Is Other Space the long-awaited USA answer to “Red Dwarf”? If you’re in the USA, you’re probably saying “Red Dwarf?”
I’ll spare you my whole rant about American reboots of British masterpieces and an answer to the Red Dwarf USA question which I have mercifully placed at the end of this review.
First things first–Other Space is a bit tricky to find, and what’s the point of a review if you can’t even find the program in question?
How to watch Other Space
You’d think this question had already been answered, and indeed, it’s still the best way to find the program. The tl;dr of the linked post is this: go directly to the show’s tumblr. But–that only works to watch on a computer. If you want to watch it on your TV using Roku, there is a way.
If you have a Roku player, just add the Yahoo channel. It’s free, and Other Space plays ad-free. This is because the rights have reverted back to Paul Feig and I guess he doesn’t like money?
Speaking of ads, do NOT fall into the trap of watching from Dailymotion, which plays ads about every 2 minutes.
But the Roku Yahoo channel is also a little annoying. The search function within the Yahoo channel leaves much to be desired. I used the regular Roku search function to find individual episodes because Yahoo channel does not properly index all the episodes and it not only fails to put the few indexed episodes in order, it also mixes in completely irrelevant content in the search results.
(You can skip this paragraph because it’s just a rant about Yahoo but I didn’t cut it because some things just need to be said.) It just goes to show how much Yahoo has half-a**ed everything. They had Community and Other Space, but failed to streamline the user experience. For a so-called search engine that fancies itself as a content provider, it’s a massive fail. (You had ONE job to do!) If you’re going to make something, make it easy to find! That’s kind of THE POINT of search engines–make the stuff you’re searching for EASY to find! And don’t drop it after a season. Anyway, this is not intended to be my rant on Yahoo. It’s my review of Other Space, and I have ONE job to do. So…
Review of Other Space
First of all, I love the fact that the whole mission is based on a PR move because everybody got tired of space because after 50 years of exploring space because all they found was dust and rocks. No wonder they named it UMP (Universal Mapping Project). It certainly lacks the enthusiasm of “Starfleet” or “Federation”.
Other Space has misfits, awkwardness, and crew members from MST3K. If you liked MST3K, Community, Galaxy Quest, Futurama, and The Orville, Other Space will be right up your alley.
Other Space had a good start, and was just starting to hit its stride. I feel that most programs need at least 3 to 5 episodes to get established. Sometimes, it takes a whole season. This program only got 8 episodes that last less than half an hour each.
I don’t care how nerdy this make me look, but with the runtimes of all episodes, it comes out to only 3 hours, 31 minutes, and 38 seconds. This is not enough Other Space! Just like Community, it was plagued by lack of funding and studio support. It never had a chance to build an audience. I didn’t even get around to watching it until about 3 years after its premature end.
I regret to say it’s more likely Collarballs will replace neckties before we see more Other Space.
Spoiler warning: from this point forward, it’s all spoilers.
Episode 1: “Into the Great Beyond…Beyond”
Instead of eating an apple (as in the Kobayashi Maru simulation of the 2009 Star Trek reboot), Episode 1 begins with Stuart eating a hotdog. His mission is to blow up an asteroid. I guess that comes in handy for a captain who can only hope to run into asteroids instead of rescue missions and thrilling standoffs in “neutral zones” with battles between bitter rivals.
The ship’s computer is the logical conclusion of women’s voices as the stand-in for technology; Natasha, an attractive female bot created by the Hooters Casino Space Shuttle, sold to UMP in a package deal along with some elliptical machines, was installed to inspire the captain to perform his best (to impress her), but not so sultry he can’t concentrate on his duties.
7 minutes in, and we are introduced to Kent Woolworth, a self-described nepotism hire. He’s the first baby born on Mars…or is he? He’s on the ship because his mother (Helen Woolworth, chairwoman of UMP) wanted to use his room for a pilates studio. He turns out to be a capable crew member, so he doesn’t fit the classic description of nepotism (which is when an incapable person is promoted due to being a family member of someone in charge).
Zalien, The spaced-out engineer, a “fudge-eating long-haired hippie” who has experienced way too much radiation (that rots the part of your brain that feels pain), was tasked with the duty of replacing the ship’s 35 year-old food banks. He instead brought along a shipment of fudge. Defending his position, he informs the crew it is a “superfood” because he hasn’t peed in a decade.
