Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Dwarf Series II Overview

Despite the maintenance of the submarine-grey sets and beige uniforms, Series II of Red Dwarf is quite a departure from the series that began it all. Series II tends to be driven more by character action rather than specifically character conflict, while still delving into the characters' differing philosophies. Lister is still fairly slobby, but less so, and starts to move towards his "philosophical space bum" role, while Rimmer, despite probably being more neurotic than ever, is less like Lister's aggravatingly petty and pompous boss and more like his slightly sad roommate. Cat feels a bit like "Lister's sidekick", as rather than occasionally showing up he seems to be around more regularly, and the two of them hang out together in "Better Than Life" and "Stasis Leak", and work together in "Queeg". Holly gets some more verbal tics and personality quirks. There's more adventure and an early sense, in episodes like "Kryten" and "Queeg", of the characters as a team rather than individuals with markedly separate agendas.

As such the crew starts leaving Red Dwarf regularly, and this is ably supported by some excellent model work and composite shots, which for the moon visited in "Thanks For The Memory" and for the observation dome on the ship are remarkably effective. Some of the location shooting in "Better Than Life" doesn't really work, but other than that it's generally quite nice to watch despite obvious budgetary limitations. The sets have also been brightened up as much as possible, from screens in the remodelled drive room down to blue paint on the rivets in the sleeping quarters. The obvious standout addition is of course the huge inflatable banana, which draws the eye in Lister and Rimmer's accommodation to the extent that I almost think of Series II as "the one with the banana." Despite the fact that this was apparently just a random piece of set dressing by assistant floor manager Dona DiStefano (who appears as Kochanski in the final scene of "Stasis Leak") I find something whimsically amusing about it within the fiction of the show, as if one decoration Lister and Rimmer could definitely agree upon was having a big inflatable banana by the window. It also seems to tie in nicely with the underlying concept, expressed in the theme song, of longing for an escape to a tropical paradise.

Series II also moves away from Series I's tendency towards having what almost constituted an ongoing plot in order to portray more distinct and self-contained events. Unlike what occasionally happened in Series I, events are generally resolved by the end of the episode, such that the next episode is something largely unrelated. This would similarly set the tone for Series III, and in that regard, despite retaining much of the "look" of Series I and the fact that it's still largely the original four characters, it moves substantially towards the "settled" feel of Red Dwarf for the subsequent few series. Effectively, however, it's something of a halfway house, with episodes exploring the characters, like "Thanks For The Memory", perhaps evoking Series I to an extent, while "sci-fi gimmick of the week" episodes like "Better Than Life" and "Stasis Leak" start to crop up, which would become more commonplace in Series III. Series II is still fairly light on action, but it strikes a fairly good balance in terms of what had been the show's initial strengths, and the strengths that would be developed more fully in later years.

In general, Series II is strong, although I'd argue that "Stasis Leak" and "Parallel Universe" somewhat represent dips in the effectiveness of ideas or fulfilment of the narrative. On the other hand, I would argue that "Kryten", "Thanks For The Memory" and "Queeg" are some of the best episodes in the show's original run. Personally I find that the movement towards a more episodic writing style made the less effective episodes more difficult to disguise, as by contrast I think that Series I, with its very limited cast and sets, feels more consistent across its run than this. Nonetheless, it's natural that with a bit of experimentation and movement away from an established form, as well as the need to produce more stories, there's the chance of elements being hit and miss. It doesn't alter the fact that Series II is definitely one of the overall highlights of Red Dwarf's history.

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