Okay so I didn't go into this series with particularly high expectations and maybe my judgement has suffered as a result, but I found this episode to be a solid continuation of the series.
Back to Earth was a letdown in many ways, but I found its biggest weakness was that the mini series just simply didn't feel like Red Dwarf. It was dark and and a little gloomy. The jokes fell flat and while it was fantastic stylistically, it didn't measure up to my expectations.
Even so, I still bought the DVD release. I'm a fan of the show and I'll support it no matter how bad it gets :/ Then I heard Dave was commissioning another new series and my heart sank a little. After Back to Earth I felt certain the show's quality could only deteriorate.
Worse still, was the fact that I would be forced to suffer through it. Like I said, I'm an obsessive fan of the show and I will continue to watch it no matter how poor it becomes. If Doug Naylor were to suddenly decide to set the entire series in a galactic laundrette I would still remain a diehard dwarf devotee.
Fortunately, all my worries and fears were for naught. The first episode of the revived series puts everything back on form.
Yes it was a little hit and miss in some places, but it's certainly recaptured the tone and feel of past seasons. The show has really benefited from returning to its roots and Doug Naylor made the right decision in making it a studio based comedy with a live audience once again.
Better still, Naylor has merged the same stylistic features he used in Back to Earth with this old format and the results are impressive! The sets, the props, the costumes and the special effects aren't what we're used to, but good God, they're gorgeous! I'm not sure these elements are really in keeping with those of former series, but they're still great to look at. Doug Naylor has really raised the bar this time around and made Red Dwarf a visual (stylistically consistent) treat. Will somebody please track down the Production Designer and give him a pat on the back?
Who would have thought Doug Naylor would make such a solid director? He more than adequately replaces Ed Bye (the King of TV studio productions) and delivers a solid shooting approach and some really fantastic comedic performances. Doug Naylor as Director? It shouldn't work, but it does. Wonders never cease.
The direction wasn't the only thing to write home about however. The story and the dialogue were spot on. The plot felt like something that could have been accomplished in past seasons if it weren't for budgetary and technological limitations.
I've always loved Rimmer centric episodes and so I may be a little biased on this, but I completely geeked out when it became apparent that Rimmer's brother would be paying a visit. Watching Rimmer try to maintain the charade that he was a successful Captain while Cat, Lister and Kryten each stumbled in their attempts to support him felt like coming home. This was a story that easily carried the tone and legacy of Red Dwarf.
Better still, the script may have shed a little light on the events that led to the extinction of the human race. The idea that Simulants have risen up and rebelled against their human masters is one that has been tossed around before, but it's awesome to catch a glimpse of it on screen. There were more than a few "geek out moments" during the episode's half hour duration and Rimmer and Howard's interactions were a definite highpoint.
Having played these characters for so many years, the cast appeared to have no trouble returning to their respective roles. Rimmer's mannerisms, expressions and general reactions formed a performance that really stood out. Cat and Kryten were fantastic as always, but weren't given an awful lot to do. Lister's impassioned monologue about answering the phone while a Simulant aimed a gun at him was priceless and hands down my favourite moment of the episode. Nobody likes being put on hold for hours on end.
That said, the episode wasn't without its flaws. Some jokes fell a little flat and I'm still debating whether or not the payoff for the "Swedish Moose" gag was really worth it. Even so, the fact remains. Any Red Dwarf is better than no Red Dwarf.
British television has kinda fallen into a state of decay recently and this episode has convinced me (beyond question) that Red Dwarf's return is a good thing. It wasn't the series' best episode, but it was far from being its worst and I'm genuinely looking forward to next week's broadcast.