Spicy City intro screen

My Thoughts on the Episodes

Episode One: Love Is a Download
The Boxer and the Geisha connecting for the first time

Now, this is an episode that has me feeling conflicted. When I watched it the first time, I thought Love Is a Download was going to be, at best, middle of the pack. After watching the entire show, Love Is a Download ended up as my second favorite. In hindsight, this is easy enough to see.

For one, Love Is a Download actually attempts to use its cyberpunk setting to tell something entirely cyberpunk. Namely, it’s a love story of two lost souls who meet in a very 90’s conception of a virtual chat room. It doesn’t dive too much into the ramifications, but it at least is a story that needed the cyberpunk setting to be properly told.

Also, the protagonists of the Boxer and the Geisha are comparatively well-drawn and easy to root for. All they want is to be together, but the Geisha’s monster of a boyfriend/the Boxer’s client – the Boxer is a virtual PI – gets in the way. Plus, they have some interesting backgrounds and goals. The Boxer, in reality, a one-armed morbidly obese man, used to be an Army vet. The Geisha, the prized girlfriend of a mobster, wants to escape into virtual reality so she can be viewed as more than a hot body. It’s not a lot, but compared to the rest of Spicy City, it’s enough to stand above the others.

That said, it’s still highly flawed. While the Boxer and the Geisha are easy to root for, their love story seems incredibly rushed; they’re professing undying love to each other within minutes of meeting each other. The writers don’t really understand how the internet functions. Because of this, it’s easily the most dated of the sci-fi ideas in presentation. The use of offensive stereotypes is in full force. I mean, how long has it been since the idea of the computer guy being an obese slob like this been discredited? Plus, the treatment of women is about the same as other episodes.

That said, if you’re going to check out Spicy City, Love Is a Download is a good litmus test to see if you’re cut out for the show as a whole.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Two: Mano’s Hands
Raven and Mano as Mano performs for an excited crowd

I legit don’t understand Mano’s Hands. I truly don’t. Like, why is there a magical realism story in this universe? It feels like Bakshi had this idea for a movie, found it didn’t work as a movie and decided to throw it in as well.

And you know what else, this episode just sucks. The story is rather jumbled at best, hopping from one set piece to another without any real throughline. There’s no one to root for. Mano, the closest thing to a protagonist, is an asshole who falls out of the narrative. The stereotypes at play are outright offensive. I mean, how can you not wince at the portrayal of the voodoo priestess? And the ending, god that ending. Somehow they decided to portray what’s clearly Stockholm Syndrome as a romantic end? It really was the dingleberry to top off this shit sundae of an episode.

My Recommendation: Don’t Recommend

Episode Three: Tears of a Clone
Flaxson receiving his assignment

While I at least understand Tears of a Clone on a story level – it’s about a PI who’s hired by a rich man to find his missing daughter – I still don’t like it. While Mano’s Hands left me baffled, Tears of a Clone was just cold.

For one, I find it very hard to root for Flaxson, the main character. I mean, the man is a monster. Even before seeing Raven’s Revenge, Flaxson’s massacre of the mutants struck me as more horrific than heroic, and that feeling only intensifies after watching Raven’s Revenge. That, on top of how he weasel’s his way to finishing the job at the end, makes him one of the hardest protagonists of the whole show to root for.

Also, the treatment of women is just terrible here. I mean, the daughter of the client is never shown with clothing on and is disturbingly treated as a sex object by everyone, including her father. Hell, the clone he delivers is literally treated as an object. 

While the story makes use of the cyberpunk atmosphere, it only does so at face value. Other than the cloning bit (and even that is pretty inconsequential), this could just be a typical noir story. If anything, this feels like the writers watched Blade Runner, took none of the nuances, and added way too much nihilism to make it seem more adult. Also, good lord is that ending dark, but not in a way that feels justified.

My Recommendation: Don’t Recommend

Episode Four: An Eye For An Eye
Ernie’s first attempt to stop Margo

An Eye For An Eye continues down the Tears of a Clone road. Take from that what you will.

