Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Whatever Happened To The Last Human?

Twenty years ago the original ("Pre Crisis") Superman stories came to an end with the classic tale Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow which told the final fate of all the characters and ended on a climax (although a revised version of Superman began not long afterwards). Sadly not all long running fiction series get such a good send-off...

The last and worse series?This week saw the release of Red Dwarf VIII, to date the final season of the program. And arguably the worse.

One of the basic premises of Red Dwarf is that the characters are a small cast, alone aboard their spaceship, isolated in the universe and facing all manner of bizarre situations. Much of the humour extends from the characters' interactions with one another and the bizarre situations they encounter. Red Dwarf VIII goes far from that, becoming a more generic space series.

Some argue that the series "jumped the shark" during Red Dwarf VII when writer Rob Grant and actor Chris Barrie (Rimmer) left, the series shifted to single camera filming and abandoned the studio audience and the tone shifted from a science-fiction sitcom to comedy science-fiction. But that season stayed true to the basics and produced some of the best episodes. Unfortunately it was not well received in certain quarters and Red Dwarf VIII represents a disastrous attempt to reverse some of the changes (bringing back the studio audience and aiming for more situation comedy) and introduce new changes (resurrect lots of human characters, shift the setting to a space prison and remove the characters' chances to be slobby, coolly dressed, enforcing pedantic regulations, delighting in cleaning or acting like an ice queen) that renders the series very different from what it was before. Whatever Happened To The Last Human?

That's not to say the season is all bad in itself. But in the overall scheme, this is the weakest of the Red Dwarf seasons and is a bad ending for the show. Earlier seasons had shown that the series could make significant changes and stay true to itself, always moving forwards, and so a further season, restoring a lot of the original scenario (which is highly workable - the end of season 8 could be used to write the other characters out) and taking the series forward could still be possible. Even if it was written as the last season from the outset (it appears no-one expected Red Dwarf VIII to be the last at the time of production) it could still be something glorious.

But will it happen? It's been seven years now...

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