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article imageOp-Ed: 'Red Dwarf' is coming back... but should it?

By Jeff Cottrill     Aug 20, 2012 in Entertainment
London – An unofficial truism in TV Land says that no series should overstay its welcome. “The Simpsons” has already harmed its legacy with about thirteen seasons (and counting) too many, for example. So what are we to expect from “Red Dwarf X”?
That's the official name of the tenth series of Red Dwarf, the cult British science-fiction sitcom that's returning next month on the UKTV-owned channel Dave. A trailer for the upcoming six new episodes, released on July 20, shows an aged-looking Dave Lister receiving new dreads in a greeting card, losing Arnold Rimmer in a poker game and being confronted by Kryten about his apparent depression.
Producer Richard Naylor confirmed the titles of all six episodes on Twitter today: Trojan, Fathers and Suns, Lemons, Entanglement, Dear Dave and The Beginning. Since the 1988 pilot episode was called The End, the sixth episode's title appears to imply that this will finally be the end of the series. Still, it may have been better if co-creator Doug Naylor had just let it go and moved on after series eight – or even series six.
For the uninitiated, Red Dwarf may be best approached as the main pop-cultural link between The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Futurama – in terms of the science-fiction/comedy genre, that is. Usually set on the title spaceship, it stars Liverpudlian Craig Charles as the last human being alive, slobby technician Lister, who (in the BBC pilot) survives a radiation leak on the ship only because he's imprisoned in suspended animation. Waking up three million years later, he finds the ship empty, save for a humanoid creature that evolved from his pet cat (Danny John-Jules), the ship's senile computer Holly (Norman Lovett) and a sentient hologram of Rimmer (Chris Barrie), his late, neurotic bunk-mate and nemesis.
This ragtag crew of eccentrics, joined by service robot Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) from the third series on, encounters a long-running series of absurd adventures both on and off the ship, involving strange creatures, time travel, alternate universes and more, as Lister tries to get back to Earth. But despite the sci-fi setting of the show, its heart was usually character-based comedy, particularly the intergalactic Odd Couple pairing of fussy, egocentric Rimmer and laid-back, unpretentious Lister.
The logo from  Red Dwarf   the classic BBC space opera and cult TV series.
The logo from 'Red Dwarf', the classic BBC space opera and cult TV series.
BBC - fair use
Some popular TV shows, especially American ones, start off strong for a few years and then go into a decline, usually “jumping the shark” at some point with an ill-advised change or plot point. But Red Dwarf has had a history of uneven quality and fan appreciation. The first series, while funny and original, was severely limited by the fact that the characters never left the ship; the second series improved things by having the characters interact with other worlds, but the show really hit its “classic” period from series three to five, with a higher budget and some brilliant writing.
Series seven rightly alienated some fans and critics with Barrie's reduced presence, the continued disappearance of the Dwarf and some contrived “dramatic” moments in the scripts, although the addition of Chloë Annett as Lister's lost love, Kristine Kochanski, was arguably an asset to a show that had been seriously lacking in female characters. In 2009, Dave revived the show after a decade's absence with the three-part episode Back to Earth, but with mixed results; it felt more like an exercise in nostalgia (and high self-referencing) than a continuation.
Which is why yet another smegging series of Red Dwarf feels as unnecessary as, say, the last Indiana Jones movie, or the Star Wars prequels. Even with all the ingredients there, there's no way to recapture the old magic. Where could Doug Naylor et al possibly take these characters now? Do we really care anymore whether Lister gets together with Kochanski again, or whether he eats another chicken vindaloo?
Apparently the hardcore fans still do. There's no shortage of Red Dwarf devotees, and the web is predictably aflutter with hype, including numerous articles and blog entries on WhatCulture!, Den of Geek, Bleeding Cool and other similar sites. As of this writing, the show's Facebook page currently lists 20,933 “people talking about this”. It's the fan culture that keeps franchises alive for years and even decades, regardless of whether quality remains consistent, be it Superman, Star Trek or Disney.
So maybe even Series X isn't the end. As long as the fans keep asking for more of the once-great series, perhaps we won't be rid of the Red Dwarf crew for a while. To quote The Simpsons' Troy McClure: “Who knows what adventures they'll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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