Red dwarF USA

unaired pilot

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(reviewed February 2010)

(skip to the
NBC promo)


Kryten is a newcomer to the Red Dwarf mining vessel and is taken under the wing of Dave Lister, who shares his life story with the mechanoid and gets him involved in his attempt to keep a cat smuggled in his quarters. He's found out and Lister is put into stasis for six months, but due to an incident regarding a radiation leak he doesn't get out until three million years later.

He, Kryten and his workmate Rimmer (the only person whose hologram disk was undamaged) find the Cat, the only remaining specimen of the cats' evolution. The crew are visited briefly by their future selves with an important message, but they only manage to utter "you gotta--" before they vanish. Despite that,they still have one goal in mind - get back to Earth!


RIMMER: Oh, start warming up your lips, bucko, you're going to be kissing a lot of this [taps butt] from now on.

LISTER: Does this stasis thing hurt?
MUNSON: Oh, it's just a kind of suspended animation. See, like x-rays can't penetrate lead, time can't penetrate a stasis field. To you, time won't exist. For us, it'll exist, but as a non-event mass with a quantum probability of zero.
LISTER: So it will hurt?

LISTER: What's it feel like?
RIMMER: Death?
RIMMER: It's like being at an Amish bachelor party.

LISTER: I gotta try to get us back home.
RIMMER: What, Earth? You're insane.
HOLLY: Dave, Dave, Dave, we've been accelerating away from Earth for three million years.
LISTER: Yeah, but maybe there's a shortcut.


Red Dwarf USA, much like the remastered episodes and series 7 and 8, is one of those subjects that the fanbase are very vocal about and seem to loathe purely on principle, whether they've seen it or not, spurring frothing rage from even the most even-minded of individuals. From my experience, anyway.

The American pilot isn't bad, and I'd dare say it works very well given the limitations it's got to work with - the very first episode of the series, The End, was tasked with developing the setting, the technology and the characters and making it all entertaining, but it also had the fortune to already have another five episodes ahead of it by that point.

Let's face it, The End isn't bad, but as a standalone episode it's not fantastic; it relies on the following episodes to build on the groundwork it sets. Red Dwarf USA has no such privilege, but personally, it makes for a more rounded and entertaining first episode. I can elaborate further, but I'll do that at the end. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy me making lots of comparisons!

The End had 28 minutes to set the scene and develop the characters, but it's a very slow-going story and it takes its sweet time explaining all the important technology and gimmickry. This pilot, meanwhile, breezes through the basic facilities of Red Dwarf and the ins-and-outs of hologram technology in just under a minute.

Frankly, it's better for it. Red Dwarf is said to have many large facilities that would make interesting set pieces for stories later on (they may not have the set for a zero-gravity football stadium now, but if a full series was ever commissioned, the potential was there!), and all we need to know about holograms is snappily summed up with a quick sex joke thrown in for good measure.

Lister and Rimmer are introduced in the same situation as the BBC version, out on patrol fixing chicken soup machines. While the original dedicates a good five minutes just to their banter, this one skims over it quickly; we see Lister goofs off, we see Rimmer is smug and a bit by-the-book, he's ribbed for failing his astro-navigation exam numerous times... and that's more or less it.

Rimmer truly suffers in the American show, unfortunately, and it's because he's been stripped entirely of what makes him an interesting character. He has no passion for superiority, he's not overbearingly smug, he's got no backstabbing qualities - and he hasn't even any neurotic habits! It may have been a minor gag, but Rimmer chastising Lister for giving him the wrong pencil in The End made for a great way of showing the way this smeghead thinks.

He's just this guy who nobody's a big fan of, but nobody pays much attention to either. The original Rimmer was frequently remarked upon as being a spineless, unlikeable, selfish bastard with as much positive qualities as stepping in dog vomit. His Napoleon complex truly made him what he is, and when he's reduced from a small fry with a humongous ego to a workmate who's just mildly irritating, it saps all the heart out of it. For what it is, Chris Eigeman fits the role of "annoying workmate" pretty well, and he feels like he'd be a natural on Will & Grace or one of those sitcoms.

Lister ends up portrayed pretty well, mind you - he's a whole different specimen from our slobby scouser, presented more as a typical everyman with a penchant for wisecracks and has a certain je ne sais quoi about him. Craig Bierko does a great job; he's not quite the self-proclaimed space bum Lister is normally seen as, but he plays the role brilliantly as this average guy with average desires - and come on, he just looks great. I'm probably committing fandom sins by saying this, but I can't help but feel his Lister and Craig Charles' Lister would make an amusing duo.

