Hyperdrive (2007) Series 2, Episode 1 – The Green Javelins

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When we last left the crew of the HMS Camden Lock, they were basically removed from duty and about to be tried as traitors after defecting from The British Empire. Henderson was faced with his own “Kobayashi Maru” situation involving an impossibly hard performance review, and let’s just say he didn’t do so well. For better or worse, we never actually see the resolution to that plot, leading me to believe that the writers hated the ending as much as I did. At the start of series two, everything is as back to normal as this ship can be: Henderson is back in charge, albeit not for long if the Space Marshall has anything to do with it.

Series one left a bad taste in my mouth due largely to mediocre scripts and bad special effects. I’m not a big “I hate stuff because the special effects suck” kind of guy usually, but this show over-uses bad CGI that it has no business using so much. I’ve been waiting to see the second series to see what they did to “right the ship”. From the first moments of the very first episode, one can see that everything has a new coat of paint, leading me to assume that this series has quite a bit more money than the previous one. There is a new theme song, new computer-generated affects, and better writing. It seems that the production staff have answered my call.

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Once again the higher-ups have decided to trust Commander Henderson with yet another task that his crew will most likely mess up. It seems that a space acrobatic team called the “Green javelins” (a play on real acrobatic teams like the Blue Angels or Red Arrows) has recently lost a ship, and the HMS Camden Lock is set to take it’s place. This excites Henderson greatly, as he has been frothing at the mouth for a chance to show his boss that he has what it takes to be great.

Teal has a problem with this new assignment, as it forces her to come face-to-face with an old flame named Jeremy Mason, a man that now leads the “Green javelins.” When they were teenagers, both Teal and Mason (played by Stephen Mangan) met at their agnostic church camp and fell in love. It seems he stood her up when they were supposed to meet up, and he has regretted it ever since. 

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When they get together, Mason explains that he lost his faith when he didn’t see her again, and we’re treated to one of the funnier jokes in the episode. They begin to talk at length about their “agnostic faith” that was so intense in their youth. This version of agnosticism is pretty humorous, as it is described in a similar manner to the evangelical Christian church, just more vague. here is an excerpt of a “hymn” we hear them sing in the episode: 

“I have a vague feeling inside of me.

A hazy spirit duality.

It fills me half-way, but not to the top.

Empirical reasoning makes it stop.”

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While this is going on, York decides to create some sort of clone of himself, so that he can do a better job of instilling unrelenting fear in the hearts of anyone that would not take their job very seriously. Problem is that something goes wrong, VERY WRONG, and York’s “son” isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. There is a lot of confusion when this second York starts roaming around the ship mumbling to himself and delivering garbled nonsense to passersby. York realizes what he has done, and becomes a Victor Frankenstein of sorts, frantically trying to stop his creation from ruining his name.

I mentioned earlier that the writing got a lot better, and one of the main reasons that I could tell was that these two plots actually came together in some meaningful way, and the clone sub-plot wasn’t just a set up for a cheap gag. At the end of the episode we find the clone, rejected by his “father”, trying to show that he isn’t worthless by sacrificing himself in order to save the rest of the crew.

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This is both touching, and funny, seeing that Kevin Eldon‘s performance as fake-York is so goofy that you can’t help but chuckle. Sadly, there was a vague third plotline involving Sandstrom (the ships pilot computer) being curious about sex, but everything with that character fizzles out, so I hardly notice anymore.

I also mentioned that there was a vast improvement in the special effects department, and it’s not just a small one. I can only assume that they used some sort of miniatures in tandem with their computers because the ships no longer look like smudgy videogame ships from ten years ago. They even pull off some decent close-up shots and other dynamic scenes that are pretty nice. That isn’t to say that I want this to turn into Star Wars and use gratuitous CGI everywhere, but at least the stuff that is used isn’t offensive.

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In closing, this was by far the best produced episode of the show so far. I’m not sure of it’s necessarily my favorite, but it’s heads above the hit or miss nature of series one. If they can keep this up, I think this show could live up to the potential that it had, and stand on it’s own. I’d still like a few characters fleshed out a bit more, and am worried about this new found special effects budget, but all in all I was impressed.

You can watch Hyperdrive on Hulu as part of their recent BBC deal, so if you are looking for something to watch on a rainy day, I’d definitely recommend it.

