The Best TV Shows That Never Were: or, How I Learned to Hate TV

(Keep in mind that quotes from the show may be slightly off, due to the broken state of my VCR. I have to do this from memory and a few scant notes.)

After all the excitement and hullabaloo about this being the first time in history that any clips of the Red Dwarf USA pilot have been shown on television, the result was more than a little disappointing. The hour-long special had quite a few shows to get through in their meager hour, but the time spent on each individual show was rather pathetic.

Let me set the scene for you: it’s eight o’clock on a Monday night. I’ve got nothing to do except watch an hour-long special on crappy TV shows. So, the opening credits begin rolling: an annoying theme song and an annoying announcer are already…well, annoying me. There’s an opening montage of clips from the various shows, which includes a very brief shot of Jane Leeves as Holly. And for the next twenty minutes, that’s it.

I have to sit through stories about a dead police officer reincarnated as a dog, stories about a dead kid reincarnated as a plastic toy, stories about computer chips accidentally implanted into someone’s brain and stories about evil alien robots replacing humans. I have to sit through a clip from The Omen TV series, in which people become the spawn of Satan via SatanPuke that forcibly makes its way down people’s esophagus. I’m waiting, just waiting, for the moment in which they show a Red Dwarf clip. Finally, it happens: Jane Leeves is seen in the opening montage for the sub-section “Wacky Sitcoms.” Now, this may seem like a silly point, but the term “wacky” when applied to Red Dwarf never seems to work. I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s comment on one of his own books: “I would like it to be clearly understood that this book is not wacky. Only dumb redheads in Fifties’ sitcoms are wacky.”

As the rest of the show testifies, the men and women (and possibly things) that wrote these pilots were sucking at the dry teat of imagination. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, I’d like to continue this breast-feeding analogy a little further. These writers were so unimaginative that they bit the nipple clean off. Perhaps I didn’t make myself entirely clear. Where once delicious, wholeseome milk flowed, now flows a river of blood. They bit the nipple off, okay? The nipple is gone. People died because of these pilots.

Right, there’s the scene for you. No doubt you can imagine it at this point. Bad sitcoms and disgusting sci-fi shows. And after all that, they show Red Dwarf – possibly the one bright point in the entire show. It at least showed a little imagination. But the announcer’s job was to sell the crapness of the shows, and he did his job here. I present to you an actual account of the show:

ANNOUNCER (v.o.): What happens when the last man alive is alone for three million years? He can get a little strange.
LISTER: How long have I been in stasis, Holly?
HOLLY: Well, I couldn’t let you out until the radiation died down to a safe level. Really, you’re gonna laugh.
LISTER: How long?
HOLLY: Just under three million years.
LISTER: My baseball cards must be worth a fortune!
ANNOUNCER (v.o.): And that’s the best joke in the show.

There’s no mention of how popular Red Dwarf is in the UK, and even in the States, really; no mention of the fact that the show was actually made, and that this was a spinoff of it; no mention of Kryten, the Cat, Rimmer, Grant Naylor, the second pilot, the books…all it mentions is Lister and Holly, really. And the fact that they’re three million years from Earth. They seem to have enjoyed that particular fact.

I suppose it was worth seeing for the Red Dwarf USA clips that were of decent quality, but beyond that, there wasn’t much substance to it. And exchanges of wit such as the following seemed to throw a wrench into the show.

LISTER: The hell is wrong with this thing? (puts his hand on the panel. Red Dwarf blasts off.)
ANNOUNCER (v.o.): Even three million years into the future, men still won’t stop and ask for directions.

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