This review contains very minor spoilers.
There are some shows that make you wonder how they ever made it through the first pitch meeting. Animation as a genre of entertainment is still infantilized even today. R-rated entertainment runs the risk of alienating the lucrative demographic of the very young, and all the shows on TV these days are serialized, with a single main plotline running straight through.
And yet, by way of thermodynamic miracle or dumb luck, we have Love, Death & Robots, an R-rated, animated, science fiction anthology series so kickass it can stand toe-to-toe with Black Mirror, perhaps the most dominant sci-fi show of our time.
Each episode is bite-sized (about 10 minutes long) so this is a really easy binge, but for the ones about to dive in, we wanted to give you our first impressions and lead you right to the gems. And for the ones who’ve already seen the show: this is us processing a cool thing with you. We present every episode of Love, Death & Robots (so far — here’s hoping we get a second season), reviewed and graded.
Giant monsters fighting tooth and nail in a gladiator setting + a take-no-shit woman sticking it to a vile man in power = high quality revenge porn. While each episode has its own moods and art styles, Sonnie’s Edge kind of sets the tone for the rest of the series. As viewers, we’re informed that what we’re in for is a beautifully graphic thing that can get pretty extra with the sex and violence bits. Great first impression.
After the extinction of all human life, three sentient robots explore the ruins of civilization like tourists at the Grand Canyon. There’s something charming, almost funny, the way Three Robots tells us that all our triumphs and follies might come off as meaningless or weird to beings whose ancestors were our household appliances.
Strength: Albert Mielgo’s art style and animation approach, which unmistakably resembles his work as “visual consultant” of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Great! Weakness: a fetishized Asian character. Not so great! Also a cyclical narrative that’s more of a head-scratcher than a mind-blower. So, superbly beautiful — probably the most visually arresting episode in the whole show — but not perfect.
Don’t let the Clash of Clans look of this episode fool you. Suits manages to be more exciting and moving in its 10 minutes of run-time than most full-length movies. Farmers and ranchers pilot giant robots to protect their land against alien invaders. Giant robots, with a splash of yee-haw.
“Sucker of Souls”
A band of hired mercenaries must battle Dracula the Impaler, after the latter was resurrected by a naive anthropologist. Hold up, I thought this was a sci-fi series. Where’s the sci-fi here? Not a lot going on here either, plot-wise. There’s a threat, the threat is scary and hard to neutralize. Okay.
“When the Yogurt Took Over”
Forget robot overlords — what if the thing that took over our government and defined our way of life was a culture of extremely intelligent bacteria? A fun watch, if you’re a fan of the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs art style, and like your endings open.
“Beyond the Aquila Rift”
One of two short stories written by sci-fi author Alastair Reynolds and adapted for Netflix, Beyond the Aquila Rift tells the story of a crew who, lost in space, realizes that their salvation may not be what it seems. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that Beyond does something that’s hard to do in an entertainment landscape in which The Matrix trilogy exists: it takes the supposedly tired “reality is a simulation” trope and makes it new, giving us a story that manages to be both touching and terrifying. (Also the first A+ on this list! There are three.)
Liang is a boy raised to be a hunter of spirits such as Huli Jing, supernatural creatures who can shapeshift between human and fox form. He forms a friendship with a Huli Jing named Yan, and both come to realize as the industrial revolution rolls in — and with it, English imperialists — that they have to adapt to this new, magic-killing world in unique, reclamatory ways. Come for the steampunk technology, but stay for all the interesting things “Good Hunting” has to say about colonialism, allyship, and the ways the oppressed fight back when pushed into a corner.
An old dude living in a garbage dump defends his home from contractor. It’s pretty awesome watching an irreverent old man resist displacement with gratuitous violence, but it’s not as fun if you can see the ending coming from 50 miles away.
Werewolves are real and they serve in the military. On the one hand: minus points for a story that lionizes the American military industrial complex. On the other hand: gay undertones between the two main beast-men? A thrilling watch with super grisly fight scenes, but it needs more gay.
If you’ve seen Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, then you already know what kind of dramatic beats Helping Hand will be hitting. An astronaut, adrift in the endless void of space, must find a way back to her station before her space suit runs out of oxygen. This one’s just more gory. Love, Death & Robots is the kind of show that likes beating you over the head with the fact that it’s R-rated by taking every chance to throw in blood and fucking and more cuss words than necessary. But in Helping Hand, the gore is entirely warranted, presented as a oddly heroic thing.
Some episodes of Love, Death & Robots feel like half-baked ideas that rely more on their premise than actual plot to come off as interesting. “Fish Night” is one of those episodes. If there are human ghosts, then shouldn’t there also be animal ghosts? If deserts used to be oceans, then shouldn’t the sandy wastes be haunted by the souls of deep sea creatures long gone? Pretty trippy idea, right? But that’s all “Fish Night” is: visually trippy. Not much story here either.
A rookie pilot is assigned to fly a “cursed” ship, so described for having lost two crews. This rookie pilot makes it work though, miraculously turning this flying jinx into an MVP of the skies. There are a lot of points you can make which such a premise, about the bond between man and machine or the magical thinking that informs your decisions in the thrall of war, but Lucky 13 doesn’t really make any substantial points about such things. This episode barely gets off the ground.
In a lifelong quest to learn the purpose of not just his art, but also existence, an artist whose body and being blur the line between man and machine, prepares to unravel his final work. Figuring into that piece, and the works that comprise the final phase of his career, is a color called Zima Blue.
This is the second Alastair Reynolds story to make it to the show, and probably the most philosophically rich episode out of the whole series anthology. Watching “Zima Blue” feels like reading Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov for the first time. If you plan on evangelizing Love, Death & Robots to a friend who isn’t super into science fiction, “Zima Blue” might be the gateway they need.
A ragtag team of tough-talking robots in cool cars execute a heist. It’s meat-and-potatoes action entertainment, with car chases and explosions and guns and squad banter and truckloads of snark. The kind of s*** prepubescent boys like.
A couple (oh hey, Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead!) moves into their new apartment and finds a whole-ass civilization living inside their refrigerator. In the span of a day, the couple watches this miniature civilization go through the motions of progress, monument-building, and war with a sense of mild amusement (“It’s the Industrial Revolution already.” “Aw, we missed the Renaissance.” “Oh, bummer.”), witnessing this world advance beyond even their present and play out into a future of human history they themselves have not lived.
On the surface, Ice Age presents a lighthearted outlook on how insignificant humanity is in the grand scheme of things. But it also asks us to consider a more endearing reading — about how moving in with someone you love can feel like the birth, collapse, and rebirth of a universe.
What if Adolf Hitler died before he had the chance to become führer? That’s a legit question you can ask Multiversity, a fictional downloadable app that can show you alternate timelines of human history. While it is satisfying watching Hitler die multiple ridiculous deaths, the real strength of this episode is that even it knows the death of Hitler doesn’t automatically prevent World War 2.
Russian soldiers battle demons born from a military experiment gone awry. It stands well enough on its own as a war story about bravery with a sprinkle of Hellboy mixed in, but if you were to watch every Love, Death & Robots episode in the order presented, Secret War comes off as anticlimactic. You can either skip this, or just get this out of the way and watch this first, then use this list to work your way up to the stronger episodes. Just watch promise me you’ll watch “Zima Blue”.
Stream Love, Death & Robots on Netflix.