Sunday, December 04, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Beyond a Joke"

“Beyond a Joke’ is the only Red Dwarf episode written by a cast member. Robert Llewellyn, who plays Kryten, wrote the script to feature his character as little as possible due to a growing dislike for the burdensome makeup job. Unfortunately for him, numerous revisions by Doug Naylor forced Kryten to not only be more prominent, but added another mechanoid to be played by Llewellyn. Doubly unfortunate, the dual role is the least amusing aspect of the episode.

Kryten has spent all day preparing a lobster dinner when Kockansky enters the kitchen and announces she acquired a new virtual reality game when the Dwarfers recently raided a derelict ship. It is called Jane Austen’s World. She hopes playing the game will bring a little culture into the Dwarfers’ live. Lister and cat are only interested in meeting new girls for nookie. They all run off to play the game, leaving a miffed Kryten behind because they are not interested in the meal he has cooked.

The characters in Jane Austen’s World are dialed up to eleven, so I am enormously relieved when Kryten enters the game to incapacitate the characters and drag the Dwarfers to the dinner table. He uses booby traps and a tank from another game to destroy a dinner party and force the Dwarfers to eat his lobster. Watching kryten act like a total jerk, including firing the tank’s at a gazebo, is the only really funny aspect of the episode. I hope it sustains you.

Kryten’s head finally explodes when Lister’s request for ketchup with his lobster is one indignity too many. Needing a spare head, the dwarfers go back to the derelict ship to see if there are any around. The ship has been taken over by a rogue simulant. Kochansky and Cat pose as GELF to make deal with him for the heads, but while they are working this out, the simulant’s cohort, a mechanoid named Able, sneaks onto Starbug and steals Kryten’s body. They get away too quickly for Starbug to catch up.

The Dwarfers eventually rescue Kryten after a confrontation with the simulant. It is revealed the entire series of mechanoids to which Kryten and Able belong were based on their creator’s brutish husband to possess all manner of bad qualities. Kryten is depressed to know this, but Lister assures him he has evolved beyond his original programming. Able sacrifices himself by turning Kryten’s pent up negative emotions against the simulant in order to save the Dwarfers.

I do not see much point to “Beyond a Joke.” it is difficult to think of Kryten’s existence as being a cruel joke when very little about him has been negative before now. Able is a narcotics junkie for no particular reason. Certainly not for laughs. As I said, very little of “Beyond a Joke” is humorous other than Kryten’s tantrum in Jane Austen’s World.

One interesting note--two, if you count the tank Kryten drives as also being used in the James Bond film, Goldeneye--the similant is played by Don Henderson. Henderson played Gen. Cassio Tagge in Star Wars. Tagge was the officer who expressed concern the Emporer could not maintain control after dissolving the Senate. Henderson is the only actor to ever appear in both Star Wars and Red Dwarf. “Beyond a Joke” was his final role. He was in the last stages of throat cancer during filming. His raspy voice was not a special effect, but the result of his illness.

I am am going to award “Beyond a Joke” a decent rating even though there is not much in the way of humor or drama to sustain it beyond the first ten minutes because those first ten minutes are hilarious. As far as I am concerned, they make up for the rest petering out quickly. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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