TV Review: ‘Love, Death and Robots’ S2 fails to live up to its predecessor’s highs

This article was published on The Indiependent, find it here.

*spoilers ahead for season two of Love, Death and Robots*

When Love, Death and Robots debuted on Netflix way back in March 2019, it promised to be an anthology series like no other. Each episode is built on a completely different animation style and genre to the last, opening up an already exciting show to endless possibility and scale. Episodes from the first outing like “Sonnie’s Edge”, “Three Robots” and “The Witness” still stick with me to this day – not only for their beautiful animation styles but for their impeccable storytelling. 

Netflix via YouTube

The second outing of the animated anthology series premiered on Netflix last week, but unfortunately couldn’t live up to the stellar reputation it forged for itself the first time around. The main problem with the second season of Love, Death and Robots is that, to put it simply, there are very few standouts. The episode count has been cut from a whopping eighteen to a measly eight. If you’re going to be delivering less, it needs to pop more, which sadly was not the case. When you’re rooting through a catalogue of eighteen original stories, there are bound to be a dozen that you’ll enjoy. But with just eight on offer, there are only a couple that managed to make an impact.

That being said, it wasn’t all bad. “Pop Squad” and “Snow in the Desert” are undeniably the strongest episodes of the season, with dark, grippingly well-rounded stories that translate beautifully with their respective animation styles. “Pop Squad” is one of the most nightmarish offerings of the series thus far, exploring a dystopian planet devastated by mass overpopulation where having children is a crime. Drawing from influences such as Blade Runner, the story paints a bleak future as the lead detective of a futuristic-looking SWAT team is brutally assigned to track and kill children (again, nightmarish stuff). The story explores the moral conflicts that arise in a dystopian society, doing so with such elegant symbolism and moving storytelling – making it one of the best of the bunch.

Alternatively, “Snow in the Desert” looks and feels like something plucked straight from the Star Wars universe. Incorporating the shows running themes of immortality and capitalism, the episode does a more polished job of introducing us to a fully formed alternate universe in a relatively small window of time. Epic in scale, it follows Snow, a grizzled bounty hunter with a genetic quirk that essentially makes him immortal. Unfortunately for him, it also makes him a target for a wide range of pursuers and leads to an intense showdown spawning across the galaxy. “Snow in the Desert” gets extra points for being one of the few stories in the Love, Death and Robots anthology to actually embrace all three parts of the title.

Clockwise from top left: “Ice”, “All Through the House”, “The Drowned Giant”, “Snow in the Desert”
Source: Netflix Life

The other stuff isn’t necessarily bad, just pretty forgettable. “All Through the House” is a fun little unorthodox approach to a Christmas story, turning the tradition of sneaking downstairs to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve into a surreal nightmare. The Alien-inspired creature that emerges from the chimney to analyse whether the children have been naughty or nice is horrifying, to say the least.

“Automated Customer Service” cashes in on Love, Death and Robots’ trademark humour, seeing a robot vacuum cleaner malfunction and try to kill an elderly lady and her dog in the 13-minute short. Although delivering a refreshing take on the classic sci-fi motif on the dangers of a high-tech society, with some welcome laughs along the way, the episode doesn’t offer anything that inclines you to ever visit it again. 

It’s also worth noting that the number of animation styles is far more limited this season. Only one story, “Ice”, uses 2D animation, whilst the majority of the rest opt for a photorealistic 3D rendered style. Compared to the span of experimental animation styles used in the previous season, it feels too settled and unwilling to take any big stylistic risks – something that made the first season so captivating.

The Verdict:

Love, Death and Robots needs, if not deserves, more than eight episodes. The second season touches upon the greatness of the first but rarely manages to replicate it. That being said, the series still continues to be an enjoyable, eccentric, and thought-provoking joy – with creativity that’s in a universe of its own.

Episode ranking:

8. Ice

7. Life Hutch

6. The Drowned Giant

5. The Tall Grass

4. All Through the House

3. Automated Customer Service

2. Pop Squad

1. Snow in the Desert

Words by Ben Wilkinson