TV: Love Death + Robots (Season 1)

Consider me among the many who were surprised and excited about the new Netflix series Love Death + Robots, an animated anthology show that could be pitched as Heavy Metal meets The Twilight Zone. I expect I’m also among the many who found it disappointing. With the majority of its episodes based on stories by professional science fiction writers, and animation that ranges from good to superb in a variety of styles, there’s no reason this shouldn’t have been a thrilling addition to the recent resurgence of genre anthology shows. Unfortunately, while it’s a great advertisement for the animators, it doesn’t say much for the sensibilities of the producers, and poorly represents the literature.

As one might guess by the Heavy Metal influence, this series leans heavily into its adult content; indeed, that appears to be the dominant motivation for the project. The stage is set by the opener, “Sonnie’s Edge,” a sleazy, ultraviolent tale of gladiatorial biotech battles based on a story by Peter F. Hamilton. The main purpose of this segment is to serve as a vehicle for male-gazey nudity, gory fights, and unsettling eyeball kicks. These elements turn out to be a common theme throughout the season, although occasionally they’ll throw in filthy language or lowbrow humor to “sweeten” the pot.

It’s not all bad. The two adaptations of Alastair Reynolds’ work are interesting, especially “Zima Blue,” which may be the season’s most intelligent, mature episode. “Alternate Histories,” which adapts a John Scalzi multiverse story about the many fates of Adolf Hitler, strikes the right comedic notes. And Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead star in “Ice Age,” an amusing blend of live action and animation based on a Michael Swanwick tale about a young couple who find a miniature, lost civilization in their ice box.

Alas, these bright spots are few and far between, leaving the viewer to rely on impressive visuals and production values to distract them from terrible scripts, exploitative sexism, and gruesome subject matter. It’s a shame, because it’s a great idea for a show: source short stories from SF pros, hand it over to state-of-the-art animators, and release a dazzling collection of blazing fast short films. Unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired.

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