British Humour for Smegheads

For the average person, television’s graceful transition to DVD means being able to watch Friends on your leisure; for those with an acquired taste for cult shows and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it eliminates any reason to ever leave the house. Netflix junkie Caitlin Boersma discusses her newest passion, British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.

Thank God for Netflix. It completely justifies my watching TV. Instead of slumping down in front of the tube and allowing myself to be subjected to whatever crap show is on, I can intelligently select the program of my choice from thousands of television shows made immortal on DVD. Rather than being a time-waster, watching a series becomes a project.

Netflix has upped itself and further disabled my productivity by adding a new feature to its site: Instant Watch. This innovation allows subscribers to stream a select list of episodes or movies immediately on their PCs.

I knew that Instant Watch would be an added debilitation to overcoming my already insurmountable laziness, but little did I know that it would lead to an obsession.

Netflix also offers a Recommended For You feature that suggests new movies and television series that seem suitable for you based on your ratings. It suggested Red Dwarf after I gave other British comedies high marks. Unfortunately, I ignored the pressure to add Red Dwarf to my queue because I don’t always trust Netflix to choose things I’d like, and the description for the series made it sound utterly stupid.

Discovering that this silly British comedy was the only desirable and easy selection to watch, I decided I had nothing to lose.

I was right about the stupid part, but I was mistaken in thinking I wouldn’t like it. Red Dwarf ran for eight seasons (1988-1994, 1997, 2004) and follows four primary characters flying in space 300 million years away from Earth. Their goal is to get back to Earth, but they encounter a new space adventure in each episode.

The characters include Dave Lister the last human alive; Arnold Rimmer, a hologram; Cat, a member of the Felis sapien species; and Kryten, an android programmed to serve. The setting of the show is a bit confusing in type and you’ll learn a lot of new lingo, but just bear with me.

Red Dwarf

From left to right: Cat, Lister, Rimmer, and Holly. Courtesy of

Imagine a spaceship in the not-so-distant future. Lister (Charles Craig) and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) are chicken soup machine operators, the lowest rank on the mining ship Red Dwarf. Lister is a complete slob with no career aspirations. He’s saving money to start a farm in Fiji. Rimmer, on the other hand, has dreams of one day becoming an officer and having his own ship, but he’s an egotistical idiot who can’t pass the tests after thirteen attempts. Naturally, they can’t stand each other.

In the first episode, the entire crew of Red Dwarf except Lister dies. After getting in trouble for smuggling a cat on-board, Lister is given the ultimatum of either handing the cat over or going into stasis (where time does not exist for its inhabitant) for the remainder of the trip. When Holly (the ship’s computer) releases Dave from stasis, he informs him that he has been there for 300 million years to let the radiation wear off. Rimmer had inserted a drive plate incorrectly and accidentally killed everyone on board.

Rimmer may have died, but he returns as a hologram, complete with his original personality and demeanor. (Luckily for the plot’s sake, Red Dwarf has the capability to support only one hologram at a time, so the rest of the ship’s members remained very dead rather than just sort of dead.)

As for the cat Lister had sneaked on board, it evolved over the 300 million years into a species called Felis sapien, a super hip man-cat. Cat (Danny John-Jules) is in charge of the show’s one-liners and is concerned with nothing else except his appearance.

Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) becomes a regular cast member in the third series. The android is constantly trying to break his programming, with Lister’s insistence, so that he can feel and behave more human.

Red Dwarf even created a new vocabulary of expletives to be used on the show. Gimboid, goit, and smeg were made up to allow the characters to curse and insult without breaking any censor rules, as well as continuing the illusion of an evolved English language in the future.

“Smeg” is used most frequently. Imagine an expletive as diverse as fuck, shit, and hell incorporated into one word and you have “smeg.”

The genius of Red Dwarf is that it’s completely inconsistent. The show is character-driven instead of plot-driven, so as long as the character’s relationships and interactions stay the same, it doesn’t matter what happens to them in the show. Whenever something happens that the crew can’t seem to get out of, a machine, trick, or space hole is suddenly discovered in order to get them out of it.

For example, in series eight Lister has to amputate his right arm to survive a virus. In the next episode, Kryten conveniently remembers that he had tiny robots called nanobots that could take anything made of carbon and turn it into anything else made of carbon. If you took sixth grade science, you know that means just about everything. Presto! Instant replacement limb.

The inconsistency of the plot, along with almost no character development, is what makes the show work. The talented comedy actors also provide jocular physical comedy with impeccable timing.

Becoming a “Dwarfer” isn’t hard. With a healthy cult following, plenty of Red Dwarf material is available in addition to the series on DVD. The show appears to have a science fiction foundation, but it’s intended for universal nerds rather than just sci-fi nerds.

If British Humour isn’t a proper genre, it should be. I’ll classify it as dry humor, play-on-words, and jokes with intelligent history references and plenty of slap-stick. Red Dwarf fits all this criteria with a talking toaster to boot.

Caitlin Boersma is studying political science and English, but spends most of her time analyzing pop culture. Her premise for a new reality TV show, Killing Andy Milonakis, has yet to be picked up by VH1. She is notorious for spending a week’s wages on a ticket to see Morrissey live.