“Stoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!”
Indeed, Red Dwarf is back after many years in the making. The classic sci-fi comedy has had a wonky history after having to fit with current surroundings, and now with its first episode of its eleventh season, will its unusually thin budget allow it to continue being humorous in this day and age?
The previous season which was Red Dwarf’s first official return to television since its original hiatus in 1999 represented the ‘back to basics’ formula it would be taking for now on. Stories were character-driven, set in the bizarre reaches of space and often had very little filming on location. This use of interior sets and characters made it seem closer to the ‘sitcom in space’ the original series I and II were going for than anything else.
In contrast, the first episode of Series XI shows that while yes, the main characters are still in space and there is still humor in their adventures, the underlining story is nowhere near as deep as it was in past seasons. However the general nature of Red Dwarf is seeing how our characters interact with the bizarre world around them, be it other planets of parallel dimensions.
The first episode is packed with gags and very little action. In fact, this is true of pretty much the entire episode; the main cast are always together in almost every scene, like a group of old stand-up comedians. Everybody gets a moment in the spotlight, from Kryten’s nipples to Cat’s dancing. It’s little surprise that this episode was chosen to air first as despite the lower quality, it borrows from the previous season and is a perfect series opener.
The plot of Twentica (a name so random and unexplained given that it goes unnamed in the actual episode) is that the Dwarfer team follows the evil Simulants to a 20th-century Earth setting. It appears to be an alternate universe where science and technology is banned and confined to the slums, which is where a plethora of the show’s jokes come from. Props to the writer/director Doug Naylor for managing to balance out good science jokes and some particularly unfunny ones so that the humor never goes too far or not far enough.
The episode begins to build up something with the plot, but sadly it never seems to lead to anything. You think there would be some kind of big joke at the end in Starbug, but there is nothing but a rather weak joke, as though the episode ran short of time and just decided to fill the gap in the edit.
While Series XI is no step up from Series X, it is admirable in the visual department. The sets and the stunning model shots are done in marvelous HD, making the viewer almost forget they’re watching a sitcom. The visual style in general is exceedingly more action-packed and cinematic than usual which often threatens to swallow the jokes, but never becomes too much of a problem due to the decent writing and effort put into the model work and sets.
Overall, Twentica is a relatively decent season opener and while not as brilliant or carefully handed as previous Red Dwarf material, it is still worth a watch. The progression is not very grounded however, and the show has that feeling that it could go anywhere at this point, but the prospect is nonetheless exciting.