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Not a perfect 10 for Red Dwarf

In space, proclaimed the famous tagline for Alien, no one can hear you scream. They can, alas, see how you've aged.

The first thing you notice about the belated 10th series of Red Dwarf, banished from the BBC and now orbiting the less prestigious satellite planet of Dave, is how time has treated some of the cast.

Chris Barrie's Rimmer proves that even holograms can suffer from a receding hairline, while robot Kryten's rubbery, cubic head seems to have expanded to accommodate a little more of actor Robert Llewellyn than there used to be.

In every other respect, though, nothing much has been altered. Lister (Craig Charles) is still an unreconstructed slob and feline mutant Cat (Danny John-Jules) remains the coolest, vainest dude in the universe.

The jokes, too, seem to be stuck in a time warp, circa 1988. And yet, it's hard not to like Red Dwarf, if only for the energy and chemistry of the cast, and the occasional flashes of philosophical fun it can squeeze out of its situations (such as Lister being his own dad and arguing with his two selves).

This week's episode fell back on an old sci-fi trope: the hostile machine. Rimmer and Kryten decide to install a new computer, the ruthlessly logical Pree (Rebecca Blackstone), which predicts the quartet's inept future behaviour and concludes exterminating them is the obvious, time-saving answer.

It wasn't up there with the best of the series at its 90s peak, but it led to one quite brilliant visual gag involving Lister's beloved guitar. Voyage on.

Sunday nights on RTE1 are pot luck just now. Last Sunday gave us the insufferable What's Ireland Eating?, a smug, sanctimonious bit of finger-wagging at the nation's supposed eating habits, fronted, rather incongruously, by Philip Boucher-Hayes, a man who doesn't look like he's wasted too many lunches at the salad counter.

Last night brought the first in the new series of Room to Improve. "New" in this case is relative, of course, because every instalment of Room to Improve is essentially the same.

Someone will hire architect Dermot Bannon to overhaul their house. Last night it was Cathal and Siobhan, who had €180,000 (lucky them) to splash out on doing up their dark, dreary 1970s bungalow in Tipperary. There'll be disagreements, compromises, rethinks and cut-corners. The builders will make a mess of Dermot's blueprints and excuses will be traded back and forth. But it will all come good in the end, amid the clinking of celebratory glasses of wine.

Room to Improve is a perfectly serviceable midweek lifestyle show (which is what it used to be), if you're into that sort of thing. But aside from the questionable wisdom of transmitting yet another series about home makeovers when so many are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments, what's it doing in a primetime weekend slot?

The answer is filling space. It's expediency television; crisis-management scheduling that's more about finding something to plug the gaping Sunday-night hole until RTE's only big autumn offering, the new series of Love/Hate, comes along then it is about fulfilling viewers' expectations of reasonable entertainment. Room to improve? You bet there is. Acres of it.

It shouldn't be left to a 78-year-old, semi-retired chatshow host to pull something from the rubble of Sunday night, but once again The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne was the finest Irish show of the weekend.

It's at its best when it breaks free of its narrow remit -- to probe the spiritual/religious beliefs of its subject -- and allows the interview to wander where it will. This week's guest was Noel Gallagher, who, when he's not publicly arguing with younger brother Liam, is an intelligent and articulate man.

Byrne can still conduct a masterclass in the art of good interviewing. Excellent.



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