For me the first episode wasn't that good at all. It just wasn't funny. The most amusing part was the Cat's diving costume. Instead we had what appeared to be quite high end special effects which just looked completely out of place. At times the odd thing looked good, like the rememberance garden, but for the most part it just made everything look too shiny and clean and just not Red Dwarf. I think I'm amongst a number of people who hate the overuse of CGI in programmes - usually cos it attempts to cover up a poor plot.
And thats before we get into them re-using gags from old series too. And I also wonder whether the lack of a studio audience (all but series 7 had one) had any impact on it, I feel that the actors timing might have been better with it and they might have come up with some funny bits too. I felt that the episode wasn't horrible, but I can't think of anything good to say about it.
Fortunately the next two episodes were better. I guess the whole TV characters realising that they are TV characters has been done before, but I thought it wasn't done too badly. More to the point I actually laughed during those episodes. They still weren't as good as classic Red Dwarf shows though, one of the main problems was that everything just seemed a little overdone, amusing things went on so long that they weren't as funny as they would have been if they had ended sooner, either that or they appeared to obviously have been borrowed from earlier series (the main exception I can think of is where Sophia Winklemans character explains how it is ethical to kill holograms like she plans to do to Rimmer and he promptly pushes her in front of a moving vehicle). The episodes weren't like you could hate them, but someone could and should have done something better with them.
But what I do want to address is some of the comments made by Phil at A Very Public Sociologist made in his review (see http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.com/2009/04/red-dwarf-back-to-earth.html)
Firstly I want to take up the division between the series that he creates, which are
1) Series 1 and 2 (early Red Dwarf)
2) Series 3 to 6 (mid-aged Red Dwarf)
3) Series 7 and 8 (Red Dwarf post Rob Grant)
I think this division is wrong, we need to be more exact about the changes in location for the series, change in writers and change in cast. Instead I think it should be split up as follows,
1) Series 1 and 2 (On Red Dwarf, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Holly)
2) Series 3 to 5 (On Red Dwarf, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, female Holly)
3) Series 6 (On Starbug, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, Female-Holly)
4) Series 7 (On an enlraged Starbug, Naylor by himself, crew-Lister, Rimmer(for part of the series), Kochanski(for part of the series), Kryten, Cat)
5) Series 8 (On Red Dwarf (in the tank), Naylor by himself, crew-Lister, Rimmer (alive), Kochanski, Kryten, Cat, Holly, Hollister and others)
The shift from series two to three with two different charcters (one new) changed the shape of the show, but not as much as happened in later series with the set changing each time as well as the cast and also shifting from having a studio audience to a film-like version then back to a studio audience again. Every time you change things it means the programme is going to turn out differently.
Basically, my problem with Phil's version of the development of Red Dwarf is that for him series 1-6 are great and 7-8 (as well as Back to Earth) are bad and it's all Doug Naylor's fault. This is way too simple for my liking and I don't think its completely accurate either.
I think there are good things about series 7 and 8 for a start, for example I really like Tikka To Ride, the first episode of series 7 (the recap at the beginning of that episode from series 6 is excellent, as is the recap at the beginning of series 6 - miles better than Back to Earth). And the bunk scenes in series 8 are rather good (perhaps if Doug Naylor had had at least one of these in Back to Earth the first episode might have been better, I think he writes those really well). But most importantly they are a different kind of Red Dwarf to the earlier series. (and by the way there are some crap bits in some of the earlier series too - using Rhyl as a location for an exotic resort, for example!)
But there is a point to Phil's comments about Doug Naylor writing stuff by himself. When writing comedy its generally advisable to have a partner writing with you. It's almost a necessity as you need to bounce your ideas of someone else to make sure other people find them funny and tease out any humour to it's full potential. If they plan on making further Red Dwarf episodes then the issues I've raised simply have to be addressed.