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Red Dwarf XI, "Krysis"

“Give & Take” was the episode I was looking forward to most in this batch…and it was okay. That disappointed me, because I was expecting something great, and got something that was…okay. Admittedly it’s the kind of episode likely to improve over time, with repeat watches, so my opinion on it could well change. But for now?

It was okay.

“Krysis” was, by a landslide, the episode I was looking forward to least.

And it was also okay, but that’s a huge step up from what I expected, and I’ll take it.

Kryten’s an odd character. He doesn’t lend himself as easily to shouldering an episode. It can be done, of course, but compared to Lister or Rimmer — both of whom have clear, identifiable desires and fears that define their characters — Kryten works more naturally as a tagalong.

That’s not meant to be any kind of slight on the character, and it’s certainly not one on Robert Llewellyn, who might be the most consistent performer on the entire show. But Kryten is there to help, by nature. To assist. To serve. Sure, he’s typically the first of the crew to piece together whatever’s going on, but it’s in that way only that he takes the lead. The rest of the time he’s selfless, he steps back, and he lets others go first.

This is who is he is. He was designed to serve, and he genuinely loves to serve. One of his running gags involves how much he absolutely adores cleaning. This naturally endears him to both Lister and Rimmer…the former because he never wants to do it, and the latter because he enjoys issuing orders.

But it’s not easy to build an episode around such a character. The two best Kryten episodes, then, tap into something more universal. “The Last Day” is a kind of riff on general mortality, and “Camille” is a love story.

Very basic stuff. In fact, they’re the kinds of stories you could plug any character into — from any production in any medium — and they’d feel like no less natural a fit.

Was there Kryten-specific and Red Dwarf-specific material in those episodes? Of course there was, and it’s that material that made both of those episodes great. My point isn’t that those episodes failed to find interesting things to do with Kryten; it’s that those episodes were sparked by a creative idea that wasn’t specific to the character.

Also instructive, I think, are the two worst Kryten episodes: “Beyond a Joke” and “Krytie TV.” The former was less “bad” than it was lacking in humor, as Kryten reconnecting with his deadbeat brother Able was better as a concept than it was as an episode of a sitcom. “Krytie TV” was about him broadcasting invasive pornography for prisoners to masturbate to, so Lister trims his pubes.

Those episodes, arguably, were more specific to the character than the good ones. “Beyond a Joke” was about two mechanoids, and the very different ways in which they processed the information they learned about their origins. “Krytie TV” was fucking garbage, but it was specific to Kryten as a masculine character who had been classified as a woman, and so was in a unique position to broadcast invasive pornography for prisoners to masturbate to while Lister trims his pubes.

Based on that alone, the best Kryten plot is the one that’s less specific to who he actually is, and more of a relateable situation that just so happens to be filtered through a robot.

Fortunately, that’s where “Krysis” lands. It’s not a great episode of Red Dwarf, but it actually was not half bad. “Kryten becomes a hotrod” wasn’t a promising direction in my mind — and sure enough that was the worst part, complete with totally unnecessary screeching-tire sound effects — but the episode took us to several interesting places along the way.

It went from being a very frivolous idea for a story to one that, ultimately, I was convinced was worth telling. That’s an achievement.

There was a lot to like in this one, and it’s giving me a good amount of hope for the long-anticipated Cat-centric episode next week.

And it did far more with the mid-life crisis angle than I expected. It also brought that particular thread full circle, as Kryten causes The Universe Himself to question the value of anything.

But the real star was Butler, a great guest performance in a series that’s had a good number of them. (Compare just about any one-off character in XI to just about any one-off character in X and you’ll see how far we’ve come.)

Butler was an absolutely perfect foil for Kryten, being irritating in precisely the right way, getting under his skin for precisely the right reasons. Butler, far from being an embarrassing reminder of Kryten’s early years, has actually used his centuries of freedom to develop intellectually, embrace his artistic side, make friends, and basically become everything a sanitation droid (and Lister’s personal cleanup crew) was never intended to be.

And it’s played perfectly. It’s easy to understand why Kryten would bristle so, and just as easy to understand why Rimmer (and maybe less enthusiastically the rest of the crew) would want to convince him to come along. And all of this is accomplished without, I feel, pushing the audience too far in either direction. I don’t think we’re meant to hate the guy any more than we’re meant to hope he joins the cast; we’re supposed to see both sides, and “Krysis” absolutely succeeds in that. It’s a complex treatment of a character in a show that, lately, feels like it’s lost its complexity.

The more I think about “Krysis,” the more I like it. It fell down a bit here and there, and not all the gags landed or were necessary, but I appreciate what it tried to do, and I largely appreciate how it went about doing it.

