Airdate: 13 September 1988
While Lister is suffering from indigestion from Rimmer's cooking (and Cat is sleeping off of the stomach pump), a post pod finally arrives (second class, for which arriving in the year 3,000,000 is average). The items received include an entire season of Zero-G Football, an entire year's supply of Earth news, and a Total Immersion Videogame. There are also less positive letters. One such letter is a tax bill valued at £8500 for Rimmer, causing him to declare that he is going to freak out about this for a decent amount of time (even though the human race, up to and including the tax collectors, are long gone). Another one comes from Mrs. Rimmer, informing him through her poor handwriting that Rimmer's father is dead.
This sends Rimmer into a depression. He had already figured that they were all dead: just receiving the letter made it finally hit him. When asked about how much he must have loved his father, he responds kindly..
- "I HATED HIM! I detested his fat stupid guts, the pop-eyed, balding git!"
Apparently, Rimmer's father used to put him through strenuous tests to make sure he got into the Space Corps (his father missed by being 1 inch below regulation height), including refusing him food if he got questions wrong ("I nearly died from malnutrition") and being put on the traction every morning if he did not grow. It got to the point, where, at age 14, he emancipated himself. However, he always wanted to hear his father finally approve of something that he did.
Later, while watching the news, Rimmer gets reminded of the TIV that the gang received, "Better Than Life", which allows the user to live out his/her deepest fantasies. He decides to join alongside Lister and the Cat. The game initially starts off with wonderful results. Rimmer gets to meet Napoleon, become the admiral of the fleet, gains a Jaguar F-Type, and a chance to sleep with Yvonne McGruder. Lister gets a chance to golf and eat caviar vindaloo and a lager, and the Cat gets to sleep with Marilyn Monroe (who he constantly rejects) and a reverse-mermaid, and also eat a tank of fish. ("I like my food to MOVE!") Rimmer gets the chance to meet his father, and is seemingly about to meet his goal of his father saying "Well done". However, thanks to the Cat, Rimmer instead hears this.
- "I would just like to say.... you're a total smeghead!"
This sends Rimmer into a state of paranoia, his mind rebelling and not accepting nice things happening to him. His intercourse with McGruder? Produced 7 kids (with more coming), forced him into wedlock and a mortgage, and caused him to dump the Jag in favour of a sedan. His tax problem? Increased to £18000 with an Ax-Crazy Outland Revenue agent threatening him. ("If you are unable to pay, sir, I am instructed by the revenue to break both of your legs and pull off YOUR THUMBS, sir.") Rimmer's negative mind eventually affects the others, wiping away their wealth. Rimmer then puts a tarantula up his trouser legs, about to go to his crotch. Begged by Lister to wish it away, Rimmer then screws them all over to colossal levels, by burying them in sand on a beach, only their heads sticking out.
- Cat: Aahhhh! What's he done now?Rimmer: I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!Lister: What's going on!!!???Rimmer: Our faces have been smeared with jam, and we're about to be eaten alive by killer ants!Cat: Why?Rimmer: Why not?(Cut to Holly's screen, which is also covered in jam and partially covered in sand)Holly: (very stoic) Oh, dear! You can't take him anywhere, can you?Lister: You've ruined this, Rimmer!
The gang is broken out of the game, and Lister and the Cat are furious at Rimmer. Just then, Rimmer receives a letter informing him that he has passed the Astro-Navs, and has been promoted to navigation officer. As it turns out, though, they are still in the game, as they realise when the tax collector comes out and demands his £18,000. Unable to pay, the hammer comes down on Rimmer, literally.
"Better Than Life" contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: As it turns out, Rimmer's father tortured him and his brothers to try and get them into the Space Corps, including refusing him food if he did not answer questions completely (almost starving him to death), and stretching him on a traction machine if he did not grow naturally. It got to the point where Rimmer emancipated himself at age 14, getting paid maintenance until employment age and access every four weekends to the family dog.
- Alleged Car: Rimmer, when thinking of transport, initially thinks of a Reliant Robin.
- Cool Car: Rimmer then thinks up of a Jaguar E-Type. He is forced to get rid of it when he has many, many kids within hours.
- And Then I Said: Rimmer pulls this out, but can't come up with something he might have said and is forced to admit he "doesn't remember". Since it's his fantasy, his dinnermates laugh anyway.
- Ax-Crazy: The Outland Revenue Agent.
- Bait-and-Switch: The post pod also contains copies of the latest movies (as of the time it was dispatched), including a remake of Casablanca. This sets Lister off on a rant about the philistines who would remake Casablanca... again. "The version with Myra Dinglebat and Peter Beardsley was definitive!"
- Call-Back: Rimmer watches Channel 27 news, which has a hologram newsreader. Lister previously mentioned this in "Future Echoes".