He brought another thing that wasn’t on the ship’s manifest; his buddy A.R.T. (THE Howard Barnes, the inventor of Smart Pillows!), a stowaway “riding the intergalactic rails, like the space robots of yore” with the consciousness of a billionaire. So, why is his consciousness tooling around in a 1980s bargain-bin body? He sunk all his money into immortality robots, and in a proof-of-concept marketing ploy, had his body publicity burned after uploading his brain waves.
They hit a rupture in space through which they can explore “Other Space” which is convenient since outer space has been a bit of a disappointment. Unfortunately, they’re trapped there.
Any fans of H2G2 will be reminded of the Improbability Drive as they all flashed to previous versions of themselves (in this case, the baby version). Even the ship’s computer briefly reverted to Pong.
In a plot twist in which everyone gets their greatest wish fulfilled (similar to the TNG episode “Where No One Has Gone Before”), the engineer finds a tuna sandwich on the floor. (Since he is a fudge-eating long-haired hippie, you’d think his fantasy would be fudge or some other confection, but maybe not, since the ship is now fully stocked with fudge.)
This wish fulfillment shows that although the sister would be a better captain, her ambition could imperil the crew. Stuart has 2 things going for him–his heart is in the right place, and he seems to be able to skate by on sheer, dumb luck. That same combination returns to get them out of danger in the last episode.
Episode 2: “Getting to know you”
They’ve only been on their mission for 13 hours, and due to the many threats to the crews’ lives:
- Future attacks from spatial anomalies
- An all-fudge diet which will lead to death within a matter of weeks. Rampant sores, hallucinations, and in an last-ditch attempt to survive, their own bodies will attempt to digest their own teeth.
- Possible loss of hull integrity
- Risk of unknown pathogens
- The crew’s collective lack of training
…the captain is required to show a video, UMP’s chipper training video to handle a no-win, fatal predicament, “Die Like A Winner.” (A little foreshadowing, Michael is particularly squeamish about the “How to sever your own limbs” segment which is even funnier considering what happens to him in Episode 4.)
A food replicator has been found. However, it only makes food in pill form. By the end of the episode, it gets combined with the captain’s steam room parts, to hydrate the food.
Evidence of an alien invader has been discovered. The crew members are interrogated, one by one, until the alien is found. A.R.T. suspects Karen. Even her name sounds suspiciously like “alien”.
“Kaaaaaren…aaaaalien…you hear it… Zalien, you hear it, right?” –A.R.T.
I don’t care how many times this trope has been done, when it’s done right, it’s an excellent way to explore characters.
Funny that the crew is being informed that an all-fudge diet would be a danger, when Zalien has subsisted on it for years. You’d think that would make him suspect #1–even his name is “Zalien”!
It’s obvious that Dave Franco’s character Chad is the alien; having been found at the end of the first episode below decks. Everyone’s memories of him are not only too fond, they’re the same impossible memory of an event that could not have taken place in the last 50 years.
Being handsome and quoting Matthew McConaughey can get you far–all the way out of the airlock–once the quotes become too noticeable.
The “Spot the Impostor” trope (especially convenient for shape-shifters) usually involves implanting fake memories, hiding as pleasant memories as not to raise suspicion. Somebody ought to tell those aliens this technique rarely provides cover beyond the last commercial break. (Kieran MacDuff learned this the hard way.)
The Rick and Morty episode “Total Rickall” made excellent use of this trope in a comedic and and meaningful way–only unpleasant memories revealed who is real. It worked out well for everyone but one ridiculously named character whose only flaw was being so good that no one had bad memories of him.
Episode 3: “The Death of A.R.T.”
A.R.T. sacrifices himself, saving the ship–having put the ship in danger by showing off in the first place.
Just when you think A.R.T. is lost and gone forever, Zalien opens a crate to reveal another A.R.T.. (Zalien is played by Joel Hodgson, who plays Joel Robinson MST3K, so naturally, he would want to keep a backup of A.R.T. , played by Trace Belieu, who plays Crow T. Robot and Dr. Clayton Forrester and others on MST3K.) In other programs, such a lack of reverence for life would have cheapened it; making every mission low-stakes and difficult to care about characters. Somehow, it’s hard not to yell Noooo! When Karen whips out a laser pistol and zaps the new model of A.R.T.. Tina was so hip to kill in Episode 2 it’s a little surprising this was done by Karen instead.