His love interest in Kochanski feels rather tacked on, though - they don't appear to share interests, there isn't the naive lust fuelling it like in the BBC version, and... well, Kochanski just seems a bit of a flat character. The original one had a bit of spunk and attitude, but this one is just typical sitcom love interest #37.

I will say, Lister's thoughts and attitude about her makes for more entertaining comedy than the regular Lister, which, I admit, seemed to dip into sappy bloo-bloo whining when he got started talking about her. His "plan" about owning a farm feels a little tacked on given this Lister's lack of naivetÚ, but eh, it's a pilot, they have to work with what they've got.

Kryten shows up before Red Dwarf's accident this time as a newcomer who's shown about the ship and given guidance by Lister, getting their buddy-buddy act together pretty quickly. Robert Llewlyn is still in the role (although with a slightly cheaper-looking costume) so he's just as good as he is before, and he plays off Bierko wonderfully. See, it's reasons like that I think Bierko could fit in to the BBC show even for just one episode!

The mechanoid isn't the source of drama like his first few appearances - there's no tragic feeling of being walled in his role in life or a desire to break his program and gain free will. He enters the show with a sense of humour and an attitude, making snarky and playful comments to Lister regarding his relationship with Kochanski. Although he's absent for a while due to overloading himself while trying to lie, he's almost like Lister's flunky for most of his screen time.

Holly doesn't get a lot of time in the spotlight until after the halfway point, where she serves as exposition regarding the accident and the history of the cat people. She's very different compared to Norman Lovett's very monotone and deadpan performance, but she brings a great energy to the role, having apparently described her take on the character as "happy to be bonkers."

The character does seem to serve only to explain everything; her interactions with the characters is entertaining and very fun, though it does feel limited. She also bookends the show with a quick introduction and possible future stories, though it just comes off as awkward; holdovers from Norman Lovett's monologues just don't work without his dry delivery. She, of course, was played by Jane Leeves and would make it big as Daphne on Frasier, so that's an amusing factoid you can entertain your friends with.

You may have noticed I've been talking about the characters more than the setting or story. That's because, quite simply, the pilot has no time for anything like that. It steamrolls through the bulletpoints of The End to introduce the characters and their basic traits, and keeps on going. Lister and Rimmer barely have three minutes of screen time together before the crew are wiped out, and the latter of the two gets barely any highlight - while Chris Barrie filled the time very nicely and entertainingly in The End while Lister was left to advance the plot, in this he serves little to no purpose. He offers no drama or alternate viewpoint on the events, and seems to exist solely so he can throw in a few snappy one-liners.

In the original, the very reason he was chosen as a hologram over anyone else was due to Holly calculating who the best person was to keep Lister sane, which only resulted in more trouble as he turned out to be a scheming, conniving git. In this one, the only reason he's brought back is because his personality chip was the only one left intact. Series 1 did have all the other hologram discs available and spent a few episodes toying with Rimmer hiding them from Lister, but since the other personalities are destroyed it seems like it's squandering a perfectly good plot for a later episode. But, yeah, it's a pilot, it has to worry about being entertaining now rather than later, so I shouldn't nitpick.

While Frankenstein was the source of an interesting sub-plot throughout the first series of the cat race, their religion, their culture and their untimely extinction, it's trimmed thoroughly for the pilot, and the whole religion and civil war part exists solely so they can all be killed off and the Cat to be the only one left. The Cat is portrayed by dancer Hinton Battle, much like Danny John Jules, and he brings the same kind of attitude and energy to the show - he has the least screen time to work with out of the five main characters, but his brief introduction is fantastic.

His attempt at being defensive is brilliant, him playing with the string is just marvellous, and, honestly, I wish we got to see more of this guy. He doesn't have the critical eye for fashion of the BBC incarnation, and his gimmick of spraying scent on things to claim it as his property is a little overplayed, but I feel if he had been given more material and more time to work with he could've stolen the show quite effectively.

After introducing everyone, it has no choice but for a vague resemblance of plot to spring up again, as future versions of Kryten, Lister, the cat and Kochanski show with a message, but they're too busy talking about other things before they vanish. This encourages Lister to try and get them all back to earth, and quite openly admits they're likely to stumble across weird space things along the way ("maybe we can find parallel universes or time warps, black holes... y'know, space stuff.").

