Development Deal: Red Dwarf
If there’s one thing that a quick look at the current state of television and movies will tell you, it’s that there’s not much need for original ideas when there’s so much out there ready and waiting to be adapted, updated or just outright ripped off. That’s why we’ve decided to help in that process with a series which offers up some of the things we’d like to see being brought to big screen or small. This week’s suggestion? Red Dwarf.
What Is It?
A long-running – even longer, considering it was resurrected a couple of years ago for a three episode revival that turned into an ongoing thing – British sitcom set in the far future centering around the last human left alive on board a mining space ship, and his various companions: A hologram recreation of his former roommate, a mutated descendant of his dead cat and the ship’s AI computer (Later, a robot with a fetish for housecleaning and an alternate reality of the lead character’s dead girlfriend were added to the cast). Of course, they have fantastic and amusing sci-fi adventures on their long journey back to Earth to discover if humanity is still alive back there, but the center of the show is the relationship between all of the characters; especially in earlier seasons, Red Dwarf was pretty much a classic “Odd Couple” set-up that just so happened to take place in space after a disaster that might have wiped out the human race, and I’d argue that that was its strength – As the show went on and moved more towards an “adventure of the week” format in later years, it became more generic and more obviously limited by budget, to its detriment. So, what is Red Dwarf? It’s a show about two friends who hate each other as much as they need each other, and the people around them, that just happens to take place in the distant future in space and against a potentially apocalyptic backdrop. The perfect comedy set-up, in other words.
What Could It Be?
I know that there was already a failed attempt to remake Red Dwarf for American audiences – here’s a glimpse at it, if you’re feeling particularly masochistic – but just because something didn’t work once doesn’t mean that it could never work. One of the problems with the failed US remake, I think, was that it was too faithful to the original (There are lines that are pretty much verbatim from the original UK version), which is always a problem in Transatlantic comedy translations; what would likely work much better would be constructing a new Dwarf based around the central conceit but otherwise working off new cloth, even going so far as to work up a new cast outside of the Last Human/Hologram of Roommate pairing if necessary. Use the original series as inspiration, but find your own way from there.
I’d also hope that, following the increased genre-ization of mainstream pop culture in the last few years, something like Red Dwarf would/could be given a warmer welcome by non-nerd audiences if it were launched in America today; if nothing else, I feel like American audiences are already more comfortable with post-apocalypses and the idea of characters who aren’t really there/really people thanks to things like Star Trek: Voyager, Lost and whatever that have come along since Red Dwarf‘s previous attempt at an American outing.
It’s that increased familiarity with genre material – and, separately, the lowered costs in making genre material compared with 1992 – that I think could make Red Dwarf a viable proposition in today’s TV world. Of course, what it’d really need to work are writers who (a) know comedy and (b) know genre, which is why I’d pull The Thrilling Adventure Hour‘s Ben Acker and Ben Blacker in as show runners and see what they could come up with, given the opportunity. If given my choice of all possible leads, I’d go for Donald Glover – I’m not entirely sure why, but let’s chalk it up to a recent rewatch of Mystery Team and excitement over the imminent return of Community, although I am coming up entirely bereft when it comes to who should play the uptight, know-it-all roommate, deceased – Any ideas (Anyone thinking “Jim Parsons!” I am vetoing that idea, I’m afraid)?
Red Dwarf, the original UK version, worked because it was a funny sitcom first, and a sci-fi adventure second; that same idea demonstrates why is should work internationally if done well. Who doesn’t want to see a funny show with a fantastic setting that just opens the show up to all kinds of storytelling possibilities? Never mind Modern Family, TV execs; a show like Red Dwarf could really reinvent the sitcom genre.