Red Dwarf is back for Red Dwarf season 13. The show’s first season debuted in 1988 and between then and 1999 it was something of a staple on British television. For those of us in America, our journey to discovering Red Dwarf was something different, and everyone has their own story.
My story involves late nights in my bedroom in the early 90s, huddled around a TV I’d cobbled together from spare parts. If I adjusted the rabbit ears just right, I was able to pick up a signal from the local PBS affiliate, and if I stayed up late enough on the weekends the last thing they aired before ending the station’s broadcast day was an episode of Red Dwarf.
Jumping in as I did the show made no sense, but it also doesn’t make a lot of sense even if you’ve seen every episode. Red Dwarf was, from the beginning, innovative and weird and incredibly funny. The amazing thing about the show now, is that aside from the waist lines of the cast and the wrinkles on their faces, absolutely nothing about Red Dwarf has changed.
When I say nothing about Red Dwarf has changed, I mean that literally and specifically. Tuning in to Red Dwarf season 13 is like stepping through a time machine into the early 90s. The sets, the tone, even the special effects are straight out of 1992. With modern technology Red Dwarf season 13 could have easily made a few upgrades, at this point it might have even saved them money to do so, but they haven’t. It’s a deliberate choice and one for which your mileage may vary.
Here’s the thing: by sticking the show in a time capsule and keeping it there the crew of Red Dwarf are sure to keep their existing fans happy. At the same time, they’ve basically made it impossible for the show to acquire new converts. It’s too dated for any new viewer to hop on board with what they’re doing. They’ll be turned off by the omnipresent and outdated laugh track or the ridiculous and terrible look of everything the show seems to be attempting.
But speaking for myself, as a one of the original boys from the Dwarf, I love it.
I love that Red Dwarf now is the same Red Dwarf I was watching on my tiny, broken TV with the volume turned down low so it wouldn’t wake up my brother. And the writing is still as clever and zany as ever.
The previous three seasons in this modern-era Red Dwarf renaissance were particularly brilliant. Those were classic Red Dwarf on par with any of the best sci-fi comedy the show has ever done. This new entry Red Dwarf season 13 is a step backwards.
From the perspective of a die hard Red Dwarf fan, season 13 has made a classic error: They’ve turned it into a 90-minute movie. Season 13 isn’t composed of multiple, short episodes. Instead they’ve pressed it together into one long thing. As a whole that one, long thing is called Red Dwarf: The Promise Land and it centers around a plot in which the cats that evolved from Lister’s (Craig Charles) former pet come back to worship him as a God.
It’s a great setup for a 30-minute Red Dwarf episode. It’s a tedious way to spend 90 minutes.
Red Dwarf has made this mistake before. Back in 2009 they tried to revive the show with a three-part, single-plot narrative called Back To Earth. No one liked it and so Red Dwarf went away again for a few years. Eventually they tried once more in 2012 and went back to the short 30-minute episode format for Red Dwarf X. Red Dwarf X was a success and so were the two seasons which followed it and stuck to that format.
So it’s strange that they’ve gone back to a formula which doesn’t work at all for the show. You can’t turn Red Dwarf into a movie and continue on with the laugh track and the standard, 1990s sitcom format. It sucks.
So Red Dwarf has made a huge mistake in season 13 but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it. Rimmer (Chris Barrie) has some particularly great moments in this season as he transforms into a new version called The Mighty Light and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) is always, well, Kryten. But if Red Dwarf comes back for season 14, and I hope it does, they need to go back to the multiple 30-minute episodes format. If they can’t do that, then Red Dwarf really shouldn’t bother.