Why Rimmer Is Such a Great Character

I've been rewatching Red Dwarf recently and have been reminded, once again, what a truly awesome show it is! It is a surprisingly low-budget sitcom with only three (later five) main characters. Of those characters, it is easy to like Lister and the Cat, but I have always had a soft spot for Rimmer, played by Chris Barrie. Here are my reasons:

1. Rimmer has great lines.

This is a very British approach to comedy. The British, more so than us earnest Americans, allow their "smegheads" to be more than just the dupes of the show. The "smeghead" in British sitcoms is often the holder of sarcasm, the rude character who speaks the truth. He is Becker, only, unlike Becker, he isn't the hero of the piece. (One U.S. example is Family Ties where Alex, who is always proved wrong by his so-called enlightened parents, nevertheless has most of the good lines.)

2. Rimmer is unhappy.

The writers make it clear that Rimmer has decided to be miserable. Non-misery creates extreme dissonance in Rimmer's brain. He has constructed a story to explain away all goodness in his life, and he accepts nothing that doesn't jive with this story.

He has also, the writers make clear, had a more stable upbringing than either Lister or the Cat. He has even had more opportunities than Arnold "Ace" Rimmer. Rimmer has literally and figuratively created his own hell.

Yet he remains a pathetic character. His upbringing, however stable, was nothing to write home about--ha ha. And he is truly unhappy. I think this is one of the smartest characterizations on the show. Rimmer's obnoxiousness is grounded in real unhappiness, rather than intrinsic horribleness. Two of the most continuously sweet (but unstated) aspects of the show are that Rimmer and Lister continue to sleep in their original assigned quarters (yes, I know this is largely due to the show's expense budget, but it makes psychological sense) and that Lister never does replace Rimmer with a different hologram. They accept each other as what they are, no matter how annoying. In "Justice," Lister admits that although Rimmer has no friends, Lister cares what happens to him, and Rimmer, who would never be so honest, depends on that emotional support.

3. Rimmer is a good counter to Lister.

Lister is the moral center of the show, but he is also lazy and slobbish. In "The Inquisitor," Lister judges himself the hardest since he has the most potential and knows that he doesn't live up to it.

Lister's live-and-let-live policy is very relaxing, but every so often, this makes him miss the obvious. In "Thanks for the Memory," Lister gives Rimmer the memory of being in love. He gives Rimmer the memory of one of Lister's relationships. Rimmer immediately recognizes the worth of the relationship, something that Lister had shrugged off (I was young, I was playing the field--"I thought that?" Rimmer responds. "I must have been mad. She was great, and she thought I was great.").

Lister does take the moral high ground as he argues that Rimmer (and Lister himself) should retain the memory since it is better to have lived and loved, etc. etc. However, and this is why Lister remains the character all the other characters rely on, he respects Rimmer's insistence that the memories be removed. Rimmer's insistence that the memories be removed takes us back to point 2. Sure, Rimmer is wrong, but which of us hasn't wished (a la Willow in "Something Blue") to simply remove our heart ache, like an appendix? How many of our true fears and attitudes does Rimmer vocalize?

Red Dwarf always astonishes me. The individual episodes are so fundamentally simply, and yet, the psychology could keep a person talking for years.

No comments: