What Is Red Dwarf Really About?

You probably think it’s a light-hearted comedy.

⭐ Robert Jameson

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The main cast of Red Dwarf: Cat, Lister, Rimmer and Kryton
From left to right: Cat, Lister, Rimmer and Kryton. Source: Youtube (Fair use)

Red Dwarf is a British science-fiction comedy TV show with a cult following. It also aired in the US.

It centered on Dave Lister, the last human survivor on a deep space mining ship, following a catastrophic radiation leak, and the holographic recreation of his antagonistic former supervisor, Arnold Rimmer.

Other characters included Holly, the ship’s computer, and Cat, a humanoid creature that evolved from the domestic cat Lister once kept as a pet. Later on, they’re joined by Kryton, an android.

You may well have seen Red Dwarf and enjoyed it. But have you ever stopped to wonder what it was fundamentally really about?

On the surface, it’s a comedy that gets lighter, more slapstick and more action-packed as it develops (and sadly, after series VI, much less funny). But in the beginning, it was, in some ways, much darker than that. It was a hard-hitting commentary on human society and the human condition — at least it was for those people who were watching carefully enough.

Fear and mutual loathing — in deep space

Like a lot of science fiction, Red Dwarf was set in a remote location, deep in space and far off in the future. But it was really a satire about our present lives here on Earth.

The show began with a fairly simple two-way dynamic. Right from the first episode, before the radiation leak, we repeatedly see Lister and Rimmer bickering with each other, verbally sniping at one another, getting on each others’ nerves and deliberately rubbing each other up the wrong way.

They’re two very different characters, but in one important respect they’re very similar; they each use the same method of coping with their menial careers and sad, pathetic lives.

Rimmer is a lowly technician, ambitious for promotion, but without the brains or work ethic to succeed. He’s a mean-spirited, dishonest and untrustworthy coward with few social skills.

How does someone like that manage to live with himself? To survive, he desperately needs to find some way to feel good about himself. Otherwise, he might as well just throw himself out…

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⭐ Robert Jameson

Tech Writer. Philosopher. Economist. Basic Income Advocate.