I also like that this works as a quiet companion piece to “Beyond a Joke.” In that episode Kryten looked at Able and could say, relieved, “That’s what I could have been.” Here, though, he looks at Butler and can say, jealously, “That’s what I could have been.”

It was handled quite well, and that’s due in large part to the guest performance that does most of the episode’s heavy lifting for us. “Krysis” doesn’t rely on the main cast to tell us what we’re meant to think.

I could have done without so many specific callbacks to previous episodes (416 of them by my count, and surprisingly not one of them was “Beyond a Joke”) but that’s a small gripe. That shows the need for a beltsander rather than a hacksaw, and I’m not complaining.

So, not as good as “Twentica,” but somewhere between “Samsara” and “Give & Take” I think.

“Krysis” is a very pleasant surprise, and this is already the strongest series we’ve had since VI. I’m very excited to see next week’s finale. (The review on that one may be a day or so later than usual. Thanks in advance for your patience!)

Let’s see where it takes us.

The 4th Annual Xmas Bash!!!!

This year I wanted to announce the time and date for the Xmas Bash!!!! a bit earlier than usual.
As you can see in the image above (click it to appreciate the full glory of Casey Roberson), the 4th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!! will be…

Saturday, December 17
7:00 p.m. Eastern

This should hopefully give everybody plenty of time to request time off at work / break up with their fiances as necessary.

I’m working on the stream right now, and have been for the past few weeks. It’s going to be great. As always, you can expect…

  • Seven terrible Xmas specials
  • A mess of rightly forgotten Xmas songs
  • Vintage commercials
  • Magic by illusionist Wes Iseli
  • A brand new song by Adam Lore
  • Surprise guests
  • Live chat
  • …and lots more

It’s free to attend; all you have to do is come to noiselesschatter.com at 7 p.m. on December 17. The stream itself is family friendly, so you can view it in your living room without horrifying grandma. Don’t let her see the chat room, though. That’s where the horrifying is guaranteed.

As always, the stream benefits The Trevor Project. Donations are not mandatory, but we will welcome them throughout the night.

If you don’t know about the Xmas Bash!!!! you can read about it here. But mainly we will be screening seven surprise Xmas specials from years past, riffing on them (and each other) in the live chat, and basically having the world’s greatest part for introverts.

It’s my favorite night of the year, and it keeps getting better. This stream will be no exception. It’s one night only, so tune in for five full hours of bad TV, great people, and hilarious commentary.

Check out the announcement trailer, which may jog your memories of Bashes past. And of course be sure to let me know if there’s something specific you’d like to see this year, or if any particular special/music video/other feature from the past sticks out in your mind.

I’ll see you there!

"Officer Rimmer," Red Dwarf XI

Okay, that was pretty awful.

Easily the weakest of the run so far, “Officer Rimmer” is an episode that seems to exist only because multiple Rimmer episodes have worked very well in the past. (Mainly “Me^2” and “Rimmerworld,” but we’ve seen the replicated man in many others.) But it’s missing something important: stuff to laugh at.

My biggest concern with Dave-era Red Dwarf, prior to this series at least, was that it wasn’t very funny. It had the odd great moment, the solid plot idea, the good performance, but overall I just wasn’t laughing.

That changed with this series. It really felt like the show I remembered. Maybe these episodes weren’t as funny as the classic years, but they were funny enough to stand beside them. “Twentica” was great. “Samsara” and “Give & Take” were less great, but they kept me laughing.

“Officer Rimmer” didn’t. Something just felt like it was missing…some crucial little part that failed to keep the gears turning. Which is a shame, because Rimmer episodes in general tend to be very good. He’s a rich character who at heart is both a deeply selfish bastard and a half-decent guy. There’s a relateable inner conflict to the man that fuels the show’s funniest moments and its most affecting.

Early in Red Dwarf, it was Chris Barrie who understood his character best. Lister and The Cat took a while to get going, whether that’s down to the actors, the writing, the direction, or any number of other things. But watching the very first episode of the show — for all of its other flaws — it’s clear that Chris understood what made Rimmer who he was.

It wasn’t enough to know that he was insufferable…Chris knew why he was insufferable. It wasn’t enough to know that he was self-important…Chris knew what fed that self-importance. And, more relevant to this episode, it wasn’t enough to know that he wanted to be an officer…Chris knew what made him want to be an officer.

Chris understood Rimmer, which is what made the character work so well, what made it worth spending so much time with him, and why it was worth duplicating him. Multiple Rimmers meant multiple paths of insight. Multiple avenues for comedy, sure, but that would have been true of any character, and it’s not as though anyone’s clamoring for an episode full of Cats.