Episode 4: “Ted Talks”
It has nothing to do with TED Talks.
Zalien and A.R.T. figure out the ship was originally built to be an MTV reality show, with multiple hidden cameras.
A hidden cryogenically frozen cast member was also found (in case they do a reunion). This put a new twist in an unrequited crush/crush just got dumped by long-distance romantic partner/shortage of bangable crew members.
Having a girl’s night to console a crewmate after being dumped because she’s the only one who can retrieve the only available fuel in the universe is a new take on the “Ticking Clock” trope.
The fake Randy Newman song for a made-up Pixar movie was quite convincing. “Boys are people, too!” My husband actually walked into the room asking if I was watching a Pixar movie.
Episode 5: “Trouble’s Brewing”
The least human of the crew members rebel as Kent (a clone raised for body parts), Natasha, the ship’s computer, and A.R.T. stage an uprising. Capitalism rears its ugly head as the ship has begun to charge crew members for food ($40 for a cup of coffee?). To compensate, the captain gave the engineer a raise, then he can’t get him to work because he’s now retired, having received a $1,000,000 bonus.
Laws of capitalism eventually work in their favor, as the robot uprising is thwarted–Zalien swipes his card and demands the new captain (a repurposed coffee maker) produce 40,000 coffees using the first law of robotics–”The customer is always right”.
Earlier scenes with the rogue coffee maker’s use of a laser pistol proved none of Asimov’s Three Laws are a part of his programming.
The storyline of 2 characters who fall in love after being stranded together followed a predictable trajectory, but when time dilation turned their 6 minute mission into 8 months, their patience expired. The robot uprising delayed their return; the bloom was off the rose by the time a few extra minutes had passed on board the ship, which translated into months. Not soon enough to save the leg of Michael from a bloodthirsty (and hungry) Tina.
Episode 6: “Powerless”
A space storm interrupts the ship’s power systems, making the use of power dangerous, attracting lighting to the ship.
Anyone trying to kick the habit of electronics will identify with Tina and Michael’s difficulties in refraining from the use of modern conveniences. No hard feelings, apparently, as Tina ate Michael’s leg in the previous episode and the power rationing means he can’t operate his replacement.
Young ‘uns–they can’t even read emojis anymore, can’t stand drinking from cups that don’t talk, and can’t steer a ship without buttons.
I admit I was distracted and found it difficult to remain interested the first time around because the ship’s computer, Natasha, became infantilized due to power loss, and impossibly gorgeous women acting like children is such an annoying trope I struggle to keep my eyes from rolling back into my head. It was an old, tired out trope in “The Fifth Element” and decades later, it’s even stupider. I’ve been calling beautiful women portrayed in this way a “Leeloo”. It’s know somewhat unofficially as “Born Sexy Yesterday” The sci-fi version of a MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl).
Tina babbling in her native Uzbek also reminded me a bit too much of Leeloo for one episode, but it does make a good point that if the Universal Translator “AutoTranslate” works so well, learning other languages would be unnecessary instead of a sign of laziness.
A.R.T. dying, as Karen said “so often that it isn’t funny anymore”, makes me wonder if it eventually would be the point of an episode, in a season that will unfortunately never happen. After seeing Black Mirror’s use of the “cookie”, a mental copy which has sentience, and continues to get even darker from “White Christmas” to “Black Museum”. Perhaps just a coincidence with titles, but this theme of sentient mental copies being tortured has gone so dark it’s worrying how much further they can take it. A.R.T. gets uploaded into a new body every time he loses another, so there are a finite number of A.R.T.s and at some point, the uploading will include some PTSD–unless he can delete that part.
Restoration of power comes right on time before everybody snaps, and a new way home is found. Natasha’s reboot did not wipe her memories of Kent, so their budding romance begins to develop right on time…for the series to end.
