There's a moment early on in Red Dwarf: Back To Earth where we see Lister, in a bow tie and tails, sitting at a makeshift altar for his beloved Kochanski. As he starts to read to her – Jane Austen, natch – his eyes well up, and there he is: somehow still looking disheveled even when dressed to the nines, but the show of emotion lifts what might have been a throwaway gag into a very odd place for this show.
And in a way, the scene sums up this much-delayed, much-anticipated mini-series: a sad clown, looking for a graceful way off the stage. Sad to say, Back To Earth doesn't deliver this for anybody.
WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Instead, we get a lurching, ominously monotone march that cuts itself off whenever it starts building any comic momentum – seriously, ending Episode 2 while the boys are driving Starbug? Major buzzkill – and turns into an outright slog when the creative team junks everything for a series of ham-handed Blade Runner homages. The show didn't just lose its' laugh track; it lost the laughs. When Lister tells the boys near the end that he feels "elation," it's nigh-impossible to believe him, and it's not Craig Charles' fault – it's the script he's been given that betrays him.
And this story also betrays those of us who have been hoping for the show to return in any form for the past decade. Instead of a series that reminded us of what we loved about this show – the zip-bang pacing, the ping-ponging zingers between the ensemble, the smegging fun everybody seemed to be having – we got a stark look at how this show, this comedic style, has been left in the non-ironic dust by the Offices and No Heroics of the world. By the time the final deus ex machina is played, we're all better off treating Red Dwarf like a woebegone relative: remember the good times you had when you were both younger, and try not to think about the staggering mess that just took 90 minutes of your time.
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