This is another noir tale that doesn’t make much use of the cyberpunk setting beyond surface elements. Like An Eye For An Eye, it has to do with mass organ manufacturing. It follows a bunch of protagonists that are at best hard to root for. I mean, Margo is a straight-up monster and while her partner Ernie is at least trying to do good to bring down Margo, but good lord is he jackassy and ineffective at doing that.

At least compared to Tears of a Clone, the treatment of women isn’t that of just sex objects. Now they’re also monsters. Like, I know by the point I watched An Eye For An Eye I was craving a more well thought out woman character, but man Margo and Nisa are just the TVTropes descriptions of The Vamp (Margo in particular) and Lipstick Lesbians, which isn’t all that much better. On the whole, it’s slightly up the ladder of quality than Tears of a Clone, but not enough for me to ever feel like rewatching this.

My Recommendation: Don’t Recommend

Episode Five: Sex Drive
Nisa Lolita recording an impromptu testimonial

Now I finally get to talk a little bit about Sex Drive aka my favorite episode of the show. I mean, it’s still not all that great. It has a lot of the flaws that seem to be wired into the DNA of Spicy City (I’ll get into this in a bit). But also, after 4 episodes of at best mediocrity, Sex Drive is, despite the title, a breath of fresh air.

For one, the protagonists of Sex Drive are actually likable, just like in Love Is a Download. There’s Virus, the struggling hooker just trying to survive, and Nisa Lolita, the aspiring detective trying to get justice for the prostitutes who have been disappearing. After seeing episode after episode of monsters and jackasses as the protagonists, it’s great to see an optimist in the driver’s seat (sometimes literally in Lolita’s case). Sure, they’re fighting against an endless sea of rampant misogyny and corruption, but the fact they fight like hell for the right thing makes them all the more endearing.

Also, the story is the best of the lot. It makes use of the cyberpunk setting to ask actual questions about the human condition – namely, at what point does the virtual become more enticing than the real? – plus it has the principal characters go through an arc fueled by conflict, and it has a solid ending. In a way, it’s almost as out of place as Mano’s Hands within the world of Spicy City, but in the exact opposite way. If anything, Sex Drive is the episode that demonstrates that with the right retooling, Spicy City could have been something.

That said, Sex Drive is still problematic. Like, a lot of the sensuality are instances of assault portrayed as sexy and romantic, the dialogue is still as stilted as all the other episodes, and also women are still treated as sex objects largely to be oggled by lecherous men. In other words, while it’s still the best of the bunch, it’s still bad enough that I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Six: Raven’s Revenge
Raven performing her lounge singing act

With Raven’s Story, we finally get a story where Raven, the proprietor of the Roost Nightclub and our humble narrator, finally steps out of the shadows and gets a story of her own. And you know what, while it’s not the best, it’s certainly in the top three along with Love Is a Download and Sex Drive.

Like my other two favorite episodes, Raven’s Revenge gives us a protagonist we can actively root for. In this case, Raven has to evade capture by a shady bio-medical conglomerate. In the process, we learn about her past. In a nutshell, she’s Rachel from Blade Runner with the added wrinkle of being patient zero for a genetic plague. We also see that like the protagonists of Love Is a Download and Sex Drive, Raven is an inherently good person. She treats everyone with respect – especially those who are largely shunned by society, like the mutants that tag along in the story – and grieves for those caught up in wanton violence and despair. It’s a welcome change, seeing someone more of a visual femme fatale than Jessica Rabbit could ever achieve ending up as a good person.

That said, the story is rather weak, easily the weakest of my top three episodes. Mainly, while Raven is the de facto protagonist, she’s way too passive for my liking. She is essentially shepherded from scene to scene being told who she is and what to do while the people around her do all the actual work. It would have been nice to see her rally take charge and take control of her destiny, which would have neatly dovetailed into the reveals of her character. In the end, Raven’s Revenge is probably the best cap to a show as uneven as Spicy City.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

By 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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