Set Report: Series XII – Recording 2 (5th February 2016)

With the episodes recorded so far in both Series XI and XII, we have been presented with a variety of stories, guest stars, locations and more that have surprised and been memorable. This was no less true of this weeks recording for the second episode of Series XII, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect.

For our thoughts and opinions from the recording, you can find our spoiler free set report below. If you would rather listen to an audio version, you can find one on the latest edition of Channel 27 News on our own podcast, The Garbage Podcast.

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[DISCLAIMER: This is a spoiler free set report on the recording for episode 2 of Series XII. As per our spoiler policy, it will not mention any details on plot or dialogue, and no elaborate descriptions of any sets will be provided. Only where sets or other details details have been revealed publicly by Doug, the cast or the production will any details in included in this report.]

[FURTHER DISCLAIMER: Followers of ourselves and DoP Ed Moore on Twitter may have noticed the following conversation:

Well while there have certainly been *some* pictures, there’s perhaps not enough to fill out this report. So, true to our word, the below features a combination of photos from cast and crew along with highly detailed artistic renderings that should prove indistinguishable from the real thing.]

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With previous set reports, we have attempted to analyse the episode in question overall, rather than working through the recording chronologically. This week however, due to the way the recording played out, we’ll need to go back on this and work through step by step. Consequently, let’s start with the opening scene, which was a played in VT that was clearly recorded earlier in the week, which was then followed by a scene on a regular set. Both scenes contained good laughs and were to my mind a strong start to the episode. It’s also worth pointing out that as with the previous adjustments to sets we mentioned last week, it appears that there may have been a change to the lighting to one of the sets, with it appearing to have less of a colour wash than in previous episodes, and looking a lot better for it.

The next scene meanwhile presented the first surprise of the evening, with filming moving to a new set, which expanded on another set. To detail too much about this verges too far into spoiler territory, suffice to say that the set itself and the way it was filmed was a surprise. Not in any way a negative, just a surprise, but one that the eagle eyed viewer will easily find an explanation for on close examination of the set.

From this point on, things take an odd turn. The next location instantly indicates this in a variety of ways, the strangeness of which is briefly broken by the realisation that there is an in joke referencing a member of the production and a vague similarity to an idea in a Red Dwarf associated project, if not Red Dwarf itself. The strangeness instantly returns however, first to a small degree with a guest actor appearing on a  VT and then to a considerable degree with the entrance of the first on-set guest actor of the night.

On seeing this, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in reacting with thoughts of ‘what in the name of all that’s holy’ and turning to look for the reactions from the rest of the audience sat around me. Clearly this is on purpose of course, but it certainly set me on edge at the time, and this wouldn’t wear off for several scenes. As with the prior talk about a set having a justification within the plot, these elements also all have a logical justification, but it certainly pushes at the edge of what fits and what is utterly bizarre. It’s almost like taking a psychedelic brush to the show in various senses, and it’s the unexpected nature of this that was perhaps more surprising than it’s inclusion.

 

Because it’s out of the ordinary for Red Dwarf, it gave me a worrying sense that perhaps we would be moving into a territory that might potentially cause offence, largely revolving around the way that one guest actor played their role and what that potentially meant. Fortunately, these fears proved to be unfounded, but it was a tense scene waiting to find out. It soon settles down in this regard though, and while this isn’t a problem, my concerns moved rightly or wrongly to whether the plot was moving quickly enough.

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This was perhaps however caused more than anything by the fact that scenes were taking a long time to get through, and as they were obscured from the audience’s view, it made this feel even longer. More on this latter, but suffice to say  it sapped some of the energy out of the room by the time we moved to the next scenes, returning to one of a few small guest sets for this episode that I’m fairly certain was a redress of a set used in episode 3 of XI. What was required was a real energy boost to perk the audience back up again enough to push them through the next few scenes.

When this came, it was in an unexpected form. Regular readers will have seen our comments in last week’s set report that there was a surprising guest star that should be reasonable recognisable by a general TV audience. This was again the case in this episode, with an actor that will likely be even more well known by a general TV audience, and this time for more than their comedy work. The guest star in question has previously stated their love of the show, and to be involved was clearly a thrill for them, and as they themselves said when they came out to speak to the audience, ‘one to tick off the bucket list’.

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The energy notably lifted from this point on, and the main cast also bounced well off of the guest actor, with amusing interplay both in the scenes and in the smeg ups. As with the best guest actors in the show, their performance grew over multiple takes, and in one particular scene, it was their final take that got the biggest laugh of what must have been at least 5 takes. Even more notably though, it was the kind of role that with a different actor could have been a small part, but with this particular guest star, it becomes a highlight, and there really isn’t any more that you can ask for than that.

