Red Dwarf X: Lemons Review

jesusselected

Last year, I wrote this little piece on audience sitcom and ambition. About how too much audience sitcom these days doesn’t look much further in terms of setting than a house, or office; and how much more it could be with a bit of imagination.

That article was based on an old set of emails I wrote, a long time ago – but I must admit, when I finally got round to writing it, I knew Red Dwarf X was coming, and I knew it would be shot in front of an audience. I wanted the show to prove that audience sitcom could still move beyond french windows and a sofa – and I wanted to write a follow-up piece pointing out exactly what I was driving at.

Marketplace in India, 23AD

A gorgeous looking studio set, lit perfectly to look like location? Loads of extras? Shot (mostly) in front of an audience, not just played in as inserts? Some digital mattes, even? Yeah, I think they managed it. You didn’t have to specifically have to set it in India, though, guys. That was just an example.

First broadcast: 18th October 2012, 9:00pm, Dave

Written by: Doug Naylor

Directed by: Doug Naylor

Main Cast:
Chris Barrie (Rimmer)
Craig Charles (Lister)
Danny John-Jules (Cat)
Robert Llewellyn (Kryten)

Guest Cast:
Indira Joshi (Erin)
James Baxter (Jesus)
Nicholas Richards (Uncle Aaron)
Tom Pepper (Man Who May Be Jesus & Judas)
Hormuzd Todiwala (Waiter)

Synopsis:
Marooned in Britain in 23 AD, the Dwarfers need an 8-volt battery to power up their Returner Remote and get home. Remembering a lesson from school, Rimmer suggests they make a battery out of lemons – but the nearest lemon to Britain in 23 AD is in India, 4,000 miles away. They begin their journey, a journey that will ultimately lead them to a meeting with a historical A List Celebrity that could alter the entire history of civilisation.

Set Report | Discussion Thread | Dwarfcast

Why am I starting with this? Simply because one of the reasons I fell in love with Red Dwarf is its blend of audience sitcom and SF. There are loads of great sitcoms, and there are loads of great SF shows – but very few which combine the two, and even less which combine them successfully. Watching Red Dwarf at its best, and you feel like television can do anything – and in comparison, how unimaginative and locked into genre most telly actually is. It’s no coincidence that my least favourite episodes of the show are the ones which stray furthest from its heart as an audience sitcom.

Soapboxes aside, it’s all very well to make the point that audience sitcom is too often the victim of a limited imagination, and that magical things can happen when you think beyond the obvious. It means nothing if the rest of the show is no good. Does Lemons deliver on the promise?

…nearly.

The comparisons with Tikka To Ride are obvious. Our crew go back in time, meet a famous historical figure, fuck things up, get things fixed, and indulge in a bit of cannibalism along the way. This may be considered foolhardy – especially as Tikka is widely considered to be one of the best episodes of VII. Yet for me, Lemons – from the opening scene onwards – feels by far the more successful show. Ironically, even whilst Tikka clearly tries to tip the tone of Red Dwarf more to towards drama, elements like the camera not being able to cope with Lister’s time explanation make the show feel… stupider. Lemons, for all its COMEDY NONSENSE, rarely feels like the show’s own universe is being undermined.

An even better example of the episode’s strengths is the aforementioned cannibilism. Whilst it be may be a rather unfortunate echo of Tikka given the similarity of the rest of the episode, it actually works far better here. In Tikka, the time drive breaks for no reason, the crew indulge in a bit of accidental cannibalism for one scene, the time drive magically fixes itself, and off we go. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, bollocks. In Lemons, we get the setup in the opening scene – and twenty minutes later, when the audience has entirely forgotten, we get the glorious revelation. (As ever, Cat in this series is an absolute joy, capturing something that I didn’t think either Doug or Danny were still capable of.)

Still, if that’s an example of Lemons doing the seeding of jokes right, there’s also a glaring example of doing it wrong, too: Shakespeare’s expressions. Like the cannibalism stuff, we get the setup: but here, the pay-off nowhere near justifies it. So we get a couple of mentions of the expressions later on and Rimmer looks annoyed – big deal. Either the setup needed to be vastly reduced to a few lines to match the pay-off, or the pay-off needed to be far larger. As it is, it just feels like a detour which goes nowhere.

