Notoriously, and entirely appropriately, the original outline for Doug Naylor and Rob Grant's comedy sci-fi series Red Dwarf
was sketched on the back of a beer mat. When it finally appeared on British television in 1988, the show had clearly stayed true to its roots, mixing jokes about excessive curry consumption with affectionate parodies of classic sci-fi. Indeed, one of the show's most endearing and enduring features is its obvious respect for genre conventions, even as it gleefully subverts them. The scenario owes something to Douglas Adams's satirical Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
, something to The Odd Couple
, and a lot more to the slacker sci-fi of John Carpenter's Dark Star
. Behind the crew's constant bickering there lurks an impending sense that life, the universe, and everything are all someone's idea of a terrible joke.
Later seasons broadened the show's horizons until at last its premise was so diluted as to be unrecognizable, but in the six episodes of the first season, the comedy is witty and intimate, focusing on characters and not special effects. Slob Dave Lister (Craig Charles) is the last human alive after a radiation leak wipes out the crew of the vast mining vessel Red Dwarf (Episode 1, "The End"). He bums around the spaceship with the perpetually uptight and annoyed hologram of his dead bunkmate, Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie, the show's greatest comedy asset), and a creature evolved from a cat (dapper Danny John Jules). They are guided rather haphazardly by Holly, the worryingly thick main computer (lugubrious Norman Lovett). --Mark Walker
Weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird, this sci-fi spoof from the BBC has attained cult status, and counts among its wouldn't-miss-it-for-the-world fans Madonna, Leonard Nimoy, and Stephen Hawking. The eponymous centerpiece is a monstrously large time-traveling space vessel, and the featured human (sort of) characters are a fellow named Lister, a holograph named Rimmer, and a humanoid cat (felis sapiens) named Cat. Bonus DVD lunacy includes scads of deleted scenes and outtakes, a photo gallery, cast commentary, and audio-book excerpts. 3 hours on 2 DVDs