Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Dwarf II Episode 6: "Parallel Universe"

The Dwarfers meet their female equivalents and Rimmer suddenly becomes a chat-up enthusiast. If I'm going to be truly, brutally honest, I'm not entirely sure that there's very much to seriously enjoy in this episode apart from "Tongue Tied". The whole premise is very silly indeed and largely just enables some fairly twee gags about commonplace gendered things having their genders flipped in terms of name or perhaps appearance. What's the point of it, really? As an exploration of gender roles it gets the job done, but without much subtlety and in a way that isn't particularly deep or compelling, largely as it requires the characters, particularly Rimmer, to acquire personality traits they never possessed previously, in Rimmer's case an interest in "tricks" for getting women interested in him. It all seems rather arbitrary, in this regard, when Rimmer's female counterpart starts aggressively hitting on him. Given that we've never seen Rimmer himself behave this way, it's difficult to see Rimmer in the other Rimmer's actions. It's also not clear why, in this scenario, he falls into the notionally "female" role. By this episode's logic, wouldn't they in fact both be aggressively hitting on each other? I'm not sure the scenario works. It also makes the frilly pink Skutters seem totally out of whack with the rest of the presentation. I'd love to believe that the pink and the frills and the eyelashes and what not were meant to be ironic, but I somehow suspect that it was just laziness and stereotyping.

Obviously the highlight of the episode is "Tongue Tied", which is a catchy tune and an amusing dance number that gives us an entertaining insight into Cat's rather whimsical psyche. I especially like the idea that Lister and Rimmer are his backup dancers; after all, they're the only people he really knows. The lyrics are reasonably funny and the music is memorable. I've always enjoyed it, and it's probably Series II's main contribution to that idea of a "big thing" that makes up the fabric of what we think of when we think "Red Dwarf". Probably the other most decent bit for me is the Holly Hop Drive, which rather pre-emptively takes the piss out of future props, and probably does this to a greater extent than it lampoons props already in use in the show, although perhaps it satirises sci-fi props in general. Lister's incredulous "Is this it?!" reaction to "just a box with 'stop' and 'start' on it" and Rimmer's "We're going to die" are particularly good moments. "The further thought occurs that we haven't actually budged a smegging inch" is another good line from the scene. "Plato invented the plate" is enjoyable too. One of the best gags about the hop drive, however, is unfortunately left on the cutting room floor and can be found in the Deleted Scenes on the Series II DVD set: "That geezer who invented cling film thought he'd come up with something good..."

Probably the most interesting part of the whole episode is Lister and Rimmer's conversation about "dating", as it were, towards the beginning, in which as usual their different characteristics are juxtaposed. I think one issue is that it's difficult to see Rimmer as the kind of person who actually would have the confidence to use corny chat-up lines on women, although the hypnosis thing does evoke his dubious encounter with Yvonne McGruder, as described in Series I and earlier in Series II. Rimmer claims to be "ill at ease with the opposite sex", while Lister says that Rimmer sees women "as some alien species that needs to be conquered with trickery." He adds that "They're not. They're people." One could argue that this statement primarily exists to set up the rest of the episode, as they go on to meet women who are indeed almost the same as them, but I almost feel as if the idea could be explored further. Why is it that Lister's fairly comfortable and experienced with that side of life, while Rimmer is baffled and confused by it? This is why, I think, the sexual aggression of Arlene Rimmer later in the episode doesn't quite work. I think it would be more effective if the script focused more on their inability to communicate with each other, which is probably the funniest part of that whole sequence.

The actors who play the parallel Lister and Rimmer are both effective and reasonably convincing in their roles. The idea of the Dog as opposed to the Cat is funny even if it's rather predictable, but I wish we could see more of what makes him a dog in the way the Cat is a cat. Besides his rubbishy dancing in the already over-long disco scene, there isn't much to it, and that disco scene really does go for too long. We also get Hattie Hayridge's first appearance in the show, this time as Hilly; they ought to have given her some more Holly-esque gags, I think. That would have been better than stuff like baby Skutters and long-winded confused conversations about Lister becoming pregnant. "You're in our universe. Our physical law applies." What? Being in another universe wouldn't spontaneously alter Lister's biology. What an odd excuse. It ties nicely into "Future Echoes", but other than that and the jokes "Come on you red!" and "I'm going to be an uncle!" the last minute pregnancy thing feels a bit pointless. Obviously it's meant to highlight a male cavalier attitude towards pregnancy, I suppose, but it's hard to get much out of it given how daft the whole situation is. There are definitely some good bits in "Parallel Universe" but I hate to say that, from my point of view at least, it's a bit of a fizzer as a final episode of the Series.

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