Netflix’s new animated anthology series Love, Death + Robots is eighteen episodes full of blood splatter, animated boobs, and cat memes – and I’ve ranked them all, from worst to best (For a deep reflection on the series as a whole, check out Mitchell’s review here):
18. Episode 18 – “Secret War”
Love, Death + Robots makes the strange decision to save its absolute worst for last, a tale of Russian soldiers in 1920’s Serbia, trying to take out an army of demons accidentally released by the government. “Secret War” isn’t aggressively terrible; it’s just aggressively boring, another example of sanitized photo-realistic CGI unable to coalesce with the material on the page in any meaningful way, everything just stiff and facile enough to completely fail to deliver a compelling visual narrative . There are moments where the episode’s lack of dialogue is somewhat engaging, but the underwhelming story arc and limp ending end the series on a particularly low note.
17. Episode 6- “When the Yogurt Took Over”
The shortest of the Love, Death + Robots episodes, “When the Yogurt Took Over” is as simple and straightforward as it sounds; genetically engineered yogurt becomes sentient and takes over the world. That’s it; ultimately, this episodes suffers from being brutally unfunny and essentially pointless, a six-minute sorbet that’s way too passive with its message about humanity’s shortcomings to be an effective intermission piece. Even though it features the voice-over talents of legend Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain), “When the Yogurt Took Over” is silly and inert, too boring and brief to make any impact (plus it has one of the most gratuitously pointless boob shots in the series, which is saying something).
16. Episode 17 – “Alternate Histories”
There are probably a lot of people that will get a chuckle out of “Alternate Histories”, with its colorful interpretation of the age-old debate of “what would happen if Hitler didn’t become Hitler?”… I just wasnt’ one of those people. Framed as a demo for an app called ‘Multiversity’, “Alternate Histories” is the second-shortest episode of the series, a small respite for the painful six-minutes that entails this story. There’s an interesting nugget of an idea buried under the garish, ugly animation style of this episode, but that idea – how changing one moment in history can have a wide variety of results – is already better explored in other media, to much more effective results. I mean, if you want to see what these animators thought Hitler drawing his own naked dick would look like interests you than maybe you’ll enjoy “Alternate Histories” – it just wasn’t for me.
15. Episode 3 – “The Witness”
“The Witness” is a classic example of form over content; the wild animation style of “The Witness” stands to become the series’ signature look; unfortunately, it is also a signature episode of the series because of how neatly and brazenly it embodies the central themes of the series. That means lots of animated titties, a main character who is a sexy sex worker, and a third act plot twist that screams “why?” more than “wow!”. There’s probably no larger dichotomy between the quality of animation and quality of story than in “The Witness”, which utterly wastes its strange, colorful art style on a laughably mindless sci-fi story that is basically a lazy college freshman short story in the form of a technical showcase.
14. Episode 1 – “Sonnie’s Edge”
“Sonnie’s Edge” is an unfortunate way to open Love, Death + Robots – I understand why they’d put it here, with its supposed themes of female empowerment, and how much it feels like an animated Pacific Rim spin-off of sorts. But since Love, Death + Robots wants to be edgy, speculative noir sci-fi without the actual thematic backbone, “Sonnie’s Edge” goes from violent kaiju battles to naked boobs to elitist horror like it has ADD, unable to decide whether it wants to ogle at titties, or deliver a strong story about the bond between woman and animal, harnessing trauma into a colorful violent release of destroying the patriarchy. “Sonnie’s Edge” feels precociously pandering, a classic “having cake and trying to eat it, too” without understanding the mixture of ingredients that make the recipe work.
13. Episode 5 – “Sucker of Souls”
Who is ready for some monster dick? “Sucker of Souls” has you covered, an action movie short set in an underground dungeon, where 80’s action cliches are trying to fend off the hunger of one very angry, hungry, self-healing vampire creature. There’s some fun to be had here (mostly cat-related), but “Sucker of Souls” really just wants to spray blood on the walls and hear its main character say “motherfucker” a lot; with its simple visual style, there’s plenty of room for “Sucker of Souls” to have fun with dialogue and narrative, but it never really gets those three elements in harmony at any one point. The “twist” at the end of the episode is also wholly unnecessary, and feels inserted just for the sake of trying to ending on a conversation starter – for a series that appears to pride itself on breaking away from formula, “Sucker for Souls” is a reminder of how much Love, Death + Robots wants each episode to stick to its own specific template.
12. Episode 9 – “The Dump”
“The Dump” is an unabashedly dumb story about a redneck living in a garbage dump; but it is also one of the mroe charming entries of the series, like a much darker, disturbed version of Up. “The Dump” is about a man mourning his best friend and his life, but also defiant about his home and the strange creature living in it; how “The Dump” gets to its final, wonderfully gross moments isn’t the most creative, original material, but it’s a pleasure to watch, even though it doesn’t stray from its template of nudity (there is some serious CGI dick flop in this episode), blood, or predictable final twists. It is clear the people behind the creation of “The Dump” were having an absolute blast, and that fun is infectious, elevating an otherwise perfunctory episode purely on its personality.
11. Episode 11 – “Helping Hand”
Another entry in the Uncanny Valley CGI category, “Helping Hand” is a rather simple tale, told with a single dark twist – it’s essentially the end of Gravity‘s first act, with the added bonus of some solid body horror thrown in. While the plot and main character are rather perfunctory, “Helping Hand” is a master class in tension building, a crescendo of anxiety building from the first frame until the disturbing climatic moment. It is not a particularly memorable episode, nor is it a significant technical achievement on its own; it is just a really solid execution of a simple premise, which is just fine.
10. Episode 10 – “Shape-Shifters”
“Shape-Shifters” looks to be one of the more divisive entries in the series, because it is a story hoping to operate on multiple allegorical levels. In a world where werewolves are members of the United States military, two wolfy jar heads alienated from the rest of their team and questioning their mission to help humans defeat “terrorism”. As a story of brotherhood and an examination of pack mentality, there is a lot to enjoy about “Shape-Shifters”; however, if you’re looking for intelligent commentary on the war on terror, this is most certainly not it. The ruminations on racism between the first and third acts are so dissonant, so thoroughly under cooked it is a wonder this episode works at all; but yet it still does, by centering itself on one of the series’ stronger protagonists, a level-headed man just trying to make sense of his purpose in the world.