The new “adult” animated series “Love, Death + Robots” comes to Netflix courtesy of producers Tim Miller (who gave us the winking snark of Deadpool) and David Fincher (director of such films as Se7en, The Game and Fight Club). It’s “adult” not so much in the way that “Black Mirror” is adult—that is, a mature exploration of social and scientific trends as filtered through the lens of near-future speculative fiction. “Love, Death + Robots is “adult” in the sense that it’s super violent, loaded with cuss words and shows lots and lots of boobies. If you’re looking for an antecedent, it’s like Heavy Metal, but with less of the arty European fantasy stuff and more old-fashioned American exploitation.
Given the producers behind the show, it should come as no surprise that “Love, Death + Robots” is something of an edgelord-filled sausage party. Like all anthology series since the dawn of the Idiot Box, it has its highlight episodes and its lowlight episodes. The individual stories run anywhere from 6 minutes up to about 18 minutes. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety or character development or anything other than zippy animated action and a quick, “Twilight Zone” ending.
“Three Robots” and “Alternate Histories” represent the shorter eps. The first features three wisecracking robots wandering a post-apocalyptic American city and forming opinions about the beings who lived there based on their remaining junk. It’s amusing and largely plotless. The second speculates on several alternate timelines involving early deaths of Adolph Hitler. Basically, you get to watch a cartoon Hitler die in various slapstick ways.
On the longer end, we get stuff like “Sonnie’s Edge” (in which futuristic gladiators jack in to genetically engineered monsters and fight one another) and “Suits” (which has a bunch of futuristic farmers in mobile mech suits battling alien cattle rustlers). The former is basically ultra-violent Pokémon and the latter is Starship Troopers with hillbillies. Originality is not a key element here.
Most emblematic of the series is probably episode three, “The Witness.” In it, a sex club worker in Hong Kong witnesses a murder and runs through the streets—mostly naked—to escape her pursuer. The neon-colored computer animation has some style, and the plot (basically one big chase scene) is energetic. But the nudity (all of it female, of course) comes across as pretty gratuitous.
As far as the animation goes, it’s a mixed bag with an emphasis on realistic CGI. “Suits” is among the most inventive, adding a clean, cell-shaded look to some nicely rounded 3D computer animation. “Sucker of Souls” (a bloody riff on “Johnny Quest”-style adventure series) is one of the show’s few traditional, 2D-animated outings. “Fish Night” (in which two salesmen get stuck in the desert and encounter some very ancient ghosts) features some of the show’s most striking visuals. Anyone who has read the original Joe R. Lansdale story on which its based, however, will find it a bit truncated in the story department, however.
For an “adult” series, “Love, Death + Robots” can be awfully simple-minded and sophomoric at times. But if you’re in the mood for a hyper-masculine cartoon crafted for today’s ADD-addled video game age, this boundary-pushing mix of gore, nudity and spaceships should fill the Heavy Metal-sized hole in your heart.