From here on in, the episode cements itself in what part of the plot it wants to deal with, and there’s some genuinely great stuff that follows it. One scene in particular on a once again redressed science room suddenly swings into character examination without warning, but in a humorous way with some great lines. How this then develops is perhaps brief, but unexpected, and this is to the episodes credit. While I may have had earlier reservations about the episode, by the time we reach this scene I’m perfectly comfortable with the point that has been reached.

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If it sounds like I am being slightly coy in my assessment though, it’s with good reason. It’s very hard to provide a balanced summation of the episode from what the audience saw at the recording, and while it will be something I’ll mull over for a while, a true opinion on the show is something I’ll likely not form until airing. That’s partly due to the aforementioned retakes, which seemed a much longer process this time around, and in my experience will always cloud judgement. However, there were other elements at play that had a bearing on this, and one of them was rather unpleasant

With most of the scenes being filmed on the night taking place on the guest sets at the side of the studio, it meant that for the vast majority of the recording, the cast were completely out of sight of the audience. In fact, after a roughly 7pm start, it wasn’t until 9:50pm that a scene was filmed in front of the audience. This combined with various technical issues through the night, the need for multiple retakes and the time required to move from set to set meant that often he audience would see a scene on the monitors and then have a wait until the monitors would show the camera output again. There is no question to my mind that this had an effect upon the audience and the fact that they seemed quieter was in my mind obviously linked.

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However the real thing that affected my enjoyment of the episode wasn’t anything to do with the plot, the performances, or indeed the technical difficulties that produced these long gaps, and the actual reason saddens me. As per Series XI, warm up duties were for this episode dealt with by James Farmer in the absence of Ray Peacock. Considering the set up previously mentioned, it was as you can imagine a difficult task from the start given that there would be long periods with nothing happening in front of the audience or indeed James. We’ve talked before about the how warm up can at times be a hugely difficult, and this recording’s set up was one of the most difficult I’ve seen a comedian tackle.

Furthermore, warm up acts are often subject to some of the more persistent hecklers, a subject which coincidentally is discussed in depth by Ray Peacock on the latest edition of Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast released this week. How ironic then, that one of the most notable elements of tonight’s recording was what was tantamount to the bullying of the warm up act. It’s frankly a subject that I don’t want to go into the exact details of, as some of the comments being made and the things being shouted out showed behaviour that bordered on the disgraceful, and was totally unacceptable at a recording of this show or any other.

To those who participated in this repeatedly throughout the recording, I hope that shame is something that will follow with the morning’s hangover, and a sense of common decency might prevail that allows for some fleeting memory that the person holding the microphone is still a human being and that an audience recording is not the equivalent of a football match where you can regularly throw out your advice or criticism, no matter how funny you may think you are.

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Unpleasantness aside, let’s try and reach some kind of assessment of the episode. I cannot in all honesty name an episode I think that this one is akin to, as while one plot element later in the episode could be said to be vaguely related to something in Series V, the fact is that the way the plot is dealt with is not really like anything that has been in the show before. It’s a very purposeful decision to do it this way, and I think ultimately it works, but I would be lying if I said that the journey to get there doesn’t have it’s moments of uncertainty.

If I therefore had to try and find a criticism to boil down to, it’s that some of the central idea of the plot potentially gets overtaken by the style it is presented in early on in the episode and before the big guest star appears. In this regard, it’s similar to episode three of Series XI, where the episode seemed to properly find it’s feet in the second half. Overall, it’s probably roughly on par with that episode, but is perhaps more likely to vary in peoples preference list than that episode.

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In truth, on walking out of the recording I had a view on the episode, when travelling home I had another, and in writing this I find myself once again trying to re-assess the whole. On reflection, I think the episode is stronger than I gave it credit for than upon my exit, but the combination of the tough recording, the sour atmosphere and the sheer concern that lingered over a few scenes before being thankfully proved unfounded did colour the way I viewed the episode during the recording, and I think this is why looking back I find my opinion raising as I remember moments, dialogue and some great performances. Consequently the end result still remains in many ways as much of a mystery to me as it will to those of you reading it that weren’t at the recording, and in many ways it will make it all the more interesting to see the finished product.

If you enjoyed this spoiler free set report and would like to read more from Series XII or XI, then you can find one for every episode in our features section.