Nevertheless, Lemons is a show with plenty of standout jokes and moments. The “So what did everyone else do?” / “They dropped things, sir” exchange is extremely silly, and thus my favourite. Rimmer’s pride in holding what he believes to be Jesus’s penis is marvellous, but secondary to the wonderment of how organically the show has managed to engineer this completely ludicrous scene without it feeling forced. Also, I hugely enjoy the line “That’s breaking the Tenth Commandment, that is!”, as a deliberate piece of painfully obvious dialogue. (Indira Joshi is particularly excellent in this scene – not as flashy as some guest cast we’ve had this series, but absolutely fantastic in an understated way.)

Whilst we’re on the subject of key moments, the “Jesus!” / “Yes?” exchange – sadly spoilt by last week’s trailer – was heavily altered in the edit; originally, there were three name confusions before the Dwarfers finally twigged. This was an excellent alteration; it stops the joke being hammered into the ground VIII-style. Also excellent is the shot which (without drawing too much attention to itself) clearly echoes The Last Supper, which – possibly unintentionally – actually draws a parallel between the medium of paintings, and… erm, audience sitcom. When da Vinci staged the painting, he deliberately has all participants along one side of the table, so we can see them all properly. That’s also exactly what you need to do when shooting in front of an audience with a three-walled set!

The Last Supper

The final revelation that the Dwarfers have got the wrong Jesus disappointed me during the recording; it felt like an enormous copout. I still feel echoes of that; the operating table scene is far less amusing on re-watch once you know the truth of his identity, and I can’t shake the feeling the show lost its nerve. Calling Jesus a knob is funnier when you’re actually calling Jesus a knob. Still, maybe it’s worth it for the final gag – and Jesus Of Caesarea’s rant against the Ten Commandments (quite possibly the best bit of the episode) means the show just about retains enough of its bite.

And yet, with all the episode’s positive aspects, the show still has one big problem: the ghost of past glories. The crazy golf tournament in the Medilab immediately conjours up the dinner sequence in Polymorph; the line “We need something unimportant and meaningless. Listy, you’re up!” reminds you of “Listy, the mic’s all yours!”, amongst many other moments – to name but two. Echoes of dialogue, echoes of plot ideas; at one point do things cross over from being the essence of Red Dwarf, which I have praised earlier, to being just that bit too familiar? The line is ludicrously fuzzy: but I can’t help but feel the show crosses it a few too many times. (One of the reasons I liked the Chinese Whispers stuff last week is that it was the show doing something new.) Maybe I’d find it more forgivable if the jokes were as strong the second, third, or fifth time round: but these often really do feel like echoes – the same idea, the same joke, but just not as good.

Despite my quibbles, Lemons is by far my favourite episode of Red Dwarf X yet. Trojan‘s phone plot derailed the whole episode for me; Fathers and Suns was better, but perhaps ultimately unsuccessful with combining the three plotlines, and also had too many flat moments. Lemons is more classic in terms of its structure: it does one story, does it well, and builds to a climax which is actually clear and makes sense. This episode felt more like Red Dwarf to me than any show since 1993, Bodysnatcher aside. Even little moments like Kryten’s chuckle after “He hath risen!” make the show feel more… Dwarfy.

Rimmer with tongs

In today’s multichannel, internet-distracted television landscape, an odd thing is happening. As budgets shrink, an awful lot of television looks worse today than 20 years ago. I have my reservations about shooting in 25p, but it’s undeniable that this series has absolutely bags of production value. It – almost – makes it understandable how people could think the show would be impossible to shoot with an audience present. For that reason alone, Series X is impossible to dismiss.

Lemons is the first time it’s gone from something impossible for me to dismiss, to something I actively enjoyed. That has to be worth something. Not because I offer any great analysis… but just because I’m usually a miserable little cunt.

TINY TEASER: Kidney Stone – FAKE JESUS HAD ONE FORCED UP HIS WILLY HOLE
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 25 – or 24 on the iTunes version (Total so far: 72)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 3 – two uttered in unison (Total so far: 8)

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59 Responses to Red Dwarf X: Lemons Review

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  1. It looks like you and I saw the same show! Others saw some thing diffrent! The only thing I disagree about is you being a LITTLE CUNT! AH! another knife in my back! Good review!

