It's been 10 years and finally Red Dwarf has come back to our screens, was it worth it? Well I for one think it was. Whilst the episodes we got definitely aren't as good as some of the highlights of the show through the years such as "Quarantine" and "Back to Reality", "Back to Earth" was a hell of a lot of fun with a only a few moments which felt a little flat.
Okay for starters a bit of set up. Red Dwarf is a BBC sitcom from the 80s about the last man in the universe and the situations he gets into through space. Along with him are a hologram of his old "friend" (if you watch the show you'll know why I put in quotation marks), a lifeform that evolved from his pet cat and a cleaning robot. The show is a complete classic with so many superb moments through the years. In fact if you haven't watched a single episode of the show I'm not sure this episode would be the right place to start off because there a lot of callbacks to old jokes which makes this episode that bit more fun. In fact I implore anyone reading this to track down the episode "The End" and watch from the beginning. If only to enjoy Chris Barrie's portrayal of quite possibly one of the funniest sitcom characters ever conceived.
So I'm going to go into the hypothetical here and assume that this episode takes place after the alternate ending to season 8 (would probably explain why Rimmer was once again a hologram and why there is no one else on board Red Dwarf). So we get a series of episodes which feels far more of a homage to the Red Dwarfs of old. We got callbacks to the Despair Squid, "I'm going to eat you little fishy" and Rimmer's inability to remember Space Corps directives. Plus we get the very self referential fact that Red Dwarf didn't actually have a Season 9 or 10 something which feels very similar to the way that Season 2 was prefaced with a scrolling text telling us what happened in an episode that was never filmed. But enough of that was the episode any good?
Yes it was, it wasn't brilliant but it was very, very good. Obviously the show being off the air for a decade means that it isn't going to launch straight back to classic status. But I enjoyed myself immensely. I'd missed the show so much that I found myself laughing out loud for the vast majority of all three episodes with only a few moments where a joke felt a little flat (mostly the largely slapstick part in the Creator's bedroom which drags on a little too long). But so many awesome jokes like the little Rimmer servants, the sci-fi cliche of being able to extract any information from a picture using computers, Carbug, Kryten's melodrama and of course the skutters make the episode bubble with near brilliance.
The whole story of everyone going back to Earth is obviously backed with so many moments great moments that happen when the show does take place in an Earth-like setting (see "Backward" and "Tikka to the Ride") and of course this episode had them as well, all up to that brilliant final twist. It might not be the classic that the episode this special clearly stems from is, but the the moments of comedy we get are more than enough to make up for it. The writing once more just bristles with this kind of banter which doesn't happen on any other comedy. The characters feel so well developed and it's almost as if they haven't been off the air for a decade. Lister and Rimmer still play off each other wonderfully, Cat is still an airhead and Kryten is still his wonderful over dramatic self.
Which leads me onto my largest praise, the cast. I don't think I have seen a better comedy cast ever (apart from possibly Blackadder). Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn and Danny John-Jules are SO immensely enjoyable that they more than made up for any moments which felt overly stupid. I've missed these guys so much as these characters that I literally cheered when I heard the theme music playing at the beginning and was singing along with a joy over the end credits. I don't know if it's a massive feeling of nostalgia but Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten have been sorely missed from my television. The cast just works so well together and play off of each other beautifully. You just have to love the banter between all of them. I would start quoting but honestly there are so many great lines that it would take far too long (personal fave being the little dig at X-Factor).
But as I've said it wasn't perfect. There were those jokes that fell flat and whilst we got that classic Red Dwarf disregard for establish continuity, it just didn't feel the same. Mostly because of that bit more CGI that was used. Red Dwarf has always felt a little rushed and bad quality which made it so endearing. In fact it was a little like the Star Wars Prequels (although not in terms of quality), by way of having the Skutters being computer generated. The Skutters were always great when they were puppets and having them being like this lost a little bit of heart that they once had.
Overall, the episode whilst being a lot of fun doesn't quite reach classic status. I've always thought Red Dwarf was one of the most consistent sitcoms ever, with no serious qualms with any of the seasons (I know people who hate Season 7). This special fell right in line in my expectations. It was funny, enjoyable and paid tribute to so many classic moments that it was fun to giggle when they mentioned a particularly great moment. Whilst they missed great moments like Mr. Flibble, Ace Rimmer, Duane Dibley there are so many little callbacks including one of the greatest scenes ever involving Kryten and Lister in "Polymorph" playing on TV in the background in the Sci-fi Shop. It was brilliant seeing the cast all come back for this special and I hope sincerely that they do more (but I guess that all relies on the reception). 8/10