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Hyperdrive (2006) Episode 5 – Clare

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Being a huge fan of Nick Frost and Kevin Eldon, I really like their show Hyperdrive, but sometimes I feel like I want to enjoy it more than I do. I mean, let’s face the facts – Hyperdrive is the “poor man’s Red Dwarf” essentially. It’s pretty funny in parts, but it sometimes seems a tad forced and somewhat generic. I fell of the wagon back in 2011 trying to get through the relatively small amount of episodes, and here we are almost three years later. It was one of the very first things I started reviewing for this blog, but this was the bleak primordial era of 2011 when I wasn’t taking this blog very seriously and the quality of those older reviews shows that. Rather than going back and re-writing those old reviews, I’m just going to pick up where I left off and review Hyperdrive’s penultimate series one offering “Clare”. Hopefully before the year 2045 I’ll have all twelve episodes written up!

For those new to the game, I’d like to quickly sum what the show is all about. The story of Hyperdrive follows a crew of inept space voyagers trying to expand the re-birthed British Empire in the year 2151. The show stars Nick Frost, Kevin Eldon, Miranda Hart, Stephen Evans, Dan Antopolski, and Petra Massey as the crew of the HMS Camden Lock.

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Frost plays pace Commander Michael Henderson, a misguided man who admires the idealism of space travel (ala cheesy science fiction shows), but has no real credentials to back it up. Imagine every bad thing that Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk ever did and add a bit of sincere stupidity, and you basically have Henderson in a nutshell. His first officer (Eldon) Eduardo York, is a nice contrast to Henderson in that he seems to secretly want to be an evil galactic overlord like Ming the Merciless, but is held down by federation guidelines and other forms of “red tape”. Add in a slacker technical officer named Jeffers (Antopolski), a quiet navigation officer named Vine (Evans), and the straight man, or lady for that matter, in the whole ordeal Diplomatic Officer Chloe Teal (Hart), and you have Hyperdrive in a nutshell.

The story of “Clare” follows the crew on a routine drug busting mission from their higher ups. As they scan the galaxy for drug smugglers, the HMS Camden Lock encounters the ship of the famous adventuress, Clare Winchester. Clare is traveling solo in a small craft around the clock in a similar vein to all of those people that attempt to circumnavigate the Earth in leaky boats every year. One can immediately see that the stresses and solitude involved with such a trip have got to Ms. Winchester. Concerned for her mental well-being, Henderson decides to put the mission on hold to do a little bonding. Granted, he’s always trying to “get his rocks off” with any female he runs across, so any real concern is quite suspect. Clare has fallen into a dark mass of neuroses and paranoia, capped off by the fact that she is talking to inanimate objects like ‘Mr. Cup’, someone that is coincidentally also a coffee cup.

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The actress that plays Clare, Sally Phillips, does a fine job of acting ten shades of crazy in this episode. Her mannerisms, appearance, and nervous ticks all point to the fact that she has been alone for far too long. Phillips is best known for a handful of film roles like The Bridget Jones films, and a few big network TV shows such as Veep and Miranda. Unless one counts Mr. Cup as a guest character, there really aren’t too many other guest stars to speak of.

One of the constant problems I have with Hyperdrive is the fact that it tries to use way too many “special effects” shots despite the miniscule budget. This makes the show come across as very cheap and somewhat dated in appearance. When the action is confined to small areas, such as Clare’s ship, it looks very good. But the moment you see something in space using CGI effects it looks questionable. I hate to draw the comparison to Red Dwarf, but I commend them for model shots for their new episodes last year, because they look sooooo much better than non-Hollywood computer graphics.

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There were some missed opportunities with the script, especially the side-plot involving Sandstrom catching a virus that made her foul-mouthed and irritable. Not only did the dirty words stop being funny pretty fast (perhaps teenagers would love it), it should have never been a prolonged plot device for the whole episode. There is also a tendency in this show to basically do the same thing with her character each episode making her feel one-dimensional. In an earlier one she eats chocolate and goes crazy, this time it’s the language virus. One hopes the character gets more time to shine.

All in all, this was a decent episode of Hyperdrive, but it was really nothing special. bad CGI was kept to a minimum, and Sally Phillips was entertaining – two things that make this a competent episode. For me, I wish this show would step out of the “Star Trek parody” bubble and show some real character, I’m not expecting much but my fingers are crossed for the season finale.

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