Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Past Due Reviews: Hyperdrive

Hyperdrive Title

Hyperdrive is no Red Dwarf. Let’s get that out of the way first thing. It was billed as a kind of spiritual heir to Red Dwarf, but it just doesn’t measure up to that lofty standard. Seriously, though, what the hell does? If Mark Twain collaborated with Jane Austen and God to write a sci-fi comedy show, it wouldn't be half as awesome as the first six seasons of Red Dwarf. It might, of course, rival seasons 7 and 8, and let's not speak of the movie. Or the extra season after that.

What the fuck Red Dwarf? Learn to end gracefully.

Anyway, we were talking about Hyperdrive.

The year is 2151. The place is... the galaxy. You know, just the galaxy generally. The ship is the HMS Camden Lock and, as her captain will tell you, she's the pride of the British Space Corps. She's equipped with... several engines; able to achieve velocities of… really, really quite fast; and is armed to the teeth with, uhhh… various armaments, no doubt. You know, lasers probably? I bet some missiles, too. Yes, he definitely remembers seeing a missile tube on level 6. Captaining is about the big picture, you know, not little details.

Hyperdrive HMS Camden Lock

In place of the usual band of valiant yet diplomatic explorers, the crew of the Camden Lock are a bunch of fuckups and psychopaths. Don't expect any daring face-offs with the forces of chaos. Our heroes are more likely to run at the first sign of danger, dropping nukes behind them to slow down their pursuers. Never mind any innocent planets that get in the way—I bet they were radioactive before we even got here.

Hyperdrive Captain HendersonCaptain Henderson (Nick Frost,) commander of the Camden Lock, is a salt of the Earth sort of officer who rose through the Space Corps from the rank of cadet. He’s a gristled veteran who, when faced with insurmountable odds, bravely goes to his quarters and has a good cry. Hey, it's a coping mechanism. The best captains know how to cope.

Hyperdrive First Officer YorkFirst Officer York (Kevin Eldon) is the fearless second-in-command. Fearless, mind you. York has no fear for his own safety, and certainly none for the safety of others. Nor does he have any mercy, nor a perceptible quantity of decency. He’s your classic "Nuke First, Shout Questions at the Rubble Later" sort of guy.
Hyperdrive Chloe Teal
Fortunately, Space Corps has assigned a diplomatic officer to Camden Lock, to balance out the violent tendencies of the XO. Unfortunately, that diplomatic officer is Chloe Teal (Miranda Hart,) whose chief qualifications are a creepy horse fetish and a crush on the captain. There are doors on board the Camden Lock that would make better diplomats than Teal. No, seriously, there really are.

Rounding out the crew are Karl “Jeffers” Jeffers (Dan Antopolski,) the stoner tech officer; Navigator Vine (Stephen Evans,) the pushover git; and Sandstrom (Petra Massey,) the cyborg conn officer who let the Space Corps reformat her frontal lobes in exchange for a promise to pay off her college debt.

Hyperdrive Jeffers Vine Sandstrom
Jeffers, Vine, and Sandstrom
And, of course, Space Marshal Stewart Clarke (Paterson Joseph) bravely leads them all... from about twenty parsecs behind the front lines.

Hyperdrive Space Marshal Stewart Clarke

None of them are likable people. Their character flaws are deep, terrifying, and not at all of the "cute little foible" variety. Nevertheless, they'll snuggle up to your heart like an old dog that you love dearly, despite its stupidity, flatulence, and the fact that it once bit off your boyfriend's thumb.

The mood of the show takes Star Trek and gives it a self-effacing, post-imperial British twist. Instead of finding new worlds, they’re playing second fiddle to the Dutch Navy's drug interdiction patrols. Instead of boldly going where no one has gone before, they're backing away slowly and whistling. Instead of seeking out new civilizations, they’re revisiting the same old civilizations, and asking them to please relocate their businesses to an industrial park in Peterborough (it has lovely cafes and a farmers’ market on Saturdays.)

Hyperdrive: To Protect Britain's interests in a changing galaxy.

The comedy is mostly character and situational humor, with less emphasis on wordplay and witticism. Consequently, it might feel a bit slow, depending on your tastes. Hyperspace doesn’t abide by the rapid-fire, 3 to 6 jokes per minute pace you find in recent American and British sitcoms. This show likes to let a joke linger and build up a good head of steam before delivery. The humor is not terribly risky, either. Scorn is heaped only on items from the Approved List of Mockable TopicsTM, like yoga and British Unexceptionalism. So, if you're a comedy connoisseur, you'll run into several tired old groaners per episode. Still, the majority of the humor is original and quite solid.

Hyperdrive Camden Lock in orbit

The plotting is exceptional. While the core premise of each episode is usually very derivative, writers Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley take those worn-out sci-fi tropes and put a creative spin on them that’s reminiscent of the middle seasons of Red Dwarf. They play with genre expectations on every level, from plot progression, to technobabble, to the hilarious gallery of aliens. The more sci-fi you've consumed, the more you'll appreciate these wicked deviations from the ordinary.

Hyperdrive I mean, is there anything wrong with my genitals?

Although Hyperdrive is one of my personal favorites, you can probably guess that it’s not for everyone. In particular, the indignities suffered by the characters can be truly cringe-worthy. So if you're one of those people who suffer from Secondhand Embarrassment Syndrome, you may want to steer clear. But if you have a stomach for seeing your beloved characters in hideously embarrassing situations, a love for science fiction, and a willingness to keep your expectations to reasonable levels, I think you'll like Hyperdrive.

That's why I'm giving this show five contemplative chimpanzees and a rating of: Try It, You Might Like It

Five chimpanzees
Try It, You Might Like It
My recommendation: If you like science fiction or British humor, definitely try it out. Even if you're not a huge fan of these genres, consider giving it a chance. The tone and writing is pretty consistent throughout the series and there are no major plot arcs running between episodes, so don't worry about watching it in order. Watch an episode or two from either of Hyperdrive's two seasons, and you'll know soon enough if you're a fan.

The Hyperdrive DVD set is region-2 only, so American viewers are out of luck if they don't have a region-2 DVD player. But bloody yanks can still enjoy Hyperdrive in 4:3 standard definition on Netflix Streaming, and standard definition widescreen on Amazon Instant Video. As always, I receive no commissions or kickbacks when you follow those links, so you know you can count on my commie objectivity. Also note that, at the time of this writing, Amazon has the second season episodes in the wrong order, they've mixed up the titles, and the first episode (the one listed last) of season 2 isn't available for purchase.

Oh, Amazon.


  1. Huzzah, someone else actually knows of this show. I used to watch it on night shifts. It was good but not a worthy heir the the crimson short one. Why oh why didn't it end at series 6? I blame whoever smoked that last kipper.

    1. It's an abject lesson in kipper smoking. Once the kipper is smoked, stop smoking the kipper.


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