but because of them. Because they are so well developed, you just know how each character will react to the situation the plot puts them in, and while you appreciate that consistency, you also are moved as each grows just a little bit in each episode.

Last Sunday I saw my all time favorite episode (so far). In Back to Reality, the crew (or so it thinks) finds out that all that has come before is some elaborate hologram game in which they were merely playing the roles of the characters we have gotten to know so well. In reality (or so we think) they are the opposite of what they have thought they were. Lister is a rich businessman; Rimmer is a down and out bum; Kryton is an unsuccessful detective; and Cat is a dorky, uncool, unfashionable geek (with obscenely large buck teeth). As each tries to deal with this reality, there is a certain sadness in seeing that what they thought they were, and thought they wanted to be, is far different than what they have to be and are trying to escape.

Not to suggest that the show is too esoteric to enjoy (beware after viewing it you may never be able to go back to other science fiction shows). Nope the opposite is true. It is fun and funny and so well done that you find a thing or two in each episode to relate to despite the usual limitations of the medium. It can be as sophomoric as it is clever, relying less on slapstick than it does on the comical nature of human behavior when put in unique situations. In other words it has all the elements of the finest British comedies.

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