After watching the first season of Love, Death & Robots, I was enthralled by the diversity of animation styles, selection of genres, and innovative stories that made up a cornucopia of enjoyable and entertaining vignettes. It offered so many memorable moments and thought-provoking tales that you’d be hard-pressed not to find one or two that appealed to your sensibilities. So when the second season was announced, and release on Netflix, the bar of anticipation was set expectedly high.
Unfortunately, having concluded this new anthology, I was left disappointed, if not at least a bit underwhelmed. In short, I found season two of Love, Death, and Robots lacked the magnitude of variety and caliber of its predecessor. That’s not to say there weren’t outliers and gems, but when the pool is already so shallow, less than half the previous seasons, the overall quality felt diluted. Honestly, these stories felt more like the leftover pitches that didn’t make the original cut and were cobbled together into bonus content. But rather than compare season two to its markedly superior first season, I’d rather focus on its own merits.
Automated Customer Service
Directed By: Meat Dept (Kevin Dan Ver Meiren, David Nicolas & Laurent Nicolas)
Script / Story By: John Scalzi & Meat Dept
Taking place in an innocuous fully automated retirement community, the story quickly shifts to a woman fending for her life, and the life of her cute and adorable dog, when a cleaning unit goes homicidal. Equal parts humorous and terrifying, this premise gave me flashbacks of that much darker “Black Mirror” episode “Metalhead”. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, there were many subtle nods here and there to that which were appreciated and accentuated my enjoyment of this first installment. I also loved Nancy Linari’s voice acting, portraying both confused and frightened householder who must evade termination while her frustrations mount with the impersonal automated customer service help hotline. If you like a little dark humor with a bright color palette, you can’t go wrong with this sweet short. And on a slight aside, the first and last episode of the season are the only ones not scripted by Philip Gelatt.
Directed By: Robert Valley
Script / Story By: Philip Gelatt / Rich Larson
Ice does a phenomenal job of world-building in just the first few minutes with exposition expertly crafted into the dialog. By the time the story gets rolling, I already have a well-rounded idea of the world and how it works. On an icy colonized planet, two brothers tag along with other juveniles, and engage in a dangerous sport involving “frost whales”. The animation, done by Passion Animation Studios, has a very stark, edgy, and elongated art style with heavy shadowing. The simplicity of this story is its charm. However, outside of the distinct animation, this isn’t quite as memorable.
Directed By: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Script / Story By: Philip Gelatt / Paolo Bacigalupi
A deeply philosophical episode, the moral quandary Pop Squad poses certainly lingers with you after you’ve watched this short. In a future where humanity has unlocked biological immortality, procreation is outlawed; where progeny are executed with extreme prejudice. We are quickly introduced to our story’s protagonist, Det. Briggs (voiced by the exceptionally talented Nolan North), in the middle of carrying out his duties. Haunted by his job, Det. Briggs slowly questions the morality of his profession and the society he lives in, eventually confronting the ethics of what it means to be human. In typical sci-fi noir fashion, the hypothetical questions proposed by Pop Squad are the true value of this story, rather than its conclusion. This makes Pop Squad one of the few truly outstanding episodes this season, and a must-watch if you have an affinity for stories set in this sub-genre.
Snow in the Desert
Directed By: Leon Berelle, Dominique Boidin, Remi Kozyra & Maxime Luere
Script / Story By: Philip Gelatt / Neal Asher
Following a gruff albino hermit named Snow (voiced by Peter Franzen and forged from the mold of Old Man Logan) on a desert planet, we learn that there is a considerable bounty for his scrotum (not kidding). It is revealed that Snow is an immortal with a regenerative healing factor that would give Deadpool a run for his money. He is approached by an equally mysterious woman who hopes to convince, rather than coerce or force, his compliance in sharing his gift with humanity. Utilizing photo-realistic CG animation, courtesy of Unit Image, there are a lot of “Tatooine” vibes with the planet and general aesthetics of the world. At the climax of the story, the woman is revealed to be hiding her own secret, and the two form a (possibly eternal) bond over their shared plight. While this entry feels quite rushed, it however does a serviceable job in getting us somewhat invested in Snow’s story.
The Tall Grass
Directed By: Simon Otto
Script / Story By: Philip Gelatt / Joe Lansdale
One of the only three stories to not have a tinge of sci-fi is The Tall Grass. A passenger on a steam-powered train finds the locomotive temporarily stranded amongst a seemingly infinite field of ominously tall grass. In spite of the conductor’s warnings, he ventures into the field to discover the horrific secrets that lie within. The Netflix horror film “Into the Tall Grass” and other similar Stephen King-esque stories did this plot better. I also found that it didn’t push the boundaries of horror or suspense significantly enough to make it genuinely terrifying. Overall, The Tall Grass feels like a subdued and dispensable entry of a “Twilight Zone” or other similar anthology series.
All Through the House
Directed By: Elliot Dear
Script / Story By: Philip Gelatt / Joachim Heijndermans
This was the most pleasantly surprising entry this season. While the shortest vignette, at only seven minutes long, I found its premise the most unique and off kilter. When two young children on Christmas Eve decide to spy on Old St. Nick in their house, they get more than they bargained for. It was a nice, novel twist to the traditional Santa Claus mythos, I really wished would have been explored more in a longer episode. But for what it was, All Through the House was pitch perfect and amusingly unsettling.
Directed By: Alex Beaty
Script / Story By: Philip Gelatt / Harlan Ellison
Starring Michael B Jordan (both in voice and character design), a lone space pilot crash-lands on a remote planet and must survive long enough to get rescued. Complicating matters beyond his near-mortal injury is a malfunctioning and murderous automaton stalking him. The claustrophobic nature and setting harkens back to elements derived from similar sci-fi survival horror tropes. That’s not to say it isn’t executed well here. Michael’s resourcefulness and the peculiarities of his adversary make this a suspenseful watch. The photo-realistic animation is done by Blur Studio, and is on par with what Unit Image did with “Snow in the Desert”. I could honestly see this as the opening cinematic to an enthralling sci-fi horror videogame akin to “Alien: Isolation”, “Dead Space”, or even the more recent “Returnal”.
The Drowned Giant
Directed By: Tim Miller
Script / Story By: Tim Miller / J G Ballard
The Drowned Giant will not be for everyone, as it is a sublime, retrospective tale told from the narrator’s perspective. The narrator (voiced by Steve Pacey) is an academic assigned to investigate and chronicle the peculiar appearance of a literal dead giant naked man who washed up on the shores of a sleepy coastal town. The narrator poetically articulates with humble awe and fascination, the degradation of his subject matter, physically, philosophically and socially. The story is essentially his musings about the phenomenon from beginning to end. Like the previous episode, this one was animated by Blur Studio, and the quality shines through the contrasting proportions and methodical decomposition and dismemberment of the titular dead colossus. Eerily enough, the final episode may be a meta-commentary on the series itself, if taken under that context and examination.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics, or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.