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The Greatest TV Shows Ever: ‘Red Dwarf’
Obi-Dan   |  

This column was set up to present some of the very best shows the lovely people at TV Land have created. This next installment is about a British sci-fi sitcom where almost everyone dies in the first episode. There have been many sci-fi shows, many, many comedy programs and some sci-fi sitcoms. But none are like this. None are set three million years into the future on a space ship where, unsurprisingly, all the crew are dead. All, except a lager-downing, curry-chomping, hopeless guitar-playing, unwashed lout who could possibly be the last human alive. Yes, Red Dwarf is one of The Greatest TV Shows Ever.

Additional: Red Dwarf is back! The Daily Mail announced that the Red Dwarf crew will be back next year. Thanks to impressive viewing figures last time out in “˜”Back To Earth”, a three-part special from 2009, British TV channel Dave will commission a new series. Shooting begins this autumn, lickety-split.

The mining ship Red Dwarf was hit by a catastrophic radiation leak deep in outer space which turned all human life forms into piles of dust. At this time Dave Lister (Craig Charles) was in a stasis chamber, penalized for stowing a cat on board. During his time in stasis, the offspring of Lister’s contraband pet evolved into the creature that is Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Lister’s dead bunkmate, Arnold J. Rimmer (Chris Barrie), was brought back as a hologram (hence Rimmer’s forehead “˜H’). Holly (Norman Lovett and later, Hattie Hayridge), the ship’s computer, held Lister in stasis for three million years until he was sure radiation levels were safe, making him the only human in the galaxy.

Red Dwarf was first aired on British TV in 1988. The lives of these dysfunctional ship mates slowly became a cult hit, gaining its now frenzied following. From series three the crew is joined by neurotic mechanoid, Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), programmed to serve his human master. This was the time the show really became a great sci-fi sitcom and not just a sitcom in space. The first couple of series were much more intimate allowing for far more interaction between the characters but began to feel slightly claustrophobic. From series three, Red Dwarf became much larger; planets and space ships were visited, aliens were fought, bazookoids were fired.

The sets of the earlier series have not aged well; they look as cheap as they probably are. The scripts however still feel as sharp as ever and the fantastical sci-fi sits very comfortably with the bouts of horrendously funny comedy. The great thing about setting Red Dwarf in deep space and three million years into the future is that its writers Doug Naylor and Rob Grant can do anything with it allowing for some very clever episodes: “Future Echoes” where as they travel at light speed they see fragments of their future experienced in the present; “Backwards” where everything happens in reverse, such as a bar fight where punches are taken away rather than thrown and Cat has an horrific experience when he empties his bladder; and “Parallel Universe” where they meet female versions of themselves who come from an Earth where all male and female roles and attitudes are reversed.

Within it’s legions of fans, Red Dwarf is famous for bringing the word “˜smeg’ to prominence. Despite being a shortened version of a certain medical problem, (er, moving swiftly on”¦) smeg and smeghead became a convenient way for the characters to swear and became a sort of catchphrase.

Red Dwarf ran for eight series (1989-1999) and a three-part special entitled “Back To Earth” in 2009. Latterly it lost some of its wit, fun and originality (this could be due to co-creator Rob Grant leaving after series six) but for most of its life, Red Dwarf was one of the most creative and funny programs on TV. It is one of my all-time favorites and one of The Greatest TV Shows Ever.

Red Dwarf is available on DVD as Red Dwarf: The Complete Collection in the U.S. and Red Dwarf: All The Shows in the UK.


  1. I agree, this really was a good show. It does take a few episodes (at least for me) to get completely drawn in but once I am there I am hooked.
    You can catch all seasons on Netflix watch instantly right now so it is a great way to reconnect with the strange cast.

    Comment by Brian M. Frain — January 23, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  2. You would have to be a total smeeeheeee not to agree!

    Comment by jjd241 — January 23, 2011 @ 7:44 am

    YES !One of the greatest shows EVER !
    I watch it from start to finish ,once a year,and its never old tired or boring.
    The hold ups between some seasons are tragic,whatever the reasons,because we now have fewer seasons to show for it.
    SHAME on whomever held up the movie from being filmed !

    I admit,Back To Earth didn’t bowl me over,but my understanding is,they might do more seasons now ,and that would be AWESOME !


    Comment by Missy — January 23, 2011 @ 11:50 am

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