  2. The final revelation that the Dwarfers have got the wrong Jesus disappointed me during the recording; it felt like an enormous copout. I still feel echoes of that; the operating table scene is far less amusing on re-watch once you know the truth of his identity, and I can’t shake the feeling the show lost its nerve. Calling Jesus a knob is funnier when you’re actually calling Jesus a knob. Still, maybe it’s worth it for the final gag

    Which, to be fair, basically says “Jesus didn’t die & resurrect, he just ran off, let someone else die in his place, then came back and said ‘I am risen’.” Even before you get to the identity of his twin.

    I think it’s made less controversial by the controversy-bait-filled distance between the setup and payoff, but if the episode had been about the journey to India to get the lemons* – and, presumably, the comedic events therein – and the “validation” of the Gospel of Judas at the end had been the only Jesus bit, that would have been plenty controversial in its own right.

    *I don’t think a skipped-over six month journey was worth the fairly weak “isn’t Britain famous for copper?” gag. Doug should have dumped them somewhere closer if the journey was going to be over in a single map shot.

  3. Am I right that that’s the “real” Jesus next to Lister at the supper, there? It’s little details like that that I don’t catch until the second or third time around, that make Dwarf a joy for me to watch. :-D

    I agree with being disappointed by the copout of it not being the real Jesus – I said elsewhere, I like better that Lister’s lesson (and ours) would be “hey, this guy’s a knob and not exactly a genius, but he still changed the world – maybe I’m not too bad, myself.” The idea that Christ is just a mortal doing the best he can to rise above it is a powerful theme, IMO. BUT … I still like how it ended, despite that.

  4. A really excellent review, John, well worth waiting for. Good to have you back by the way, where have you been??

    Seriously, your own many articles and reviews on this site are one of the main things that has kept me coming back onto G&T for all these years, and this didn’t disappoint.

    I think the ‘He Hath Risen’ line was particularly good; in fact the best moments of this series so far seem to have gotten back into the classic Dwarf style, such as not labouring or over-explaining the gags (with a few exceptions) which blighted VII and VIII. I didn’t see the recording, but I think the ‘Jesus – Yes?’ moment was perfectly timed. Seeing that exchange overdone would have destroyed the joke completely.

    I don’t know if ‘Lemons’ was a classic episode for me, I suppose time will tell. But both this and ‘Trojan’ (and portions of ‘Fathers and Suns’ ) have given me a warm, fuzzy ‘Red Dwarf’ viewing experience that I haven’t really had in any sustained sense since 1993.

  5. By the way, I don’t know what has happened to Danny John-Jules, but dear God has Cat got his groove back. A joy to watch!

  6. Its a brilliant episode. Like i said before im not a fan of ‘off-ship’ stories but its a great series so far!

  7. Didnt see this recorded, so cant know, and will be very interested to see deleted scenes, but i think the “Jesus” “What” joke I could have taken more than one pass on that, over the rimmer calculator crap. Maybe not three passes, but if it was quick.
    Cus as it is in the show, i didnt laugh much at it.

  8. I agree with the majority of the review, and am a big fan of Joshi, the entire Kumars team are quite talented at incidental comedy IMO. On repeat viewing i’m wondering if there was a joke there that was a little to subtle for its own good, When Jesus of Ceaserea’s uncle comes to the table we may have been witness to history’s earliest use of the phrase ‘Jesus! they’re on to us’ ;-)

    cheers
    Fozzi

  9. I read your article on ambition in sitcoms a while back and totally agree. It’s also one of the key reasons I love Dwarf. The funny thing is is that even though you talk about a lack of ambition in audience sitcoms, even non-audience ones are often terribly lacking in ambition. One of the reasons I enjoy the second series of the Mighty Boosh so much is that every week it’d take you on an adventure using simple but effective visuals and so you got a fun story, that was very different to what other sitcoms put out, and some good laughs.

    Hell even a lot of animated sitcoms don’t exploit the format as much as they could. Great articles though and I have to say, seeing what could be done with Dwarf in 2012 was one of the key reasons I looked forward to seeing it’s return. I was up for some more adventures!