Red Dwarf USA is pretty blunt about emphasising the weird and wonderful elements of the show, as Holly lays out plots for future episodes (using recycled footage from the BBC show) before the credits, all of which feature spaceship shenanigans, monsters exploding and special effects. I can see it needs to do it to sell, but it's a bit of a stark contrast to how the British show started, which was more or less just a slice of life in space.

All in all, Red Dwarf USA is a reasonably entertaining 25 minutes. It's a very different creature from the show we're all so used to by now, obviously because it's aimed at a different cultural audience, but for what it is, it's not that bad. Mind you, I doubt it would have had the strength to support a full season, personally. It's a reasonably decent comedy, if rather unremarkable, but one of the primary reasons I love Red Dwarf and have become such a big buttery nerd regarding the show and its mythos... is because it has soul.

It's not only a well-written comedy, but it's also written to have strong and interesting characters with layers to their personalities, cast in a dark and limitless environment. Its stories can be silly and light-hearted, but it has no qualms focusing on drama, touching upon the bleak setting and the inevitable depression they would have. It explores the ugly side of science and religion, the dark side of their personalities, and the cruel and unpleasant side of human nature.

At its core, Red Dwarf is a story that can be looked at in a variety of ways, and personally, that's why it works so wonderfully for me. It's prime focus is comedy, but without its other elements it would lack what makes it so strong. Retooling the show to focus exclusively on all-purpose situational comedy isn't bad, but given how the show prides itself on strong character writing, it feels a little hollow in comparison.

Despite all that, Red Dwarf USA is a very interesting curiosity, and if anything, I'm glad it exists solely to see an alternate take on the show's premise.

Other commentS

The making of Red Dwarf USA is an interesting one and is talked about in a half-hour feature on the bonus disc of series 5, and is apparently also discussed further in books by Robert Llewellyn though I haven't read them.  There were at least three scripts made, one of which the American cast all admitted was thoroughly shit, and Llewellyn recalls how the readings were full of frighteningly forced laughter from executives.
Doug Naylor recalls his time working on it and overseeing production being rather dreadful, commenting that the writers (Llewellyn claims there were about fourteen people working on it, including folk from Cheers and The Simpsons) were mostly just chipping in with gags and one-liners, but they didn't focus on more fundamental problems such as why Lister is chasing "someone so uptight and kind of dislikable."

The British actors seem to be reasonably favourable to the American show - not to the extent of lovegushing or outright saying it's great, but they do imply that they didn't think it was terrible. Danny hails Hinton Battle as a hero, Craig Charles is envious of the new Lister, and Hattie Hayridge says that although it didn't quite feel like Red Dwarf, it was still entertaining. Despite all the hassle with scripts and his worry about being ensnared in the contract, Robert Llewellyn recalls the experience all rather fondly.

Red Dwarf USA has never gotten an official release and only exists as crummy-quality bootlegs, which is rather unfortunate, as the Dwarfing USA feature (found on the series 5 DVD bonus disc) uses brief instances of DVD-quality footage throughout (which is where all these screenshots come from, bar two), but it's likely caught up in horrible legal hell or something.

NBC promO

\ Summary | Highlights | Review | Other comments /


The NBC promo isn't a fully-formed episode so much as a sampling of material. It begins with a two minute sample of the BBC show (using the 5th series episode Terrorform) before segueing to the main show, which is a black box recording by Lister. This serves as a framing device for him to drop exposition regarding the show's plot and describe incidents with the other characters, depicted with recycled footage (from both the BBC show and the first pilot) and all new footage featuring only Lister, Rimmer and the Cat.


CAT: Are you scared, humie?
LISTER: Scared? Roaming around on the ship somewhere there's an armour-plated genetic mutant who wants to impregnate all of us with his demon seed. Yeah, I got butterflies!

LISTER: You've lived alone since you were four? Didn't you ever get lonely?
CAT: I'm a cat. I don't need anyone. You humans, you're so fixated on relationships. You have sex a couple of times with the same person and you feel like you've got to stay with them until... their teeth drop out.
LISTER: So... you're never going to get involved with anybody, is that it?
CAT: ... no, maybe somebody I'll find the eight or nine guys who are right for me, and then my rambling days will be over.
LISTER: Eight or nine?!
CAT: That is something else that I will never understand, how does a human woman get by with just one man a night? One man! I mean, that's not even enough to get your sweat pores open!


