Friday, 19 October 2012

RED DWARF X – 'Lemons'


written & directed by Doug Naylor

My TiVo recorded a batch of Series IV episodes after last week's "Fathers & Suns", which I found myself watching in recent days. That was a mistake, because it brought Series X's scarcity of laughs into sharper relief. "Lemons" had a fun but hackneyed idea at its centre, with the gang accidentally sending themselves back in time to 23 A.D while trying to build a Swedish "rejuvenation shower", and having to traipse from England to India in order to get some lemons to power the machine's remote control for a return trip. Matters were complicated when they made the acquaintance of Jesus (James Baxter) at a marketplace, before whisking him away back to the future to escape Roman enemies and discovering he needs urgent surgery to remove a kidney stone. It sounds insane but fun on paper, but this was easily the worst episode of Series X so far, and now the novelty of Red Dwarf's return has worn off I'm feeling pessimistic about the second half of its run.

Too much about this episode just didn't click for me. That sub-Indiana Jones map of the gang's trek from Europe to the Middle East, the failure to mention a rejuvenation device won't effect Rimmer (Chris Barrie) anyway, having a Jesus with a camp Geordie accent, the fact nobody batted an eyelid at Kryten's (Robert Llewellyn) misshapen head, the weird non-reaction of Jesus when he appeared on a spaceship in the distant future, Lister (Craig Charles) again mentioning this search for Kochanski that doesn't make any sense (where did she go?), and on and on. But even compartmentalising all that as stupid nit-picks (and the classic era wasn't exactly watertight in conception), I just didn't find anything very funny about the situation and the dialogue conjured up here.

Cat (Danny John-Jules) remains the best thing about Series X, which is amazing considering he was my least-favourite character till now, while Barrie's performance fluctuates all over the place. He was perfect during his little speech about the danger of Lister (Craig Charles) reading books, but then it dovetailed into an inane rant about Shakespeare that just... wasn't Rimmer. In fact, Rimmer placed a great deal of value when "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" were threatened with destruction back in Series III's "Marooned". It's hard to put your finger on it, but I also sense Barrie's having the hardest time of the four actors getting back into the saddle.

I speak as a passionate fan of Red Dwarf in the '80 and most of the '90s, willing this show to revive some of the magic from those years. I sometimes scan Twitter after an episode's been broadcast, and read a lot of positivity there. Maybe that's all coming from people with low standards, reduced expectations since Series VII, or else they're convincing themselves Series X is good because they don't want to face reality? The latter strikes me as the most likely, seeing as I recall similar positivity about Series VIII and Back to Earth when those aired, which has mostly washed away in the years since.

Series X is still the best thing Red Dwarf's done since Series VI, but that's tragic in itself. I'm also beginning to think that's mainly because of the snazzier set design, a welcome return to a sitcom format, and the atmosphere of a live studio audience. Take those irrefutable positives away, and the material here isn't much better than what Series VII-IX was dishing up (in fact, plots have been worse in some respects). There was huge possibilities with a time-travel yarn where the crew meet Jesus and took him into the future, but it all came down to sub-Life of Brian mistaken identity, a mock-up of the Last Supper tableau, and a few lazy quips about walking on water? Futurama would never have been so lazy. As the most adventurous episode of Series X yet, it actually made me reconsider my feelings towards "Meltdown"...

18 October 2012 / Dave
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