    EDIT: And yes I enjoyed Joshi a lot. It also occurred to me that we don’t often get long exchanges between people outside the main group like that seen between Jesus and Joshi’s character. Go on… prove me wrong.

  10. Great review John…and you used the same grab for you header image as I did!

  11. > By the way, I don’t know what has happened to Danny John-Jules, but dear God has Cat got his groove back. A joy to watch!

    I’d say it’s a combination of the audience being back, Doug giving him some better material, and maybe he was disappointed with what he did on BtE so really went for it this time.

    Whatever, it’s the best Cat since 1993. The best Rimmer and Kryten too, in a lot of ways. Lister is the exception because, for me, Craig’s excelled himself from VII onwards (as much as anyone could ‘excel’ in VIII…).

  12. Double post. See below for my thoughts.

    Shame to waste a post, though.

    Soapy tit wanks.

    There. That’s better.

  13. My belated reaction: I ruddy loved this episode. Aside from some moments feeling a bit dated (call centre / Ikea furniture gags) this series is proving to be a complete revelation.

    So much to enjoy and actually, genuinely laugh at.

    Who’da thunked we’d ever have dwarf of this caleeburr again?

  14. And foaming twats.

  15. Excellent review!

    The “So what did everyone else do?” / “They dropped things, sir” exchange is extremely silly, and thus my favourite.

    Mine too!

    Shakespeare’s expressions. Like the cannibalism stuff, we get the setup: but here, the pay-off nowhere near justifies it. So we get a couple of mentions of the expressions later on and Rimmer looks annoyed – big deal. Either the setup needed to be vastly reduced to a few lines to match the pay-off, or the pay-off needed to be far larger. As it is, it just feels like a detour which goes nowhere.

    I agree with this. I can really only think of one way of giving that thread some form of conclusion: to have Rimmer inadvertently use several famous Shakespeare phrases in quick succession, but be utterly unaware of their source. Like cheerfully saying “All’s well that ends well!” at the end of the episode, for example. (Not that, obviously, but something like that.)

    But I doubt something like that would be funny enough to deserve being called a payoff, so as you say, it’d probably be better if that whole thread had been trimmed down instead.

  16. And foaming twats.

    Mentually ill twats eh? Wow, you learn something everyday on G&T!

  17. G&T Admin

    I think you know what I’m going to say here. In fact it’s so obvious, I’m not actually going to say it.

  18. Great review John. Nice to finally read some of your thoughts on the series so far. You may well be a “miserable little cunt” but for some reason I get the impression you’re kinda the heart and soul of the G&T team. I wish you were enjoying X more.
    I just watched Lemons for only the second time and enjoyed it quite a bit more this time. I agree Indira Joshi was very good. The calculator moment didn’t go on as long as I’d remembered, and this time round I thought Lister and Kryten’s reactions pretty much made up for the over milking of the joke. One thing I hadn’t noticed before that made me smile was when Jesus, talking about what a common name Jesus is, mentions a Jesus with a dodgy nose, and immediately there’s a cut to a close up of Kryten.

  19. Not that it’s particularly exciting but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the split-screen moment with Tom Pepper as could-be-Jesus/Judas at the end. Straightaway I thought ‘they hired twins’ though it made me smile to see one name in the credits, confirming a split-screen, which I always associate with Dwarf (but when was one last utilised?)

  20. Not that it’s particularly exciting but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the split-screen moment with Tom Pepper as could-be-Jesus/Judas at the end. Straightaway I thought ‘they hired twins’ though it made me smile to see one name in the credits, confirming a split-screen, which I always associate with Dwarf (but when was one last utilised?)

    I was also happy this was a split screen. And also quite surprised. Worked well though! On the subject of split screen… could this be the first series of Dwarf without other versions of characters? The synopses make me think it’s a possibility.

    Me2, Stasis Leak, Polymorph, Dimension Jump, Back to Reality, Out of Time, Ouroboros, Only the Good, Back to Earth Part 3.

    Each series has at least ONE episode with alternate versions and I always enjoy seeing the boys getting the chance to play their characters a bit differently. The closest we might get is Dad/Drunk Lister and Son/Sober Lister which doesn’t really feel like it counts.

