In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: Red Dwarf.
Shortly after devouring all things Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy around age 14, I was overcome by a terrible ennui. Where would I get my fix of absurdist British science fiction now? Dr. Who was great and all, but it didn’t lean on the funny nearly enough for my taste.
Luckily, fate intervened.
I spent the night at a friend’s house one weekend, and his father happened to be a huge sci-fi and comedy nerd. We bonded over our love of H2G2, and when I told him how sad I was that I had nothing to take its place, he immediately lent me VHS bootlegs of a show called Red Dwarf.
I got home, watched the tapes and my mind was blown.
Red Dwarf is the name of both the series and the deep-space mining ship where the show takes place. After a radiation leak kills all but one of the crew-members (Dave Lister), the ship’s computer puts him in stasis until the dangerous radioactivity is cleared. Which happens to take roughly 3 million years.
Upon awakening, Lister discovers he’s not totally alone. The Computer has also preserved his stuffy, anal-retentive, cowardly, former bunkmate Arnold Rimmer. But now, he’s a hologram. Oh, and there’s one other life-form. Cat, the suave, self-centered evolved descendent of Lister’s pet cat from 3 million years earlier.
Cat wants fish:
Most of the early series revolved around Lister trying to return home to Earth and his odd-couple squabbles with Rimmer. However as the series wore on, plots and even tone shifted towards more dramatic themes, making Red Dwarf incredibly mercurial and unique.
Rimmer bores Lister:
Needless to say, it was my kind of show.
Thankfully, a lot of other people felt the same way. Red Dwarf ran for 8 seasons, between 1988 and 1999 and became wildly popular. Like H2G2, Red Dwarf enjoyed multi-platform success, it was even adapted as a role playing game.
Modern sci-fi fans may find the sets and effects a bit clumsy by today’s standards and the comedy is definitely dryer and more slowly paced than what modern audiences are used to, but Red Dwarf is well worth a watch.
Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.