Our verdict was mixed on the first volume of Netflix’s animated anthology. Let’s see if it has improved.
Round two. Last time we looked at the animated science fiction anthology, Love, Death + Robots, we gave it a tentative thumbs up. While it sported innovative visuals and interesting premises, it was often mired down in performative edginess. We opined that hopefully the second season would iron out the kink(s). With volume 2 now on Netflix, we’re ready to see how much has changed.
Love, Death + Robots (2021)
This collection of animated short stories spans several genres, including science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy. World-class animation creators bring captivating stories to life in the form of a unique and visceral viewing experience.
Episode 1: Automated Customer Service.
Some senior citizens are lucky enough to enjoy their golden years in tomorrow’s high-tech, assisted living communities. They pursue relaxation, their every need taken care of – until their robotic servants decide to kill them.
This short starts the series off fairly strong. It has a unique and comical visual style, lots of jokes that don’t solely rely on blue humor, and a sardonic take on where “the internet of things” and aging in America are headed. Like this year’s Oscar nominated short film, Yes People, its largely dialogue free, with only the automated customer service rep having speaking roles. It’s not mind-blowing, but well-crafted, funny, and witty.
Episode 2: Ice.
In a future where many humans are enhanced with extraordinary strength and endurance, the “unmodded” feel left behind. This class-conflict drives a rift between two brothers that puts their lives at risk during a dangerous race.
Another solid entry. The animation is fast and fluid, reminding me of MTV’s Aeon Flux, but without the grotesqueness. The computer animated backgrounds of what looks like Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, is appropriately impressive, as are the ice whales that swim below the surface of the colony.
The story plays out mostly the way you expect, with the only real quirk being that regular humans are the target of bigotry, where lots of science fiction shows us human prejudice against their genetically altered progeny. While its a familiar story of brotherly rivalry and acceptance, it’s handled well and doesn’t become trite or precious.
Episode 3: Pop Squad.
In a future where resources are controlled by the rich, “unregistered offspring” are forbidden by the state. A police officer charged with enforcing population control faces a crisis of conscience.
Pop Squad had a ton of potential, and just barely misses going from good to excellent. The dystopian society, the visuals, and “cops hunting noncompliants” is definitely cribbing from Blade Runner, but it adds enough of its own tweaks and flair to remain compelling and interesting. I especially like how the cops look like a death-squad of Puritans. I also like the look at how an a society that has conquered death would model its new social order on. It didn’t go into a ton of depth but reminded me of notes of Rachel Heng’s excellent near-future dystopia “Suicide Club.”
Pop Squad seems up-to-date on its science fiction bona fides, but its does feel a touch borrowed. I think it’s one of those shorts that cries out for a longer treatment to further build on the materials its gathered.
Binge or Purge?: Love, Death + Robots, Vol. 2
Love, Death + Robots sure doesn’t make the comparison to last year easy. In volume 2’s favor, each episode so far has been at least good. That’s in contrast to last season where the content swung from great to poor. It’s a bit like trying to decide if you’d rather have a slugger who strikes out more, but has home-run power, or do you want the batter who gets on base every at bat?
Overall, I enjoyed all three offerings. Again, the shorts are so economical on time that I’d easily see myself dipping back in to hunt down this season’s best offering.