If “Black Mirror” represents a dystopian outlook on modern technocratic society, then “Love, Death and Robots” serves as its psychedelic, hippie cousin that sticks around just long enough to make everyone laugh, cry and experience a moment of existential crisis. Like “Black Mirror,” “Love, Death and Robots” — stylized as “LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS” — is an anthology series that mashes together elements of human drama and science-fiction to create brief, yet captivating stories.
Everyone’s been there, anxiously scrambling to find something to watch before the food gets cold and guests become uncomfortable. What if the movie or show sucks? Before you know it, everyone is stuck watching some generic garbage for an hour, quietly wondering if everybody else is as bored as they are.
In those hellish moments, something like “Love, Death and Robots” is truly a godsend. There’s no sitting through boring characters used as expositional tools to set up a narrative that may or may not be resolved four seasons later barring cancellation. No, “Love, Death and Robots” delivers quick jabs of provocative and concise entertainment that does more in one episode than most shows do in a season.
The series masterfully builds fascinating sci-fi narratives and manages to pack them into episodes that can run anywhere between five to seven minutes. By making each episode so short, the show is forced to trim much of the fat seen in other series. If a particular episode isn’t to someone’s liking, they can either wait it out or switch to the next segment for a completely different experience. The show’s versatility almost guarantees there’s at least one episode for everyone out there.
Of course, the thing that truly sets “Love, Death and Robots” apart is the show’s animation. To say that the series has great animation is underselling the incredible variety and depth of artistic work that has gone into it. This is because each episode of the show features a different style of animation than the last. Viewers will go from watching Pixar-like animation in one episode to hyper-realistic CGI in the next.
The very first episode, titled “Sonnie’s Edge,” plunges the viewer into a cyberpunk world with visuals on par with any modern video game. The character models perfectly blend realism and stylish design, capturing the viewer’s attention and empathy. Jump to the next episode — “Three Robots” — and the animation switches the cyberpunk aesthetic to a more lighthearted style that reflects the comedic shift in tone specific to the episode.
The series continuously uses animation to either create or reflect each episode’s theme. While most of them use some variant of 3D animation, there are a few that rely on 2D drawings that pleasantly contrast with the rest of the series.
One episode follows a group of explorers in a dark cave on the search for Dracula. The dark and dirty environment is perfectly highlighted in the gritty 2D animation style used in the episode. The grimy animation effectively sets the tone as the characters traverse the creepy cavern. Then suddenly, a few gallons of blood and guts later, the episode is over and the viewer is thrust into yet another distinctly animated and captivating world. The show continuously creates a genuine sense of excitement as viewers anticipate what the next episode will look like as the previous one ends. “Love, Death and Robots” is certainly worth a watch based on its visual achievements alone.
Aesthetics aside, nearly every episode of the series is rich with intriguing characters, captivating settings and engaging stories. While many of the dystopian sci-fi settings seen in the show draw comparisons to “Black Mirror,” it’s the more lighthearted episodes that set it apart narratively from anything else out there. As good as “Black Mirror” is, there’s no doubt that the dark and depressing elements of the series can weigh heavily on viewers after a while. “Love, Death and Robots” excellently maintains an emotional equilibrium that doesn’t shy away from any topic.
Although no topic is off-limits, the series reveals its major thematic elements in its name. Quite literally, nearly every episode contains elements of love, death and most importantly, robots.
Love and death are universal notions that can be found in any narrative regardless of tone, setting or structure. “Robots,” as used in the title, functions as a tool to symbolize technology and the unexplained. Together, these elements form a versatile series capable of evoking a hodgepodge of polarizing emotions in under 30 minutes. What makes this so effective is that these themes give the show the creative freedom to explore any world it wants.
One episode, for example, revolves around a character that is unknowingly trapped in a simulation, only to later discover this fake world is preferable to the hellish reality that surrounds him. Another is a lighthearted six-minute narrative about a super-intelligent yogurt that takes over the world.
Volume 2 of “Love, Death and Robots” will be released on Netflix on May 14, followed by Volume 3 coming out sometime in 2022. The trailer for the new volume looks to be just as mind-bending as the first and seems to showcase even better visuals. It opens by previewing another episode made in hyper-realistic CGI: A woman in a futuristic hospital asks her husband to hold her hand before a close-up on her face reveals freckles, wrinkles and a watery reflection in her eyes that eerily creep into the uncanny valley.
This heavy introduction then jumps to animation that could rival the latest Disney Pixar film, displaying the wide breadth of worlds that await viewers in Volume 2. An epic score accompanies the beautifully rendered characters and environments, creating a sense of wonder and adventure. Space battles, alien monsters and a dog-walking, poop-scooping robot are all part of this wild plunge into sci-fi goodness.
The show seems to be aware of its highly anticipated return, ending the trailer with a little boy turning to his friend and saying, “It’s just what I wanted.” With a third volume already approved and presumably in the works, there’s no denying the appeal behind the captivating world of “Love, Death and Robots.”