Love, Death, + Robots might have had a stinker or two in its first season, but even the failures were beautiful in that they tried something new and exciting. When Love, Death, + Robots had a winner, though… it was a thing to behold. I still get chills when I watch “Beyond the Aquilla Rift,” “Zima Blue”, “Sonnie’s Edge”, or “Shapeshifters.” Even though they weren’t my favorite episodes, there was something magical about “Fish Night” and “Good Hunting.”
I still think “Ice Age” and “Alternate Histories” were pretty awful, though.
Now, we have a new helping of Love, Death, + Robots and, unfortunately, the number of episodes has been cut to only eight which means that it’s literally a season you can binge in one afternoon. The good news is, out of this batch, there are no bona fide stinkers… the bad news is, there’s also less experimentation, less boldness, and less of the bite that made the first season so unforgettable.
“Automated Customer Service”
The first outing takes place in a futuristic retirement community and involves a robotic vacuum terrorizing an elderly woman. The animation style in this short is… well, it’s unpleasant. Giant heads, grotesque features… It honestly looks like what would happen if someone made an animated short with highly detailed Funko Pops.
The style, though, lends itself rather well to the comedy which varies from very dark to Tom and Jerry slapstick and, to top it off, “Automated Customer Service” does have a theme beyond the comedy of becoming a slave to technology. It’s just too bad this is a theme that creators insist on bashing us over the head with.
“Ice” is the best-looking and most experimental installment of the season. Rendered in beautiful 2D animation, it tells the story of a teenager, newly moved to an ice planet, with his family. This teenager doesn’t have “modifications” like all of the other kids who enjoy enhanced abilities. One night, he and his little brother go out onto the ice fields to play a dangerous game with the local kids.
This is a stunning short. The animation is excellent, the writing is pointed, and the action is intense. More than that, I loved how the unmodified teen was the only one out of the entire group to show actual courage as you can tell that the other kids, with their modifications, never really considered themselves in danger. It was an on the nose commentary on ableism in todays society and how some people have to try harder than others.
I’ve been seeing a lot of people list “Pop Squad” as their favorite installment and it puzzles me to be quite frank. Certainly, it’s not bad and the future noir setting lifted right out of Blade Runner and refined into something unique is certainly lovely, but I found the story rather bland which is saying something as this is a story about a policeman who’s job is to literally murder children to ensure population control in a world where people are immortal.
I supposed my main complaint is that the story just isn’t that surprising. Once you figure out what’s going on, you pretty much know where “Pop Squad” is going. The animation is beautiful as usual and, as I said, this is no where near a bad episode of Love, Death, + Robots, but it offers nothing new or exciting either.
“Snow in the Desert”
A lot like “Pop Squad,” “Snow in the Desert” offers nothing new or exciting. As a matter of fact, the reliance on photographic realism in the animation on this show only serves to make the segments that use that style bland and repetitive. Once you get over how great the CGI looks, you notice just how uninspired these stories are.
“Snow in the Desert” for example, is simply the story of an immortal guy trying to hide out from the people who want to learn the secret of his immortality. That’s really it. There’s no subtext, there’s no strong theme… it’s just a simple story from beginning to end and therein lies my problem with this season: It feels like it’s been leashed, like it’s afraid to do anything different. The edge has been dulled.
This one is probably my least favorite of the season.
“The Tall Grass”
Another fairly simple, yet far more effective story from season two is this tale of a man in the 19th century who decides to take a smoke break when his train stops in the middle of a field of tall grass and discovers something horrifying.
While not a particularly strong episode, it’s definitely one of the more chilling entries, a verifiable ghost story and I loved the ambiguity of it all. The animation style mimics stop motion and I’m all here for that.
Simple, but effective.
“All Through the House”
The shortest episode of the season and, to be honest… probably my favorite of the bunch, is a Christmas tale of two children who sneak downstairs to get a peal at Santa, only to discover that Santa isn’t what they were told he would be.
This episode is everything that Love, Death, + Robots should be. Funny, strange, dark… all rolled into one simple, effective package. I loved the creature design, I enjoyed the look of the animation, and the ending, showing the children traumatized by their encounter was hilariously morbid.
More of this, please.
Another foray into photo-realistic CGI finds Michael B. Jordan playing a soldier crash-landed on an alien planet and trying to take refuge in a Life Hutch (kind of a space tent) and having to fight for his life against a malfunctioning security robot.
Again, it’s a fine short, it looks amazing, and the intensity and the action are fantastic… but it feels like we’ve done this before. To be honest, this is “Automatic Customer Service” without the humor.
Granted, out of the CGI shorts presented this year, this one is near the top due to the thrilling nature of the story and the tension that is derived from it, but the repetition of style on this show is very disappointing.
“The Drowned Giant”
The final installment finds a scientist called to a beach where a naked giant man has washed up on shore. It would have been so easy to turn this episode into something crass, but “The Drowned Giant” chooses instead to make the short a philosophical study into life and decay.
It’s brilliantly written and narrated, making the drowned giant into a think of beautiful mystery and regarding him as an object of pity. “The Drowned Giant” is a beautiful, melancholy meditation and I loved every minute of it.
8. “Snow in the Desert”
7. “Life Hutch”
6. “Automated Customer Service”
5. “Pop Squad”
4. “The Tall Grass”
2. “The Drowned Giant”
1. “All Through the House”