So here we are four years after the last series and Red Dwarf has once again returned and it did so in great fashion. While the amount of time passed could’ve made it easy to make an episode that entirely relied on stale jokes and ‘remember this’ moments the episode proceeded to bring back not only classic joke forms from the old series but continue the show’s history of taking a topic and twisting it in interesting ways.
The episode, titled Twentica, is a fun-filled piece that finds the team conned out of yet another time device by a group of droids called “Expanoids”, a creation with names such as ‘4 of 27’ and ’18 of 241’ and so foul that they feel no issue using tired old clichés such as time-travel or terrible lines about ‘being not so different, you and I’. Giving chase, needing the device to prop up their wobbly pool table, they find themselves crashlanding in an alternate version of 50s America, where rather than a prohibition of alcohol it is advanced technology that has been banned, filled with cops cracking down on illicit toaster tech and scientists hanging around in secretive speakeasies where the girls will talk to you about ‘The Big Bang’ or ‘General Relativity’, for the right amount of funding of course. After a series of escapades that include mistaking a homeless man for Einstein and the police discovering the hidden den of science despite being disguised as a bar the team manage to defeat the “Expanoids” with the help of the scientists and ‘Bob the Bum’ and freeing the planet, with the team as per usual having learnt nothing about the risks of becoming dependent on droids to do basic tasks.
Much like the most beloved era of the show (seasons 4-6) the episode’s humour is less focused on the class-divisions between the main characters of Lister and Rimmer but the usual mix of digs at UK pop-culture, with lines such as “Kryten couldn’t be more fried if he was a Mars bar in Scotland”, along with the situation-based additions that not only make light of sci-fi clichés, such as time-travel or a dying person handing over critical information, but also have the usual mix of dialogue and visual based humour from the scenario they’re in, with Lister giving the gig up by drinking from a conical flask and working girls whose offer of a ‘good time’ is talking about scientific theories as opposed to sex. Despite having been done a thousand times before the oldies they bring back such as outcome line repetition or Rimmer immediately taking the reverse opinion when it effects him don’t feel old or tired, having been once again made to fit the situation at hand. And of course it never gets old watching four guys who can barely stand each other taking digs at the others failings.
Even with how high-quality the script and acting in the episode is I have to hand it to the production department for how well they put the episode together. The show, like many British sitcoms and sci-fi before it, has a history of being shoddily put together but here the sets truly were brilliant. The stuck in time 20s flair with a science-based twist was spot on, with flapper dresses covered by lab coats and bars whose furniture could be quickly flipped between Bunsen burners and poker tables, and it all looked to be incredibly well-made, far from the wobbly sets and walls that moved we’d come to expect from old shows like these.
If there was any real weakness to the episode then it’d have to be the pacing. While the first two thirds move along at a good pace it’s the finale third featuring the conclusion and defeat of the Expanoids that feels a bit rushed, with it being over almost as quick as it begins. While this is common for many half-hour shows the casting of the very talented Kevin Eldon as ‘4 of 27’ who had some great lines makes him feel wasted as a character.
Overall Twentica presents a good start to the new series, filled with enough expected gags and jokes to pull you in while doing enough with a new premise and idea that you can’t help but love while clearly lovingly crafted with great looking set and costume design that holds up the episode value despite being made of only three sets. Also what other show out there could make a joke out of a measurement formula:
“How dense do you think I am?”
“You really wanna know? Just divide your Mass by your Volume.”