There’s a giant naked body of a man washed ashore. A pond of fish is swimming in his colossal hand, groups of people taking selfies on top of his nose. Minute by minute his rotting body starts to look more like an abandoned piece of contemporary art, all covered in graffiti, minus a few limbs…
If this sounds like a premise of an unreleased Black Mirror episode, alongside a modern (and analogical) Gulliver’s Travels twist, then you’re not far off. This, however, is one of the stories from David Fincher’s and Tim Miller’s animated anthology series Love, Death & Robots, which just received a fresh batch of new episodes. If you want to see a bunch of devil-may-care misfits get high on intergalactic kush, gaze upon neon-lit frost whales dancing in the sky, all animated in that kick-ass Gorillaz music video style, then here it is!
For those arriving to the Love, Death & Robots party late, here’s a quick rundown. Back in March 2008, David Fincher, best known for his cult-classic adaptation Fight Club starring Brad Pitt’s God-like abs, and the creative mind/director behind 2016’s Deadpool, Tim Miller, both being big fanboys of now-extinct “world’s greatest illustrated magazine” Heavy Metal, announced collaborative effort to adapt it to the screens. No studios or investors were game, though. Until the mighty Netflix came along, throwing a stack of cash at everything that sounds cool. Love, Death & Robots did just this; combining all the things we nerds love – dark, twisted sci-fi stories, space marines, intergalactic sex, robots, cyberpunk, alternative universes – Fincher’s and Miller’s lovechild quickly became the Black Mirror of animation.
In the same fashion as its anxiety-inducing, non-animated cousin, most episodes of Love, Death & Robots invite a range of different writers, animators, and filmmakers to tell short (9-13 minute) sci-fi stories in their own signature way. Last season’s personal favourite “The Witness,” for example, combines the Twilight Zone, cyberpunk, the mind-feverishness of Marilyn Manson music videos, all wrapped up in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse animation style (the episode is written and directed by Alberto Mielgo, who, surprise, surprise, worked on Spider-Verse). It is a fantastic example of what this show has to offer.
Of course, as with most anthologies, Love, Death & Robots is a mixed bag. Sometimes you get Pixar on speed (rad!), other times, just a kick-ass CGI animation – they are all visually pleasing – with a thin storyline dragging the whole episode down (remember “The Dump”, anyone?). But each to their own. And what I would consider trash could be the crown jewel for you.
Moving on to the present, then. The long-awaited second season of Love, Death & Robots, downsizing in size (from 18 episodes to 8) but not the ambition and scope. It kicks off with a bit of slapstick humor, making a malfunctioning Roomba (automated vacuum cleaner) into a Michael Myers-cum-Terminator hybrid, otherwise putting a sinister twist on our increasing fear of AI. “If Alexa is holding you hostage, press 1,” I imagine Amazon’s automated helpline saying few years down the line.
Combined with “Life Hutch” starring Michael B. Jordan on his easiest payday – his perfectly structured face is doing the heavy lifting this time – another man versus machine-turned-evil horror scenario, akin to A Quiet Place, it seems the core theme of this season is technology running amok. And while neither of the two stories leaves you with PTSD, something that Black Mirror is terrifyingly good at (at its best), it’s easy to forget about their paper-thin plot when it’s Michael B. Jordan in a spacesuit trying to outsmart a killer Wall-E.
Ranking the episodes
- Pop Squad
- Snow in the Desert
- The Tall Grass
- Life Huch
- The Drowned Giant
- Automated Customer Service
- All Through the House
Another running theme of this season, although better executed, is immortality and overpopulation. In “Pop Squad”, written by award-winning sci-fi and fantasy writer Paolo Bacigalupi, a cop (voiced by no other than Nolan North) that bears the weight of his bloodied hands, suddenly starts having second thoughts about his active participation in the utopian future he’s helping to maintain. Yes, it does sound like a trope we’ve seen hundreds of times before; one of them being from Blade Runner 2049, which is a vibe on its own, and “Pop Squad” is not afraid to pay respect to it. And if you get the “Tears in rain” reference, power to you.
If you’re more of a Mad Max fan, more than Blade Runner, then you will be happy to know that “Snow in the Desert” episode, lighter on the substance but taking the crown for its world-building and most mind-blowingly realistic animation of the season, is a love letter dedicated for every The Mandalorian/Mad Max fan. With small details such as pin-locked pints and ‘day tents’, providing shelter from lethal sun rays, you can easily imagine “Snow in the Desert” is turned into a spin-off series or a full-length feature film. It’s no surprise, then, it had a team of four (four!) directors working on it.
There’s also a Lovecraftian spine-chilling story (“The Tall Grass”), that combines 3D animation with traditional 2D hand-painted textures, with an interesting manipulation of the framerate, going from 60fps to 10, and vice-versa. And also Love, Death & Robots take on Krampus (“All Through the House”), landing a perfect mix of creepy and funny, with a clever nod to Pan’s Labyrinth, perhaps even to Alex Garland’s Annihilation (specially the bear-creature), topping this five-minute nightmare with claymation that will blow every wanna-be animator’s socks off. Then again, the same can be said about most episodes of Love, Death & Robots.
So how do you follow up a show that already showed all of its best tricks? If this was Rick and Morty or Big Mouth, that’s the question I would be asking. Luckily, Fincher’s and Miller’s returning show, albeit twice as short as the first installment, exercises a format akin to OG Adult Swim nighttime program (or its “Smalls” series on Youtube) – from slapstick sketches of yoghurt taking over humanity to thought-provoking visions of future, some of the more forgettable than the rest, there’s something for everyone.
As long as there are artists, animators ready to be unleashed and paired up with wildly talented filmmakers – Love, Death & Robots is a formula with endless potential, for all I know. Yes, the second season may not have lived up to its own benchmark, which was all the way up in the stratosphere, next to fans’ favorite “Zima Blue”. But it’s still the same wicked cabinet of curiosities that glued us to TV screens a few years ago. There’s nothing like Love, Death & Robots, so we may just as well spend our days staring at a lava lamp until season 3 drops sometime next year.
Love Death and Robots is available to stream on Netflix.
Season two rating: 6/10
By Ignas Vieversys
Feature image: Dailyresearchplot.com