Episode 7: “First Contact”
Communicating with aliens telepathically, but only through dreams, might not be a common plot line (But I can name 2 such episodes in Star Trek. OK here goes my nerd cred–TNG’s “Night Terrors” and VOY’s “Waking Moments”.) Being able to communicate only during erotic dreams adds an extra kink into the story. Stimulating the brain in such a way has been done–on TNG as an excuse to save money by doing a clip show (pretty wild of TNG to do a look back when they were only in season 1).
In the search for something to stimulate erotic dreams, Stuart goes to Zalien, who predictably feigns innocence. The whole “What? Me? Drugs?” thing wore off rather quickly. Easy enough to break through his defenses; Zalien doesn’t even recognize his own captain in uniform standing right in front of him. (Is this what an all-fudge diet does?)
A cute nod to the 80s–his stash has New Cocaine and Cocaine Classic.
In finding out just how thin the walls are (the fact they’re still alive is CRAZY), a fight between Karen and Michael is overhead. The incident of Karen striking Michael going to arbitration is nice to see. Abusing an underling is wrong, and sweeping it under the rug if it’s a female perpetrator is wrong.
In his zeal for first contact, Stuart played the recording of his dream, which included a crew member. Yikes!
Episode 8: “Finale”
Stuart decides to board the alien ship, despite the fact that he is unlikely to return since the rupture in space will be sealed.
The alien’s ship being covered in spit was reminiscent of the X-Files character Eugene Victor Tooms, who creates a cocoon of paper and spit.
It’s a rather sketchy alien–spying on them and stealing their fuel. Maybe spitting into, and drinking from that box is totally normal. Like the way a cow chews its cud. And why wouldn’t an alien make use of the ship’s video feed? In Star Trek, The Federation used cloaked “duck blinds” to observe pre-warp societies (“Who watches the Watchers”,”Insurrection”, and any of a number of other times not mentioned–someone must have put together a report before the events of “First Contact”). Having found the remains of Michael’s leg (the boot and bones Tina didn’t eat), the most prudent course of action would be to observe from a distance. And if they have a video feed of all their behaviors, why not use it? And if they have all that extra fuel it’s safer to take it if the jury’s still out. Engaging in cannibalism tends to be the line that is crossed to mark one as a “savage”.
To establish the Natasha/Kent romance, an Italian restaurant was replicated and Tina volunteered her body with disastrous consequences, as Zalien explained: “Real girl is fake girl’s date body, fake girl puts shrimp in real girl, real girl goes into allergic shock. Its an old story.”
Stuart’s luck saves the crew–an excellent callback to his established character trait. Not being aboard the alien ship and not following it kept the ship from being blown up by an even worse alien from the 3rd universe that connected in the rift.
The alien, after showing the footage of the reality show (she?) edited, possibly to show her understanding of the crew, turned out to have stowed away on the UMP ship and announced she, and the UMP crew are being hunted. An interesting cliffhanger for what was hopefully planned for season 2.
Could this be “Red Dwarf USA”?
Unfortunately, Other Space’s short run may be the one thing that is most like a British TV show.
Similarities between Red Dwarf and Other Space are based in a blend of humor and sci-fi which is far less common than sci-fi’s far more dramatic take on issues. Star Trek and the like can have humorous moments, but wouldn’t be filed under comedy. The irreverence for the seriousness normally seen in sci-fi programs along with a crew of misfits (in this case, the best UMP, the Universal Mapping Project, had to offer) stranded far from home, makes it one of the closer attempts American entertainment has come to Red Dwarf.
Red Dwarf’s charm was at least partly based on the “Odd Couple” dynamic between Dave Lister and Arnold “Goal-post head” Rimmer. Some of the British humor just doesn’t translate well to an American audience since British humor is far superior to mainstream American entertainment. This is why television series like Community (also by the same creator of Other Space, and also died on Yahoo) and Arrested Development are always struggling. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia expertly uses dark humor, and the reason it survived so many seasons is probably because it was a big fish on a small network. And The Big Bang Theory, a mainstream program on a big network, continues to have mildly amusing season after season. It’s not that American entertainment is not as good, it’s the “mainstream” part. Big networks have big budgets and they hedge their bets by appealing to the lowest common denominator.
So to answer the question, no. I wouldn’t call this Red Dwarf USA. It’s a good program and it’s good at being its own thing.
We’re just going to pretend the failed “Red Dwarf USA” pilots never happened, OK?