Did Red Dwarf Ever Stop Being Funny?

By Gary Cutlack on at

So Red Dwarf is back, again, and this time it's a proper series and not just a 12-minute webisode paid for by a global logistics firm or a musical stage show. There's new Red Dwarf XI on TV, once a week, every week, from tonight. Just like when TV used to matter and be on at recognisable times.

1988 - 1993: Considered Funny

Of course, the easy thing to do is say Red Dwarf obviously isn't funny any more, but that's probably more to do with the fact that we're old now and nothing's funny when you're old, plus society's a mess and how can an evolved cat on a spaceship be funny when there's Syria and orphans on the news to be sad and guilty about?

Now, programmes don't build up massive cult followings by not being any good, so it's safe to say that Red Dwarf started out great. At least, given the lack of sci-fi on the TV back then, it was certainly original, interesting and had a banging theme tune. It was a must-watch for anyone with a passing interest in sci-fi, creating six almost all-gold series in the late 80s and early 90s.

1994 - 1996: Didn't Exist, Remembered Fondly

Following the original BBC2 TV run there was a wilderness period where no Red Dwarf happened. During this time nothing was funny at all, as Goodnight Sweetheart and 2point4 Children were on TV instead. This was the first great dark age, as there weren't even any repeats channels or YouTube rips to keep it alive.

1997 - 1999: Considered Vaguely Funny

Then it came back. This would be the start of a pattern of Red Dwarf coming back and everyone saying it's not as good as it used to be, probably without even watching it. It must be hard working on something that used to be good.

The problems with series seven and eight appeared to stem from a disruption at the creative heart of the programme. Co-creator Rob Grant left the show, leaving Doug Naylor to hold the baby. Some episodes were OK, but it's safe to say that anyone planning a celebratory binge rewatch might be best skipping all of series eight.

We thought that was the end of it. And it was... for a decade.

2009: Considered A Not-Funny Disaster

Then, amazingly, it came back again. Sort of. For just three episodes, but with all the lead characters. Red Dwarf Back to Earth came along in 2009, reimagined as a low-budget alternative production set on earth, funded by niche TV channel Dave.

It was filmed outdoors in part, and obviously on earth, with soulless CG sets and no laughter track. Which is quite a coincidence, as there wasn't much laughter coming from the homes of viewers either, who found the wall-breaking, self-referencing mish-mash way too much to take.

2012: Considered OK In Places

Not put off by this, Dave went ahead and funded an entire 10th series. Red Dwarf X was thought of by enthusiasts as having some great moments, particularly the episode Trojan, which marked a brief return to form for the team. And all was right with the world again for a bit, as long as you didn't put the news on afterwards.

2016: Who Knows?

So now it's back again, and back properly, with Dave commissioning series XI and XII -- and Red Dwarf XI launches tonight on Dave at 9pm, which is amazing news for people pretending to be the characters on Twitter.

But will it still be funny? Can it still be funny? Are these relevant characters? Do they say anything about today's shit world? Are we bored of sci-fi now everything's sci-fi? Can you laugh at anything any more? Are we all dead? Did we all die when the pyrotechnics at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony went wrong?

Given the lack of anything else funny in the world, it should be pretty easy to make something funny, especially given the fact that they have the whole universe as source material. And if nothing else, it'll get lots of men in their 40s around a TV set all at the same time again. And anything's better than nothing - and everything is better than the failed US version.

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