- Cannot Tell a Joke: The newly-titled "Admiral" Rimmer is attempting to tell an anecdote, but can't remember exactly what happened. It was so bad that even the fictional officers from his ideal dream went through a couple of seconds of embarrassed, uncertain silence before bursting into sycophantic laughter.
- Celebrity Resemblance: On the DVD commentary, Norman Lovett notes that the actor playing the Outland Revenue Agent looks like Lee Van Cleef.
- Comically Missing the Point: The Cat interrupts Lister and Rimmer's moment demanding food. When Lister tells him that Rimmer's dad's died, he replies, "Well, I'd prefer chicken".
- Faux Affably Evil: The tax agent tries to act polite as possible when threatening to break most of Rimmer's limbs.
- Intimidating Revenue Service: Rimmer discovers that he owed several thousand (unspecified futuristic currency units) in tax when he left Earth, and is horrified.Lister: They're not going to catch you now are they?Rimmer: What do you mean? Just because we're three million years into deep space and the human species is extinct? That means nothing to these people. They'll find us.
- As it turns out, the tax department never does catch up with him, although later in the episode he has a nightmare vision of a taxman who threatens to smash his thumbs with a hammer if he doesn't pay up immediately.
- It's All About Me: The Cat's reaction to Rimmer's dad's death is simply to ask what's for dinner.
- It's All My Fault: Quite contrary to Rimmer's typical attitude, he actually accepts fault and apologizes for ruining everyone's fantasies. "My mind is rebelling because it can't accept nice things happening to me!"
- Jerkass: The Outland Revenue Agent is merciless in his hunt for taxes. When Rimmer can't pay, the agent threatens him with bodily harm. He actually takes borderline glee in crushing Rimmer's thumbs.
- The Cat, like normal. His desire to screw up Rimmer's fantasy actually leads to Rimmer's Sanity Slippage.
- Lethal Chef: Rimmer's cooking goes about as well as you'd expect. When we first see Lister, he's taking medicine for indigestion.Rimmer: Well, a highly enjoyable meal all round. Obviously you can't expect perfection first time but I was quite delighted with the way my dumplings went down.Lister': Rimmer, real dumplings, proper dumplings when they're properly cooked to perfection, proper dumplings, should not bounce.Rimmer: True, but compared to what I thought they were going to be like, they were quite superb.Lister: So how's the Cat?Rimmer: He's just sleeping off the stomach pump. He'll be alright. The lamb was a bit of a flop though.Lister: The lamb? Everybody thought the lamb was the cheese and that lemon meringue pie, man, what was in that?Rimmer: I thought you liked that, you brought some back.Lister: Yeah, I wanted to try some on my athlete's foot.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: "Better Than Life" can make all your deepest fantasies come true. In the end, though, Rimmer's deep self-loathing results in the destruction of everybody's perfect worlds.
- Maintain the Lie: Rimmer told his mother that he passed every exam he ever took, and had therefore reached the rank of "Rear Admiral Lieutenant General". As opposed to the man who cleaned the chicken soup machine.
- Mermaid Problem: Lampshaded, with the Cat dating a mermaid with the legs on the bottom and a fish head on the top.Holly: Somehow I'd imagined she'd be a woman on top and a fish on the bottom.Cat: No. That's the stupid way around!
- The Millstone: Rimmer completely turns Lister and the Cat's day of merriment, fantasy, and riches, into a scenario where they are almost eaten by ants.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Everyone's reaction to Rimmer ruining the game. Even The Cat, who started it.
- Not Disabled In VR: A subtle one with Rimmer, who is intangible due to being dead, being able to have physical form and interact physically while in "Better Than Life".
- Oh, Crap!: Rimmer's reaction to getting a bill from Outland Revenue.
- Passed in Their Sleep: Rimmer finds a letter saying that his father (who of course died thousands of years ago) died peacefully in his jeep...er...sleep.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The script called for a beach in paradise. British weather made this impossible, so Lister and Cat play golf instead of sunbathing.
- Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: There is a passing mention of Friday the 13th: Part 1,649.
- Serial Escalation: Once Rimmer gets told by his father that he is a smeghead, his fantasy just gets worse, and worse, and worse through the episode.
- Take That!: In his opening gag, Holly says that the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that they're sixty billion miles away from the nearest Berni Inn.
- Talent Double: During filming, Craig Charles kept stalling the motorcycle he and Cat ride away on, so Charles is not the person riding the bike as it moves away from the camera.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Rimmer almost gets to hear his father say "Well done", which is Rimmer's biggest desire in life. Instead, thanks to the Cat, Rimmer's father calls him a "total smeghead", leading Rimmer into a Sanity Slippage.