The NBC promo is... hard to talk about in detail, because there's not an awful lot of new material. It's barely got fifteen minutes to work with, and only after the first two and a half minutes are killed with footage from Terrorform do we get the new stuff, and even it begins with an adaptation of the opening Flintstones scene from Backwards.

Craig Bierko returns, but Rimmer (filling in for the Cat with a more disapproving approach to the conversation in the aforementioned scene) is now played by Anthony Fuscle. His hologram symbol is an H again (the first pilot replaced it with a little red dot, which is nigh-impossible to see on the bootleg tape) and he bears a closer resemblance to Chris Barrie, probably thanks to the make-up department.

He looks the part, but what about his acting? Well, he's not bad. He's not going to top Chris Barrie anytime soon, but given the way Rimmer was retooled for the American show, he fits into that niche reasonably well, and he's got some great facial expressions. He doesn't quite have the same condescending tone as Eigeman, but this isn't even a pilot so I can hardly nitpick something like that, can I?

The most interesting part about this promo is clearly the Cat. It's an all new take on the source creature, focusing not on a feline's vanity or self-centred nature, but its fierce independence and the belief they have nine lives. Played fantastically by Terry Farrell, it's a wild new take and basically a whole new character - she's gutsy, fierce, looks down on the humans, and is all action.

Having a female main character should be an astoundingly simple thing to do in a TV show, but the BBC version went for a long time before they brought in Kochanski, who had the unfortunate timing of entering when the most popular character had left, when the writing team was in flux, and her presence derailed the attitudes of all those around her (stick around until the series 7 reviews for a slightly less crap exposÚ on that, hopefully!).

The Cat, meanwhile, works very nicely. She fills the alien role very nicely and is bursting with attitude; naturally Lister tries to make moves on her, but her beliefs on "relationships" effectively squander that, which is what makes her work so well. The BBC version is essentially a lads' show, a big ol' sausage fest where the women are basically there to be lusted over, so having one as a main character would've just distracted the plot because everyone's a horny bugger.

The American show is a bit more sanitized in that aspect (Craig Charles comments that the American pilot is very "clean" and there's no "grunge," both in the visual style and the general humour), there's inevitable sex jokes but the characters aren't necessarily frustrated that, shit, we're three million years into deep space and we've no one to jump bones with!

The Cat fits in very nicely and fills a few roles, being as close to an alien as the plot can get, also being female, but also being tough and independent enough to not get roped into an unnecessary romance plot. It would've been neat to see the BBC Cat and the NBC Cat interacting, but what are the chances?

I can hardly comment on the writing since so much of it is recycled. All of the Cat's dialogue is fun and delivered superbly, and if anything, the brief banter between Lister and Rimmer during the end of the black box segment is amusing. I can't make any profound judgments on how it would've fared if it had gotten a series; it had only a thousand dollars to make the sets (Doug recalls that they were basically working in a garage), a lot of footage is recycled and there's only so much fresh material I can judge from in the crammed fifteen minute slot.

I would definitely have liked to see Terry Farrell's take on the Cat get more screen time, and getting a little more footage of Bierko in action is a treat, but this promo can't quite stand as entertainment by itself. It's a curiosity, but I can't really remark upon it more than that.

Other commentS

Doug Naylor recalls this second attempt being a serious struggle, largely due to the fact it was only a promo and not intended to be broadcast (or stolen and shown at fan conventions, for that matter) and thus was only given a shoestring budget to work with. Not to mention by that point many of the best writers had been reassigned to other shows, so he was left with a smaller and less capable talent pool. He cites that as the reason why the Cat was rewritten and recast, as he simply couldn't find anyone good enough to match Danny or Hinton, regardless of colour or race.
That doesn't stop Craig Charles from commenting about the casting: "It was White Dwarf! The cat was a white woman, Lister was a 6'4" blonde-haired, brown-eyed... sex god."

Chris Barrie was offered the chance to play Rimmer, apparently being told there were no American actors available with low-enough opinions of themselves to play the character. He ultimately declined.

The rights to this promo weren't provided for the Dwarfing USA feature, so what you see here is literally the best footage available. Given the fact it's barely even a presentable "show" for that matter, there's probably even less chance of this being granted an official release.