    EDIT: And yes I realise Me2 is more like the same character twice but I’ll allow it to count because of maximum split screen fun.

  21. Interesting review. :)

    It was nice to see the continuation of the thread from F&S about Lister taking the robotics course. I’m a little surprised that Rimmer isn’t trying harder to dissuade him, though. Presumably if he passes he’ll outrank Rimmer.

  22. (but when was one last utilised?)

    I actually think there were some in Trojan.

  23. I had no idea that was a split screen at the end. Must have been a good one then!

  24. Re: the ambition element, im wondering if shows like ‘spaced’ (despite my fondness for anything with Pegg and Frost together) which got credible numbers while spending bog all (in relation to shows contemporary to it) may have to take a little of the blame here. Lets face it even in Britian the majority of TV producers and line-up directors are little more than glorified accountants these days. Hence they would have just seen a financially successful show on a small budget rather than three skilled comedic actors who had genuine chemistry with a miraculously good support cast for the money on offer

  25. Interesting review. :)

    It was nice to see the continuation of the thread from F&S about Lister taking the robotics course. I’m a little surprised that Rimmer isn’t trying harder to dissuade him, though. Presumably if he passes he’ll outrank Rimmer.

    Either Rimmer thinks Lister really can’t pass a test, or he truly doesn’t care if Lister outranks him. ;-)

  26. Red Dwarf I saw recorded is on TV tonight. Red Dwarf I saw recorded is on TV tonight. I know thats the same point twice but it’s such a big point and anyway they did more than one take on some stuff, so so can I. I might try capitals. RED DWARF I SAW RECLORDED… oh shit. smeg ups.

    And I’m a bit excited about this. As a result. woo hoo. Later this evening I’ll be on here picking fights with anyone that didnt think it was perfection on the flimsy basis that it must be cus it mostly happened infront of my eyes.

    I will also be breaking my non-spoiler silence on the sitcom I felt a joke in this was a bit like, from an earlier thread.

  27. at least you will be able to let us know the bits and bobs that are missing. must be a weight off your mind to be able to talk about the episode you have seen later :)

  28. RED DWARF I SAW RECLORDED…

    Noel Edmunds!

  29. could this be the first series of Dwarf without other versions of characters?

    Probably a question best left until the end of the series, that one.

    (whooooOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooohhh)

  30. could this be the first series of Dwarf without other versions of characters?

    Probably a question best left until the end of the series, that one.
    (whooooOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooohhh)

    ……………….

  31. Oh my God! CackThosePants has lost the ability to type!

  32. CackThosePants has lost the ability to type!

    At last, things are looking up.

  33. Oh my God! CackThosePants has lost the ability to type!

    All in all, a 100% successful trip!

  34. Oh my God! CackThosePants has lost the ability to type!

    Are you really that fucking stupid not to see what I was implying?

  35. All in all, a 100% successful trip!

    For a sock puppet perhaps.

  36. > Are you really that fucking stupid not to see what I was implying?

    Are you really that fucking humourless that you can’t recognise a joke?

  37. > Are you really that fucking stupid not to see what I was implying?

    Are you really that fucking humourless that you can’t recognise a joke?

    I’m not humourless – far from it. Just pissed off that the biggest rule of this site appears to have been broken and nobody appears to give a shit.

  38. G&T Admin

    Thanks for the kind words all. It was a bit of a struggle writing this review, so I’m glad that doesn’t show too much!

    Good to have you back by the way, where have you been??

    I’m right in the middle of a load of 12 hour shifts. I haven’t actually watched any episode as it’s gone out yet, and I haven’t yet seen Entangled…

    I’ll be around more for Eps 5 and 6, and will be doing the LIVE Dwarfcasts.

  39. >I haven’t yet seen Entangled…

    I envy you.

  40. > Are you really that fucking stupid not to see what I was implying?

    Are you really that fucking humourless that you can’t recognise a joke?
    I’m not humourless – far from it. Just pissed off that the biggest rule of this site appears to have been broken and nobody appears to give a shit.

    You could be correct. On the other hand, Seb could be having you on and two weeks from now it won’t bear out at all. I think this is what’s possibly known as a mindfuck.

