We’ve been watching Red Dwarf from the start on Netflix. It was a series that I only ever dipped into when it was first broadcast, though my wife was a big fan. I was a bit dismissive of it in the late 80s and early 90s (though to be fair I was pretty dismissive of everything that I wasn’t personally involved in), so I am enjoying it more than I thought I would. There’s some really inventive stuff in it and some great performances, though, at least in these early series it’s a bit rough round the edges, some episodes seem to more or less end when they’ve hit their time and there are way too many references to stuff from the 70s and 80s. These reference jokes are not only a bit cheap, but wind me up because it’s not consistent with the sci-fi. The characters are from the 22nd Century, but so many of the jokes are about shake n vac or whatever, which is jarring to a nerd like me who demands sci-fi reality (and nerds like me are surely the core audience). Of course the writers are thinking of the audience at home and wanting to make them laugh (how dare they?), but what about the audience who are watching on Netflix in the early 21st Century who might not get the references to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Karl Malden? Why did the writers not think of us.
I suppose the contemporary jokes pull the audience out of the situation, which is a shame, because it’s a good one and the characters are strong. It’s not anywhere near as far off as Goodnight Sweetheart, but this references along with the happiness to not stick to the rules of the Universe or remember the history of previous episodes slightly take the shine off.
I still think we’re waiting for a comedy sci-fi series that is funny, but also rigorous enough to work as genuine sci-fi. I’d like to be the one to write it obviously.
Red Dwarf definitely improves by the 3rd or 4th series and there’s much to recommend this show (and it’s continued success shows there’s a core group of fans who are not as fastidious about the rules of sci-fi as I am). Also impressively for a show from the 1980s/90s there is a diverse cast, but race is (so far at least) never mentioned - the characters just happen to be black, but get to be their characters rather than have to be vehicles for moralising or whatever, and Lister, in spite of being a curry-eating lager drinking lad has a progressive attitude to women on the whole (and any laddishness from the other characters is tempered by their total failure to have sex). There’s an episode where the crew meet female versions of themselves from a universe where women are dominant and Rimmer is sexually harassed by the female Rimmer, which is a pretty good take down of the misogynist culture that we’re only really addressing now thirty years on.
It’s fun to see where the writers have failed to imagine how technology would change - with everything on tapes and photos still being processed, but that just shows how far tech has already come since 1988. I watched a couple of episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and, for example, it takes Data hours or days to search archives for a particular reference.
It’s one of the nice things about a service like Netflix that as well as finding new shows, you can catch up on old ones (I’ve also watched the whole first series of Jonathan Creek, which is a show I always liked but only caught occasionally). I am also watching the film Notting Hill, which I can’t look away from and both hate and quite like (although I think there’s a stronger film about a slightly befuddled book-seller being seduced by a Hollywood actress who turns out to be crazy and ruins his life - it’s nearly this, but not quite). My wife is appalled by me watching this twaddle and I have to agree with her. I have never seen something be so upper middle-class, yet not exhibit an ounce of shame about being upper middle class (which is not very middle-class of it). I have to watch the film in tiny 5 minute segments while my wife is out of the room and quickly turn it off if I hear her approaching. If she catches me I tell her that I am watching pornography.