British media is inherently fascinating to me, in that the Brits have been doing what will eventually become the future of prestige television for years. BBC literary adaptations are notable for being two- or three-part multi-hour episodes. Jane Eyre 7 is three hour and a half episode, and stars several British thespians you’ve never heard of.
But the British are known for their wide range of specials. One of the more notable ones are the Red Dwarf comedy troupe specials. Created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, this sporadic series (there have been twelve “episodes” thus far) follows low-ranking space technician Dave Lister, who awakens after a multi-millennia cryosleep to discover that millions of years of evolution have warped his pregnant cat into a race of human-feline hybrids.
This made for television film follows Doug (Craig Charles), the cat (Danny John-Jules), and their colleagues as they take on Rodon (Ray Fearon), the leader of a band of feral cats (referred to as the “ferals”). Rodon demands that the crew’s membership comprehensively pledges allegiance to him as their God, and failure to do so will result in annihilation. As you can expect, humour hijinks ensue.
Being completely honest, this is my first experience with the Red Dwarf saga. Thus, it took some time to figure out who was who, and what on Earth this is. It takes roughly sixteen minutes for Red Dwarf: The Promised Land to provide any form of exposition, aside from one lone title card at the film’s very opening frames. In a sense, it’s tough to fault the creators of this series. You’ve been around since the 90s, and had a rabid fanbase for nearly as long. How do you balance the needs of first-timers with the hardcore established base, is a question that all long-running cult properties need to answer. Generally speaking, Naylor and co do a reasonable enough job getting audience caught up to speed.
More aggravating to me is the instance upon a laugh track. For all intents and purposes, this is probably the first piece of media I’ve consumed with an unironic laugh track in a good three years, which means that I’ve completely forgotten how annoying such a choice is. No amount of forced in laughter can cover-up a mediocre joke.
Which only makes the few that exist in this stand-out more. It’s clear that twenty-five years or making a long-form sitcom have provided the Red Dwarf crew with some impeccable timing. Most multi-cam sitcoms revolve around being able to cut into someone else’s exasperation, incredulity, or bemusement. In essence, it’s all jokes at someone else’s expense. The Promised Land is an equal opportunity dunker, routinely poking fun at all of its characters. This film gets impressive mileage out of a storyline in which Doug Lister gets mistaken for a god, more so than more comedies would. So too does this film succeed in getting tremendous mileage out of what would otherwise be an aggravating cliché in the form of Robert Llewellyn’s Kryten, a cyborg with a penchant for literal humour.
But also, the humour is incredibly British, which is probably why it has the cult following that it does. You almost half expect that you’re being pranked in some sense, that a character’s referral to holographic technology as being best referred to as “shitey sprite,” is something straight out of a Simpsons gag where Homer watches British television. More pleasantly, there are innumerable cat-based puns, including an excellent gag involving the evil Rodon getting a giant scratching post at one point.
I doubt that this will have a great appeal outside of its already pre-existing fanbase. Similarly, it’s tough for me to engage with what the appeal will to be for the die-hards. I’m going to assume that they’ll enjoy it, which is pretty much all you can ask for when you get this deep into a series. For those who happen to stumble onto this as your first engagement with Red Dwarf just like I, I have a feeling it’ll be a pleasantly spent hour and a half. My biggest takeaway though is that I look forward to my next three-year hiatus from laugh-track based media.
- Release Date: 7/26/2020