RED DWARF FEATURE
:the ﬁnal punchhne
'7 Going into its fifth series, the sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf attracts both large
here‘s something about the phrase ‘sci-fi’ that produces an unavoidable urge to snigger. Go on try it. ‘Sci-fi‘. Now correct me if I’m mistaken. but didn‘t that conjure up an image ofa bespectacled spotty adolescent, top of the class in computer studies, picked on by bullies but finding solace in role-playing games and those big chunky ‘space-opera‘ paperbacks with gold relief lettering over lurid pictures of semi-clad heroines being molested by hideous Kenneth Baker-like aliens? Of course it did.
This is the stereotype Rob Grant and Doug Naylor both embrace and satirise in Red Dwarf, a ‘cult‘ sitcom that transcends the normal limitations of that word by being both funny and watched by a large audience. Set in outer space on the marooned mining ship of the title. it‘s a comedy that manages to both have its cake and eat it. Fundamentally a character and dialogue-driven sitcom. it also has the opportunity to throw in regular doses of pseudo-science and preposterous effects to liven up proceedings.
At the centre of this mayhem. is Chris Barrie‘s Rimmer. a hologram (see what I mean) ofa particularly uptight nerdy petty failure, a bit of a sci-fi fan probably. Rimmer is engaged in a constant struggle for supremacy with Craig Charles‘s working-class romantic Lister. with the main weapons beingjuvenile insults. ‘Rimmer is the king of irritating gits,‘ says Barrie (who knows what he‘s talking about as he also plays the appalling Brittas in The Brittas Empire). ‘1 would just hate to think he had any similarities to my own personality.‘ he says. ‘but I have to admit. when I originally saw the script it reminded me of my schooldays. The bickering between Rimmer and Lister was like me and my brother. sol sort of put a little of those incessant arguments into the character. exaggerated them and played up the pettiness.‘
Writers Grant and Naylor revel in the constant niggling between the two principals along with the android Kryten and the painfully cool ship‘s cat (coolly named Cat). Essentially, much of the action could as easily be set in a living-room. ‘That is absolutely the charm of it.‘ says Barrie. ‘lt’s
like Steptoe And Son in outer space in the way it dwells on the conﬂicts between the characters.‘
There‘s little doubt though that it‘s the sci-fi aspect ofthe series that has been at the root of its success. From Lost In Space through Star Trek to Doctor Who. futuristic TV shows have always garnered an unhealthy following among the fanatical. however devoid of merit the programme may be (Blake 's Seven, anybody?). Red Dwarfis no exception. ‘We‘ve a very strong obsessive sort of audience.‘ admits Barrie. ‘male and young female. They can quote back whole chunks of dialogue. Why is it that science fiction people do that. and why do they want to? I used to find it a bit scary. You‘d go backstage at a theatre and this girl would be there reciting great reams ofold dialogue at you. You‘d go “whaaaaat?” and they‘d say “don‘t you remember. Red Dwarf. second series. episode 4. ten minutes in . . and you go “er. right. yeah of course.“ It‘s either that or you get guys coming up and asking what Rimmer had for breakfast in series 3. episode 2 on the planet Spog. What do you say to that'?‘
What indeed? Red Dwarf. just about to embark on its fifth series. has garnered a faithful following on US cable TV. spawned two best-selling books, a couple of fast-shifting videos. a soon-come monthly magazine, a fan-club stretching from Japan to Los Angeles. and. horror of horrors. regular conventions. Barrie has been invited
audiences and a following of obsessive fanatics. Tom Lappin tracked down the ‘king of irritating gits’ Rimmer, aka CHRIS BARRIE.
to several of these but hasn’t succumbed yet, not being quite sure as to what he would be letting himself in for. Reports tell of sad cases wandering around with ‘H‘ tattooed onto their foreheads endlessly debating as to whether Norman Lovett or Hattie llayridge made the best ship‘s computer.
It‘s all a little bit embarrassing isn‘t it. which is probably part of the reason The List took so long to mention the show. We‘re not alone in that. There does seem a general uneasy condescension towards a programme that is BBCZ‘s most popular sitcom (just ahead of Rab C Nesbitt). perhaps as a result of the fanaticism of its audience. so atypical of most TV viewers. Not that Grant and Naylor need worry too much: a US version of the series is currently in production at Universal for prime-time transmission on NBC later this year. How Lister‘s catchphrase ‘smeghead‘ will translate remains to be seen.
Red D warf begins a new series ofsix episodes on BBC? on 20 February at 9pm.
We are pleased to be able to offer a couple of videos of Red Dwarf Series 3 to two lucky winners. Simply watch episode one of the new series and answer this question:
Who supposedly said ‘Never give a sucker an even break ?‘ Send your answers to
RED DWARF. The List. 1-1 High Street. Edinburgh EH1 lTE by 1 March.
The List 14 - 27 February 1992 9