Thursday, January 27, 2011

Recommended: BBC's "Hyperdrive" on Netflix

[2/15/13 UPDATE: I understand that several of the pix and vid have been taken down. It's really impossible to maintain myself at this point. I'll update what's missing early next week, although some jerk has decided to remove every single Youtube clip for this show. Feel free to warn me if/when you see these don't function anymore.]

The BBC sci-fi comedy "Hyperdrive" might be "The Office: In Space." A pleasant-but-dim space captain faces aliens, bureaucracy, and his insane/gifted officers. It's not amazing, yet it is light-hearted, very clever, and fairly unknown.

Captain "Mike" Henderson pilots the HMS Camden Lock through space, protecting Great Britain's futuristic interests. His problems are often absurd, lethal, and dead funny. They're usually caused by himself or his crew...
"This thing is eating my crew!" "Only the slow ones." - Mike and York
Sometimes, he finds aliens that lick hands and faces in greeting. "It's not sexual," they insist. Or Henderson is asked to manage a mediation - and both sides unite to declare war on his ship.

The military nature of this series is played to the hilt, like an English National Lampoon's "Star Trek." Rules, missions, and alien contact constantly drive the pressure. The crew could provoke each other any day, so...

I love how they handle the die-hard First Officer York. In one scene, the ship's Stasi-esque(!) #2 drops a guitar, whips off his cloak, and arrests a scared teen:
"Arabella Spacer, daughter of Admiral Spacer, you are two days late for University. We are here to escort you to your place of study, where you'll commencify a course in land management and social history." "Nooo!" "Wrong! Not 'no' - yes!"
The genius slacker Jeffers is a lot of fun. He's the kind of guy who loves blasting alien music - including the war anthem just released by the ship's newest enemies. It's a Rammstein-like club tune called, "Kill the Humans."

The ship's PA system says things like, "[t]o access the toilet, enter the second, fourth and eighty-third numbers in your security code."

Miranda Heart is fine as Teal, a very unique. As the ship's diplomatic officer, Teal should get on with people. Her bigtime crush on the Captain can cause massive problems.

"Hyperdrive" plays its hand smartly, tho - it never uses a character loudly without also using them quietly. You'll notice Teal's hopeful eyes. She's desperate for any moment with Mike to turn romantic.  If he stares for more than a second, she gets misty.

It is both funny and sad to watch. Then, before a mission, Teal also forces Henderson to watch the military PSA on alien sex diseases. To keep him from a princess.

So many neat jokes are mined from the shipmates' mutual dislike, lack of consideration, and bare tolerance. Still, the characters all connect. You get the sense of genuine (and genuinely awkward) relationships.

Will Teal ever work up the nerve? Will Captain Mike ever notice her? Will York execute everyone? Each beat is earned, and the answers to those questions could be every bit as laughable as emotional.

I wish I could praise the support more, but they're unknowns to me. Each one is photogenic enough, yet different from the usual types in tv and film. Find a picture of the cast for all those "Battlestar Galactica" and "Trek" series - no one looks like that.

So it's nice to see more realistic-looking people on this make-believe show... Teal is pretty tall for a woman, and plus-sized. Jeffers looks decent, I guess (I'm straight, I don't know...), but he's also scruffy as hell. Nick Frost is a good-looking bloke, but he's... burly? Let's say he'd make a great hockey goalie.

The aliens usually look gross and/or silly.

It's all pretty enjoyable. The jokes are very funny, and the cast and crew wring maximum humor out of everything. What I mean is that any single element in "Hyperdrive" might be integrated into the delivery or the punchline - the camera, the sound, dialog, tone... It goes on and on.
"But surely you have your agnosticism; that helps me in hard times." "I lost my agnosticism." "Oh, but Jeremy, if you don't have the belief that there may or may not be a god, what do you have?" - Teal and Jeremy
Part of what helps is that the show is truly dedicated to its humor. Every half-second is trying to make you laugh. Another big part is the lead, Nick Frost. You may know him as the dark-haired sidekick in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz."

Nick has a gift for laughter.

The man is a good actor, and probably a comedy genius. He's surrounded by a cast that plays off him nicely. Cpt. Henderson is, by and large, a big kid - slightly clumsy, but excited by life and adventure.

I know that this show must draw many comparisons to the BBC classic "Red Dwarf." I don't have enough experience with "RD" to know how closely the two track. I think it's pretty clear that our personable leader really wants to be the UK's Captain Kirk.

Also, "Hyperdrive" feels too modern for that comparison. An English "Star Trek" parody fits better; so would calling it a British Naval "Lexx." This series' writing and sensibilities have more in common with Joss Whedon shows, or Frost's work with Simon Pegg.
"You know what it means to be Space Force. You volunteered. Well, I mean, some of you did a crime, so it was either this or prison. But a lot of you - a large proportion of you, yeah - volunteered." - Cpt. Henderson
The first season is available for streaming on Netflix, as is the second season; both are good. The DVDs are also available for rent. Sadly, it only totals 12 episodes. Sadder still, a 3rd run was never commissioned, and the last one aired in 2007. "Hyperdrive" may be dead, it's still great fun. I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes, stream an episode, and see how hard it makes you laugh.

UPDATE: the episodes of Hyperdrive's 2nd series are mis-listed on Netflix' site. The whole 2nd season is actually there, you just won't get episode descriptions that match the particular installment that will play for you. It's not much of a hassle, but I figured I should warn you.

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