  41. G&T Admin

    Considering changing the biggest rule of the site to: “if your name is CackThosePants, shut the fuck up and go away because every single person who reads your comments thinks you’re a cunt”.

  42. All I was saying was, it’s a bit jumping-the-gun to declare a series as not containing something when it hasn’t finished yet.

    I’m not saying that that status is *necessarily* going to change. But it’s a bit like saying after Trojan, “is this the first series where every episode has Howard Rimmer in it?”

  43. All I was saying was, it’s a bit jumping-the-gun to declare a series as not containing something when it hasn’t finished yet.

    I’m not saying that that status is *necessarily* going to change. But it’s a bit like saying after Trojan, “is this the first series where every episode has Howard Rimmer in it?”

    TBH, I think most peeps did realise your response was in the vein of not wanting to go there rather than confirming or denying, and gently suggesting that maybe others should avoid going there too, just done in a way that tried not to discourage other minithreads. maybe im wrong though

  44. All I was saying was, it’s a bit jumping-the-gun to declare a series as not containing something when it hasn’t finished yet.

    I’m not saying that that status is *necessarily* going to change. But it’s a bit like saying after Trojan, “is this the first series where every episode has Howard Rimmer in it?”

    SPOILER WARNING: Discussions on future episodes/Things Doug has said regarding future episodes below

    Well as I said, I was looking at the synopses and looking back at the three episodes we had seen. Admittedly trailers and synopses have been somewhat misleading but it seemed that Entangled and Dear Dave were unlikely to have other versions of characters, in particular Dear Dave as it appears as if it will be rather low key and sci-fi free. The only one that seems to have a possibility is The Beginning and that’s only because of speculation and things Doug has been saying that have implied that we might be getting an answer as to who Rimmer is. I can’t see the actual simulant story resulting in the need for some split screen/alternate Dwarfer glory.

  45. Considering changing the biggest rule of the site to: “if your name is CackThosePants, shut the fuck up and go away because every single person who reads your comments thinks you’re a cunt”.

    BBC Three are on the phone. They’ve seen your material and want to make a sitcom about a fat lesbian. The working title is, “Symes of the Times”.

    Thank you and Goodnight.

  46. If you’re going to insult Ian, at least put some effort in to make it amusing you tedious fuckwit.

  47. Thank you and Goodnight.

    Might I suggest that from this moment the rest of the discourse is conducted by those with brains larger than a grape.

  48. “BBC Three are on the phone. They’ve seen your material and want to make a sitcom about a fat lesbian. The working title is, “Symes of the Times”.
    Thank you and Goodnight.”

    CackThosePants, please just vanish. You’re puerile at best, insufferable and immature at worst.

    And insulting one of the G&T gang is hammering a nail into your own coffin.

  49. BBC Three are on the phone. They’ve seen your material and want to make a sitcom about a fat lesbian. The working title is, “Symes of the Times”.

    Thank you and Goodnight.

  50. G&T Admin

    Hehe, she is such a fat lesbian.

    If this really is “thankyou and goodnight”… Played for and got.

  51. Actually Ian maybe you should licence that.

    Ignoring the perjorative crap that was spewed at you, looking at it it would work brilliantly as a title for a journalism based sitcom or drama, or for that matter a current affairs show or a current events celebrity panel show

    Hell it would even work well as a blog name

    just a thought

  52. Hehe, she is such a fat lesbian.

    If this really is “thankyou and goodnight”… Played for and got.

    Ian, I apologise. I’ve had some sad news recently and well your comment really set me off on one…..hence my removal from the site for a few days.

    But to be honest I had drafted a much worst reply……..

  53. Truce?

    No problem.

    Thank you for reading.

    *Oh, additional: sorry to take up your valuable time. Sorry. Thank you. Sorry. Bye. Bye. Sorry. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  54. I do so love a happy ending.

  55. I do so love a happy ending.

    I’m about to cry over here too ..l

  56. Was watching Lemon’s again, and I thought I spotted a two shot where Craig Charles disappears in error. It’s when he’s talking to the Lemon selling Lady.

    On closer inspection he’s leaning forward doing exhausted acting after the narrative six months of trekking, and can hardly be seen.

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