Better than lifE

\ Summary | Highlights | Review | Commentary highlights | Fanbase opinions /


A mail pod finally arrives at the ship after tracking them for over three million years, containing news that Rimmer's father has passed away. Rimmer elaborates on his home life to Lister, explaining how unpleasant it was and revealing that he even divorced his own parents at one point. The mail also contained Better Than Life, a virtual reality video game where, for all intents and purposes, all your dreams come true.

While Lister indulges in sports and guitar-shaped water beds, Rimmer finally gets a second make out session with his love, becomes admiral and encounters his father again, but his refusal to believe his life can become positive soils the mood for everyone.


CAT: Hey, man, I am so hungry, I just have to eat!
LISTER: Shh, Rimmer's dad's died!
CAT: ... I'd prefer chicken.

CAT: [to Rimmer] About your father, if it's any help, he's in the ground now. Sure, it's bad news for him. But on the other hand, it's party time for all the little worms! [to Lister] ... there's just no consoling him.


A fun episode that begins with a rather melancholy sequence, but once the titular events begin taking place, starts shooting out some brilliant comedy and really helps solidify the fact that the show can branch out, and isn't just restricted to the the ship. Admittedly, that kind of non-ship situation would get a little tiring in later series, but in this instance when it was fresh, it's a fun and enjoyable episode.

The episode begins with some entertaining throwaway gags, such as Rimmer attempting yet another skill to learn, this time cooking, with similarly dreadful results as his Esperanto in the last episode. It's also nice seeing the Skutters get a brief gag that indicates even slight personality, as John Wayne fanatics. The Skutters are essentially the remnants of the rather lousy machine humour of the first series, but I assume because they actually put effort into their design and mechanics, they held out, and it's nice to see them get a bit of attention before they were inevitably relegated to token cameos, if that.

The plot point that starts off the story, the arrival of the mail pod, is - you guessed it - one of those minor details that interests me, particularly the mention that it's been following the ship ever since they left Earth. Much like a few of the places they encounter in later series, such as Justice World, it's an interesting demonstration of how despite three million years having gone by and there's no knowledge of whether or not Earth still exists, never mind the human race, the universe still functions to some slight degree. Even tax collection. Of course, it's kind of amusing that the video tapes are on a completely absurd triangular format, while the computer message of Gordon's chess game is still a regular compact disc, complete with jewel case. I could try and boggle my mind over how a triangular tape would work, but I'll spare you the fanwank.

This episode is the first to introduce the Observation Deck, a new set that takes place outside of Red Dwarf, and one I am totally enamoured with. From a nerdy-nerd sci-fi practicality point of view, it's a bit awkward - a protruding dome on thin support like that could easily be damaged, and it doesn't really achieve anything that a half-dome on the hull can't already get, but I find it to be a distinct visage, and it was the setting of several memorable scenes.

I think the music, combined with the always-wistful exposition shot, really helped it stick in my mind, as it always made for a beautiful scene. Of course, the later series with their more madcap antics would see the Observation Deck get phased out, and presumably because the blue-screen effects made it more hassle than it was worth, but I'll always love it. That music, man.

Of course, what happens there is the heart-to-heart discussion about the passing of Rimmer's father; or, at least, the letter mentioning the passing, since everybody's dead, Dave. As elaborated upon by the characters, it's interesting the reaction it gets when the fact is so obvious - they're three million years in the future, the only known remnants of their now-ancient culture (besides all the genetically modified monsters lurking around everywhere), and all that they once knew is gone.

All the places they went to, all the people knew, and if the Earth is indeed long gone, then the entire history and culture of its many countries and societies - all gone. Much like the statement "one death is a tragedy, many deaths is a statistic," you almost need to be shown a secluded, personal side of a large disaster to really understand the impact of it all.

To go on an unrelated tangent, I think that's why zombie apocalypse stories are always worse when you look at it in more depth: sure, there's former-people trying to munch your face off, but they were also people of your society, people you may have once saw or known, people with ambitions, families and histories like you and me, and now they're brainless monsters that are murdered quite casually - and pretty acceptable, given how dude, frickin' zombies! But, yeah, father certainly didn't treat Rimmer well at all, but he still has the mildest of mild respect for him, to a faint degree.

In the same scene, Lister's recollection of his dad dying is hilarious, and his mention of reading the football scores with his head down the toilet is a hilarious image. I was personally never too fussed when it was later retconned that he was abandoned and never knew his parents. Okay, maybe it added a bit of mystery to him and an element of tragedy to his life, and was also the source of the rather dreadful twist in series 7's Ouroboros, but it lost the opportunity for him to humourously mention his family and their behaviours again, such as his violent grandmother mentioned in series 1.

It ain't all drama-ville, though, Better Than Life does actually enter the episode eventually! It's a great concept, and it was explored much more in-depth in the book of the same name, although it extended the usage to days, demonstrating a more grim aspect to the wish fulfilment game. Of course, the execution of its exquisite environment is a bit hit and miss, given the limitations of a BBC sitcom and all. The beach, intended to be a literal paradise, just looks like a typical scummy British beach.

The restaurant, meanwhile, is brilliant, and it's a pity after the one short establishing shot, very little more is seen; it's wonderfully vivid and about as explicitly alien as Red Dwarf seems to get (perhaps it's one of Rimmer's desires being fulfilled?), what with the weird blue-skinned folk and all. It definitely emits the same vibe as the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and given how both Dwarf and the 1981 BBC serial share at least one visual designer, it's pretty understandable.

The Cat gets some brilliant show-stealing gags throughout the episode, beginning brilliantly with his appearance on the observation deck, and he gets some wonderfully cartoonish moments in Better Than Life, such as stealing Rimmer's cigar and playing his unique brand of golf. It helps drive home the more light-hearted and ridiculous side of the show, especially with the totally ridiculous mermaid girlfriend. Rimmer's downfall is also entertaining, if just to see what a troubled mentality he has. After experiencing everything he could ever hope of (besides getting a compliment from his father, of course), he proceeds to spiral into a miserable state of constant depression and let-downs, an exaggerated personal belief of what his life is like. Those unpleasant afflictions then extends to everyone around him, and even when he fantasises that he's actually finally promoted, he then imagines his thumbs getting clobbered to bits by a tax collector.

Of course, as is constantly said, Rimmer's troubled history and his complex mentality would normally present him as a sympathetic character, but given the fact he's such a smug asshole, it just makes it all that more hilarious. The tax collector, although only present for two brief scenes, is utterly fantastic; I would've loved to have seen him more, though the fantastic way he ends the episode makes me appreciate him more.

A fun episode that's got healthy dose of initial drama that segues into some great comedy that really helped diversify the setting of the show. Definitely a high-quality episode.

Commentary highlightS

DANNY: Remember this! Remember this?
CRAIG: Remember this, uh, this bubble thing?
DANNY: Observation!
CRAIG: Observation deck!
CHRIS: Not many scenes in it, though.
DANNY: No, because you keep wearing that blinkin' dressing gown!
CRAIG: The observation deck. It was a great idea!
DANNY: I always thought you [Lister] were going up to ask him for a date! [as Lister] "Doin' anything Saturday night?"

Fanbase opinionS

The main element that hinders this episode for most people is the simple fact that, for being Better Than Life, it looks kinda crappy. The supposedly-desirable beach is obviously just the crummy looking British seaside, and most prefer the book's take on the story because, well, you can just imagine what it's like. It does seem to be liked for its delving into Rimmer's history and mentality. The Japanese poll rates it as the third best, with 14.7% of the vote.