I haven’t watched TV for almost a year. That’s only a slight exaggeration—I haven’t really gotten into any TV shows since “The Americans” went off the air. I used to love television, but I feel like the prestige shows lost what made them compelling and exceptional. Unfortunately, I picked the worst show to come back to the medium with: Netflix’s “Love, Death and Robots.”
It’s an anthology series, very much in the vein of “Black Mirror,” though animated. Anthology series seem to work well with the Netflix business model. They’re extremely bingable, pre-packaged doses of entertainment. Don’t like this one? Just watch one more. Episodes are usually in the ten to eighteen minute range, varying across different sci-fi conceits. In one, a band of farmers in giant robot suits defend their fields from invading aliens. In another, yogurt becomes sentient and takes over the country. That’s it.
Executive produced by David Fincher (“Gone Girl,” “Fight Club”), and “Deadpool’s” Tim Miller, most episodes in “Love, Death and Robots” are gritty and provocative. They’re like sketches—brief ideas with interesting hooks that get quickly played out and then end limply. The show is the visual equivalent of a book of sci-fi short stories you might find in a thrift store: Pulpy genre fare that’s more often miss than hit.
My friends and I started to play a game with each episode: Bingo but for whenever there’s gratuitous nudity and graphic violence. The show is edgy just for the sake of it, usually saying nothing meaningful whatsoever. If I were 16, I would have thought it was really cool, but “Love, Death and Robots” makes “Black Mirror” look like literature.
The episode “BLINDSPOT,” which has an admittedly cool description—“A gang of cyborg thieves stage a high-speed heist of a heavily armored convoy”—looks like something you’d see on Cartoon Network, except with more cursing.
“ICE AGE” stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Topher Grace, about a couple who find a lost civilization in their fridge. It sounds like a bad pitch, something that would get you thrown out of a writer’s room, but here, on content-hungry Netflix, it gets produced and shoved at us.
There’s an episode called “THREE ROBOTS” about three robots. I can’t tell you more because I turned it off after ninety seconds because it was so irritating—the annoying glibness of “Guardians of the Galaxy” mixed with the faux-highbrow humor of “Rick and Morty.”
Three episodes do make the cut. “SONNIES EDGE,” despite looking like an extended cutscene from a Playstation game, has an interesting conceit, in which a woman with a traumatic past battles as an alien beast in a dystopian gladiator arena. “THE WITNESS” is weird but in a good way, like the first foray of a promising student filmmaker. “THE SECRET WAR,” about a group of Soviet soldiers in Siberia during World War II fighting against hordes of terrifying ghouls, is exquisitely rendered in a realistic style, and even has a little subtext. But can three passable episodes make up for fifteen bad ones? That’s a pretty bad batting average.
To me, “Love, Death and Robots” is indicative of your typical Netflix show. It’s gratuitous in the sense that there’s too much of it, and there seems to have been little to no quality control, part of a deluge of shows that the streaming giant is constantly throwing at us, with minimal concern about whether or not anything’s actually good, only that we’re watching.
In my year off from TV, I haven’t felt particularly out of the loop—except for not having watched my favorite anthology-style series of all time, HBO’s “High Maintenance.” That show is everything that this Netflix show isn’t: Joyful, inventive, fun. Watch a character-based show about a weed dealer and his idiosyncratic clients instead of half-baked sketches about yogurt taking over the world. “Love, Death and Robots” is just more empty content trying to take time out of your life.