When it was first announced back in 2019, 'Love, Death & Robots' had a lot of critics initially making comparisons with 'Black Mirror', but the anthology series creators - Tim Miller, and some director guy called *check notes* David Fincher - were more interest in reviving the like of 'Heavy Metal'.
For those who may be unfamiliar, 'Heavy Metal' was a sci-fi / fantasy magazine in the late '70s that began life as a US translation of 'Métal hurlant', which featured drawings and works from the likes of Mœbius. 'Heavy Metal' was hugely influential, featuring adult-themed stories and imagery - some of it highly sexualised - and has been a touchstone for many directors, artists, and writers in the years since. Yet, the complaints that surrounded the first season of 'Love, Death & Robots' was that it was far too old-fashioned and this criticism appears to have been acknowledged somewhat, but then also ignored, in its second season.
Like the first season or volume, 'Love, Death & Robots' features eight unique stories, none of which are linked to the other, all of them with differing art styles and themes. This time around, the robots and the gratuitous sex appear to be more or less jettisoned in favour of stories with real personality and presence to them. Moreover, the stories themselves feel far more contained and less like they're truncated showreels or a sizzle video for an animation studio.
'Pop Squad' is our favourite of the eight episodes, taking inspiration from 'Blade Runner', 'Altered Carbon', and other sci-fi noirs, and deals with an unsettling story involving a world where immortality comes at a terrible cost. 'Life Hutch', which stars Michael B. Jordan, was adapted from a short story by Harlan Ellison and sees a downed fighter pilot struggling to survive. 'The Drowned Giant', meanwhile, is a JG Ballard short story about a humongous naked man who washes up on an English beach and sees him contemplating life, death, and a giant penis. Really. 'Automated Customer Service', meanwhile, is a slapstick comedy about a murderous domestic servant-robot written by John Scalzi, who wrote the excellent sci-fi satire 'Redshirts'.
Each of the episodes, which run anywhere between 7 minutes and 18 minutes long, all feel far more unique and less stolid than the first season. Anthology series are nothing new, of course, but making animated shorts like this with this a diverse range of stories, themes, and even genres, really does highlight the lack of bravery inherent in TV today. Inventive stories like these can only exist in small, tiny nuggets that are dumped onto an already overloaded streaming service and fired into the ether where they'll most likely be overlooked by the vast majority of the user base. Yet, maybe that's the way it's always been.
'Heavy Metal', which inspired this series in the first instance, was an underground, cult magazine. Its readers and admirers weren't terribly interested in the idea of it going mainstream, and almost seemed to relish the fact that it wasn't an easy fit with larger audiences. The same could be said for 'Love, Death & Robots'. It's not trying to engage larger crowds or give itself a huge, wide appeal. It's only interested in telling their story or showing their art in the way they want it to be.
In a time of shrinking options for creative people, this isn't something to be ignored.