January 22, 2020

Off the Beaten Path: A TV Review Series

With this inaugural post, I’d like to introduce the concept behind this blog series called Off the Beaten Path. If you follow the Chicago Film Scene, I bet you’ve noticed a growing number of review based podcasts. While they certainly are fun to take part in, there are so many things out there that could be reviewed. We could create thousands of podcasts and still only scratch the surface. So to fill the time between recording podcasts and working on new films, I thought I’d start reviewing film with the written word for all of you.

On Off the Beaten Path

So what is Off the Beaten Path? In a nutshell, I will watch a season of a TV show and give my thoughts about each episode. At the end of every review, I’ll give you a recommendation. This recommendation will tell you whether or not I think a fan of type of episode I’m reviewing will enjoy it. I’m going with recommendations instead of ratings for a simple reason. Mainly, a rating gives the impression of a quantitative grade, even though this is impossible because of the subjective nature of art. So in the end, I’m just telling you what I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, and hopefully you’ll check out whatever I’m reviewing and form your own opinions.

But what about the shows themselves? Some of these shows will be ones I’ve seen before and want to rewatch. Others are shows I’ve been meaning to watch and now have the perfect excuse. There are even some that are both. What matters is that these will be shows that aren’t mainstream but shows that at least deserve our attention. So to start this blog series, I will review the fairly new Netflix original Love, Death & Robots.

Pre-Watch Summary

For those who are unaware, Love, Death & Robots is an animated anthology show that premiered on Netflix back in March of 2019. The premise of the show is simple enough. Each episode adapts a sci-fi short story (though there are 2 original stories in the mix), each episode is animated by a different studio with their style, and each episode features a combination of love, death, and/or robots. Many people have compared Love, Death & Robots to other anthology shows like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone. I see where people come from with these comparisons, but those comparisons are superficial at best. To get a true comparison to Love, Death & Robots, we need to go back to the bright ol’ year of 1981 with the release of the cult classic movie Heavy Metal.

“In other words, exploitation presented as the perfect encapsulation of a pubescent nerd’s fever dream.”

Heavy Metal is an adult animated anthology movie, told in animated segments. Like Love, Death & Robots each segment was adapted from some previous source material. In the case of Heavy Metal, the source material is the french comic book magazine of the same name. When it was released, Heavy Metal rose and fell without making a huge blip. This isn’t surprising in hindsight. It came out during the tail end of the dark age on animation. This meant the general audience didn’t take it seriously because it was an animated movie geared solely for adults. That said, it gathered enough of a cult following over the years to garner a sequel, Heavy Metal 2000. Unlike Heavy Metal, Heavy Metal 2000 bombed with critics and audiences alike and was quickly forgotten.

Fast forward to the current millennium. David Fincher takes the reigns from Robert Rodriguez and becomes the latest in a long line of high profile directors tapped to direct the long-gestating reboot of Heavy Metal. Progress was slow to start. Then, at some point, Tim Miller came on board as a producer. Together, they made enough progress to begin the production of several scripts they had acquired. Over time, the project grew and grew to the point where a movie was no longer feasible. Thus what started as a Heavy Metal reboot was changed into an anthology show and renamed Love, Death & Robots.

My First Impressions

I first watched Love, Death & Robots shortly after it premiered back in March. I remember I was stoned to the gills, and the trailer looked interesting so I hit play. Next thing I knew, it was almost 4 hours later, and I was ¾ of the way through. I couldn’t finish the season in one sitting (I wanted to get to bed before the sun started to rise), but finished it almost immediately after waking up.

My initial impression was that the show was truly the evolution of Heavy Metal. The original DNA of the movie was there, but it had grown into something greater, distinct, and entirely it’s own. Like the original movie, Love, Death & Robots (except for a few) is not for the whole family. Sure, there is the requisite sci-fi and fantasy. There is also a ton of gore, a lot of drugs, and so many naked boobs and dicks that you could count on one hand the number of episodes that don’t feature them. In other words, exploitation presented as the perfect encapsulation of a pubescent nerd’s fever dream.

Like the movie, Love, Death & Robots inherited many of the faults of Heavy Metal. Some of the episodes felt more like excuses for titillation and exploitation rather than to create good stories. Others had some interesting ideas that couldn’t be expanded upon due to the short format. Despite this, Love, Death & Robots did something Heavy Metal wasn’t truly able to achieve. It showcased truly special stories that stay in your mind long after watching accompanied by some truly beautiful animation. Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect with this rewatch. That said, I know I’ll enjoy the ride bumps and all, and I hope you do too. 

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If you’re curious about what I’m jumping into and want an idea before jumping in yourself, here’s the red-band trailer.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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