Hyperdrive (TV, 2007)
I really wanted to love Hyperdrive. There was so much that was good about but… Read this review from Death Ray 5 of series two to see what I thought.
Director: John Henderson
Writers: Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley
Starring: Nick Frost, Kevin Eldon, Miranda Hart
Hyperdrive is back for a surprise second season. Surprise because it didn’t do brilliantly well last time around and, well, genial as it is, what on earth is it trying to do?
This is push-me pull-you TV. It’s pitched as an SF comedy, but does not excel on either account. It is neither hilarious or full of adventure. To explain why, I’m afraid we’re going to have compare Hyperdrive to Red Dwarf.
Our comparison is: Basically, Red Dwarf was a successful sitcom, and Hyperdrive isn’t.
British situation comedy needs its situation – a closed environment where the real world cannot intrude. This environment might seem part of a larger world, but in reality all incidences of outsiders coming into it are carefully controlled by the writers.
This situation needs to be closed because the characters are such overblown caricatures that they appear unbelievable when presented against reality. Anywhere where lots of people mill about – schools, hospitals and heavily staffed spaceships, for example – often do not work as sitcom environments (there are exceptions, naturally). Rimmer and Lister could be as ridiculous as they were because they were alone. In Hyperdrive, Commander Henderson has an important job so he has to be halfway competent. This is not funny at all. On the other hand, this is a comedy, so he has to have larger than life flaws, but the SF situation demands he be only halfway incompetent. This is not funny enough.
Red Dwarf obeyed the rules of sitcom to the letter. This solid foundation can have anything built on it, and Grant and Naylor chose SF of sometimes bold complexity. Of course, the SF situation, as the situation in every sitcom does, also informed the stories and helped provide the gags, but Red Dwarf was principally amusing because it featured a set of characters who mutually annoyed one another stuck in a small space, not because it was set in outer space.
In Hyperdrive SF and comedy are intermingled from the concept up. Its SF demands an intrusive world of some reality, it demands that we understand the Star Trek-like setting before we can get the jokes. It needs characters who are capable of obeying orders. These are all barriers to humour.
The show casts Britain as a failure, an incompetence riddled, small-minded bureaucracy staffed by people who look like they’d much rather being doing something – anything – else. Here are Brits as Napoleon’s nation of shopkeepers, petty, milky tea drinkers all. This is a barrier to SF.
And this is the crux of the matter. Hyperdrive very obviously comes from a long tradition of BBC sitcom. But its concept is not a good fit for a sitcom, and it has tried too hard to create over the top characters to fit this mould to succeed as non-situational comedy. Crucially, even if Hyperdrive were somehow to embrace its convictions and try to be ideas-driven comedy like Hitchhikers, its universe is too kind and well-ordered. These problems were prevalent in the previous series, and are here still.
It’s a shame, because there are a lot of things to like. Great performances, some good ideas, imaginative costumes (someone here has a serious red latex fetish) good special effects… and it is gently amusing.
But Hyperdrive is very much like the Britain it portrays – pleasant, but a bit confused and, ultimately, mediocre.