Suffering the most juvenile and sexist aspects of Heavy Metal (the movie and illustrated magazine) and 1990s anime, Netflix’s new animated sci-fi anthology series Love, Death + Robots has a handful of good episodes, including a few real gems, weighed down by a bunch of garbage.
I can’t say whether the series is intended to run for more than one season. The first is comprised of 18 short episodes that run between 5 to 20 minutes each. If you treat it like a short story collection, the whole thing can be easily devoured in one sitting of about three hours.
The episodes are not directly connected to each other, and are animated in a range of different styles from highly cartoony to nearly photo-realistic motion-capture. One is even mostly live action. Most if not all of the episodes are adapted from stories by a host of authors including Alistair Reynolds, Michael Swanwick, Joe R. Lansdale, and John Scalzi. David Fincher and Tim Miller serve as executive producers, and the project was spawned from their original desire to reboot Heavy Metal, the influence of which (for both good and ill) is strongly felt. I question how much involvement Fincher had in the production, and wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t bothered to watch some of the episodes before putting his producer stamp on them. He’s never made anything quite so puerile himself.
The show gets off to a bad start by putting one of its worst episodes up front. While the animation in Sonnie’s Edge is pretty impressive, the story plays like bad kaiju anime and tentacle porn, with nudity and faux lesbian titillation so gratuitous I felt dirty watching it. Frankly, I’d rather watch real porn that’s at least honest about what it is. Even that’s nothing, however, compared to the extended rape fantasy of Episode 3, The Witness, in which a mostly-nude stripper is chased through seedy city streets and back alleys by a psycho rapist/murderer. The worst episode of the series by far, that one’s just plain gross. I wish I hadn’t watched either of those.
Without question, the best entries are the three comedic episodes based on stories by Old Man’s War author John Scalzi. Three Robots, When the Yogurt Took Over, and Alternate Histories are very funny and clever, with no objectionable content (beyond some swearing and very silly nudity). If you’re familiar with his writing, Scalzi’s voice is strongly felt in each of these. Also a standout is the live-action episode, Ice Age, starring Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from a story by Michael Swanwick. These four episodes feel like they belong in a different collection from the rest.
Some of the others are decent. I reasonably enjoyed the mecha battle episode Suits, the Gravity knockoff Helping Hand, the space marines ep Lucky 13, and the trippy surreal fantasy of Fish Night. The rest I would mostly call disposable, neither particularly good nor terrible. Just a few days after watching, I can barely even remember the details of some of them.
Season Verdict / Grade: C
Essentially Heavy Metal crossed with The Animatrix and a little Aeon Flux, Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots is a show decidedly targeted at (and often feels like it’s made by) teenage boys who find the prospect of seeing boobies and blood in the same story a real mind-blower. The strong sexism that infuses many of the episodes is pretty hard for a grown-up to take, let alone any women who might make the mistake of starting from the beginning. I’m glad my wife chose not to watch with me. I’m certain she would have walked out a few minutes into the first episode and thought less of me for sitting through the rest.
That significant failing of so much of the series does a great disservice to the few really good episodes mixed in, which deserve a better showcase than this.