In theory, “Love, Death + Robots” has all the elements to create a hit: wacky Black Mirror-esque concepts, a stunning variety of animation, celebrity casts and crews (even legendary director and artist Jennifer Yuh Nelson!). After watching phenomenal episodes like “When the Yogurt Took Over” and “Ice Age” from Volume 1, I was more than curious to see what concepts Volume 2 would bring. Between the show’s misogynistic history and the eccentric premises of many episodes within the first season, the last thing I expected to be while watching the second volume was bored.
The first episode, “Automated Customer Service,” focuses on a lady being attacked by her home maintenance unit. The sacrifice of privacy in everyday life for the sake of technological advancement is hardly a new theme in science fiction. Even within Volume 2, another episode, “Life Hutch,” has almost the exact same plot: A pilot, played by Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”), tries to stay alive while being attacked by a maintenance robot in a safe shelter on a barren planet. By far, the most exciting thing that happened in both episodes was the endings. “Automated Customer Service” cuts off at the most exciting moment of the story, where you realize the magnitude of the threat, and “Life Hutch” ends with the pilot in the shelter, awaiting rescue (so really, nothing happens). It wasn’t promising that a solid fourth of the volume was indistinguishable. Many episodes, such as “Pop Squad” and “Snow in the Desert,” felt ordinary in their storylines, with a feeble-to-mediocre attempt at a twist punctuating the end.
Still, there are absolutely things to love in the series: The animation is consistently, jaw-droppingly beautiful. With a variety of art directors and styles for each episode, viewers will constantly be visually interested. The animation in “The Tall Grass” is beautifully haunting. “Ice” involves a dark color palette that causes the ethereal 2D animation to pop. Many of the episodes featuring realistic animation have passed the uncanny valley; often, I believed many of the episodes were live-action until better judgment informed me otherwise. Additionally, a couple of the episodes are stellar in their execution: “The Drowned Giant” is visual poetry, while “All Through the House” is ridiculously well-written. However, the animation and few well-done episodes struggle to distract from the fact that, for the most part, the stories lack personality.
It’s important to address the treatment of women characters within the series. Volume 1 of the series was notorious for its sexualized depictions of women, who were often brutalized and murdered. Thankfully, Volume 2 is absent of those constant and upsetting portrayals of violence. Instead, Volume 2 portrays the middle theme of its title in a different way. As indicated by the title, death is a constant threat in almost all the episodes — mostly, the protagonists try not to die, while in “Pop Squad” the protagonists kill and in “The Drowned Giant” people treat death in a voyeuristic way, turning a drowned giant washed up on the shore of their town into a tourist attraction. When “Love, Death + Robots” manages to break out of cliches, the episodes are sublime. But many of the episodes in the second season struggle to do so. Hopefully, in Volume 3 the story and dialogue will be infused with life.
This brings me to my last point: the speech. It was, for lack of a better term, robotic. Often, the high-brow concepts were forgotten in favor of dialogue (that turned out quite awkward) between characters. I was ripped out of the story of “Pop Squad” every time the characters spoke — in its generic quality, the dialogue became difficult to relate to. “Ice” felt like an odd reconstruction of how adults think teens talk. The series is supposed to deal with the intersection of humanity and technology, yet its script is focused on odd displays of surface-level humanity. In its lofty ideals, the series seems to forget that its protagonists are still people with personalities, feelings, quirks — by making their characters human, “Love, Death + Robots” could reach its huge potential.
For a series that’s supposed to be thought-provoking, “Love, Death + Robots Volume 2” can be tedious for some to get through. I recommend watching select episodes from Volume 2. “The Drowned Giant” and “All Through the House” are unmissable, while the other episodes are worthwhile if you have a decent amount of time to kill, love Black Mirror or adore animation. Ultimately, Volume 2 packs much less of a punch than the original season but still contains a few standouts. I’m interested in watching Volume 3, and hopefully, the storytelling delivers on unconventional ways of portraying “Love, Death + Robots.”
Daily Arts writer Meera Kumar can be reached at email@example.com.