Rimmer is a terrible human being who both doesn’t have to be terrible and is fated to be terrible. He has positive qualities — he’s organized, he’s professional, he’s always got a pen — but he presses those qualities too hard, for the wrong reason, on the wrong people and in the wrong context. He turns them into negatives. He, quite literally, works against himself.

He’s nearly always this side of lovable, and he never drifts too far in either direction. The lessons he learns aren’t temporary, exactly, but they don’t tip the scales enough either way to change him for good. He’s a man who should know better, and one who week by week does know better, yet is still tripping endlessly over the line between good guy and utter bastard.

In short, Rimmer, as a character, has a lot to offer the show. And “Officer Rimmer” just makes a bunch of copies of him sit in a room for a while, and then a monster comes.

GREAT

The episode starts off well enough in theory. A while back I wondered about ethical conflicts. It’s easy, in a narrative, to create ethical conflict by having a character do something good, which backfires horribly and becomes bad. It’s nowhere near as easy to reverse the ethical conflict: have a character do something bad, which actually turns out to be good.

The problem, as I outlined it at least, is that good people will be devastated to know that their actions resulted — however indirectly — in a bad outcome for others. When you reverse it, however, there’s no such innate reaction. Bad people might accidentally bring good into the world, but they don’t care. It won’t keep them up at night. They might be disappointed, at most, but they’ll go on with their lives, doing more awful things, and never look back.

“Officer Rimmer,” impressively, reverses the conflict and pulls it off.

The crew receives a distress call from another ship, with one crewman aboard. The ship is on the verge of being destroyed in an asteroid storm, with an explosion that will take our crew down with him if he gets any closer. Rimmer happens upon a very Rimmer solution: blow the guy up before he gets close enough to do them any harm.

Only the missile doesn’t blow him up. It blows his wing off, knocks him out of the asteroid storm, and saves his life.

Selfish intention, selfless result. And Rimmer doesn’t just shrug and move on with his life because the rescued crewman is so grateful that he offers Rimmer a promotion. It’s a nice way to reward questionable ethics, and complicate the situation for the rest of the crew as well. In short, it’s good.

Sorta.

The other crewman was bio-printed, and the bio-printer jammed, because printers jam, and his head was printed all screwy, because when printers jam they print things all screwy, which is a pretty dumb visual joke in itself.

It doesn’t get any better when the crew sit around insulting his appearance while the guy is in genuine mortal peril. I believe Rimmer would do it. To an extent, so would The Cat. But I definitely don’t believe the crew as a whole to be that assholish. At least not until after they were sure he’s okay.

Then they rescue him, and that’s fine. Rimmer starts instituting officer-only elevators, corridors, and TV-programming, which is…fine, too, I guess. Not especially funny, but not horrible.

Then we remember we have a bio-printer, though, and at one point Rimmer verbally decides to print a shitload of copies of himself and stuff an Officer’s Club with them.

And…okay?

We’ve seen multiple Rimmers before, of course, but always due to side effects of some other decision. I don’t think Rimmer’s ever said, “Eh, I can’t think of anything else to do in this episode, so let’s just pack a room full of me.” Here, though, that’s basically what happens, and it rings false.

Maybe Rimmer would clone himself once, and that clone would have to be subservient to him. It rebels, though, and prints a bunch of other ones to gang up on Rimmer Prime. Or maybe Kryten gives Lister his (very good) bit of non-instruction about operating the bio-scanner, and Lister prints a bunch of Rimmers either a) accidentally or b) to teach Rimmer a lesson.

I could see those things happening. I really can’t see Rimmer printing off dozens of copies of himself for the fuck of it. Especially since he didn’t do anything but serve as doorman for his own club full of them. (He printed off a barbershop quartet, but he wouldn’t have printed off a doorman?)

Anyway, some time passes and Rimmer realizes that he didn’t print out an evil monster version of himself with multiple heads, and he might as well do that before the bio-printer vanishes from existence next week. Everyone runs around for a bit, Rimmer rescinds his officerhood (which…is a thing you can do, I guess?), and Lister fires a gun at the episode, killing it instantly.

Seriously. We’re dropped straight into the credits with no resolution at all. Yes, presumably Mt. Rimmer is dead, but that’s not how resolutions work, and Red Dwarf knows that.

At any point, in any episode, we could cut right to credits with the implication being that whatever the problem was has sorted itself out and we’ll get to a new thing next week, but that’s not storytelling. That’s getting bored and giving up.

It felt careless. It felt narratively sloppy. And the way the episode ended makes it feel like it wasn’t all that interested in itself.

“Officer Rimmer” didn’t sound all that exciting, but that’s because we’ve seen the show trod similar territory in the past, and I didn’t think it could find a way to surprise me.

Sadly, it found a way to surprise me.

Join me next week, for “Kryten Becomes a Hotrod.”

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