Saturday, March 02, 2013

These Aren't the Droids You're Looking For

Hello, readers! Thought that the end of Downton Abbey's third season was the last you were going to see of Lady Gillian? Think again! She returns to give us her take on a very different show below.

One would think that a show featuring an MMA-style cage match except now with GIANT FREAKING ROBOTS would be entertaining as hell to watch. A pinnacle in the genre of televised bloodsport. But, nay. Syfy as somehow managed to fuck this one up.  Gentle readers, I give you the latest entry in the annals of pedestrian reality shows: Robot Combat League.

The douchbag is strong with this one.

Syfy, apparently out of ideas for movies based on carnivorous homicidal CGI animal amalgamations (CROCSHARK! COBRAGATOR! ANACONDAKITTEN!), has taken a good concept (ROBOTS BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER) and made it unwatchable, banal and boring. So boring, in fact, that I fell asleep.

First of all, the mood, background music and the tone of the show are all overly dramatic. This is coming from someone who watches Downton Abbey like it's my job. It's like they want to convince us that this is some serious shit getting real RIGHT NOW. Like Seal Team 6 Let's Kill Osama bin Laden Realness. IT'S FUCKING ROBOTS FIGHTING EACH OTHER. LIGHTEN THE FUCK UP.

My second issue is with the premise.  We are led to believe that this one overly intense robotics engineer built all of these robots all by his lonesome in his lab.  Yes, working alone day and night, fending off sleep, not pausing even to eat or drink, all alone in his underground robot-building lair (read: somebody's garage), Dr. Noonian Soong bravely sallied forth and built a bunch of semi-functional robots for a teevee show. Actually, I forget his actual name. Let's just call him Dr. Venture. I gotta call bullshit on all of this. Dr. Venture seems more like he came from Mad Scientist central casting than an actual robotics company. I don't think he is a real robotics engineer nor do I think he is a real person. Nor do I believe he built all those robots with his two bare hands. I honest to Pete think he's an actor.

Then there are the contestants. Oh, the contestants. Other reality shows like Face/Off, SyFy's makeup design show, become highly addictive because you get to know and like the contestants. You choose favorites based on their aesthetic, body of work, personality and how dedicated they are to their craft. They're mostly all people you'd like to have at a party. Some of them even have talent! And therein lies the problem - none of the contestants are people I'd want to hang with. They seem like people who spend their weekend at the gym, talking about how much they enjoyed The Secret and how they're now eating Paleo and juicing. No one has a sense of humor that I can detect, and if they do, maybe the producers told them not to let on. Because this is super serious what we're doing right here. Like we're making robots fight. In an arena that I can only assume is Kitchen Stadium.

Not even the addition of George Lucas's daughter (yes, his real, actual daughter) into the mix makes it palatable. She seems like one of the nicer contestants, but she's really only interesting insofar as…she's George Lucas's daughter. Apparently, she fights people for a living, so I'm not going to go negative on her. One of the only contestants with any real science cred is a guy who works building robots for NASA. Okay, thinks I to self, I can deal with a poor man's Grant Imahara. But, he's not likeable, either! You know that robot named Curiosity on Mars, he says in his intro. Yeah. I built that. No, no you didn't build that. Maybe you helped build that. You and like 50 other people.  YOU DID NOT FUCKING BUILD THAT.

Strange. That slogan worked so well for this guy.

Since Syfy is trying desperately to cash in on the success of the popular movie make-up competition Face/Off (now in its fourth season in two years), I can understand why they'd think a reality competition would be the logical choice to follow a high-rated lead-in. But, like with the now-defunct Hot Set, Syfy has fallen short again.

Robot Combat League follows the generic reality TV formula, and as a result, it's about as bland as one could expect. There's the usual facing the camera trash-talking of the other contestants. That happens on almost every reality show. But, on Face/Off, the commentary is actually helpful to understanding the process of creating whatever horrific undeadmonsterdemon is on tap for that week's challenge. Even on something like RuPaul's Drag Race, where trash-talking your competition is elevated to an art form, the queens still remain likeable. Even funny. Everyone in the confessional Robot Combat League just seems like an asshat.

Then there's the host. He makes Ryan Seacrest look like…someone you wouldn't mind watching host a reality competition show. Face/Off's host is Mackenzie Westmore. Whose dad is fucking Michael Westmore. Who did the make-up on Star Trek: TNG.  Worf! He made Worf! The host of this show is Just Some White Dude. And then there's the prize. It's $100,000 to the winner. And then what else?  You get to be crowned a professional smacktard?

Is it real or is it just a scene from William Gibson's fever-induced wet dreams? 

Overall, this show is like someone took the robots away from the nerds and gave them to all the jocks in gym class, except the nerdy father/daughter pair, who are out-testosteroned in the first match and are sent packing. It was no great surprise, considering they were robot-matched with what is probably the weakest robot of the bunch, a cute little droid named Crash. Crash is clearly not as sturdy as the competing bots. He (may I personify?)  looks like he was designed and built by the good folks at Play-Skool. Since the robots and their teams were all assigned by the production, I can't help but think that was deliberate. The robots don't even fight per se. They just kind of smack at each other with their little robot arms. There is so much overly dramatic build-up that it's not worth sticking around to see the actual fights. Possibly the show would be better-served by running 30 minutes instead of a full hour.

Maybe it would have been interesting if they'd taken a team of people who actually built the robots and then had them fight it out, instead of assembling the Generic Nonspecific League. Most of the contestants have never worked on or built a robot (except for maybe the girl with this somewhat mechanized and super annoying pink whirligig hair accessory). But, to gather all these random people to cage-fight a pre-fabricated machine that they learn to operate like some kind of bulky Wii controller is conceptually the same thing as bumper cars.

So, in sum, Robot Combat League doesn't really feature any actual combat; the contestants are, for the most part, too self-absorbed constitute a league; and there aren't really any robots. I guess we're supposed to think the contestants are accomplished, what with their Olympic appearances, MMA cred, six-pack abs and accompanying enormous egos and shitty attitudes, but their only real talent appears to be douchebaggery. Is this what Syfy offers us as a replacement for the (unjustly) canceled Alphas, starring Good Night and Good Luck's David Strathairn (he of the silver hair and soothing voice)?

I will say that some of the robots are kind of neat to look at, and they're pretty cleverly constructed. But, they can't really move independently of a human at the helm. They ain't no Data. Or C-3PO.  Or R2. Perhaps the show will get better once it gets its feet wet, and who knows? I might end up liking it and eating my words. Or maybe the robots will rise up and defeat their human slave masters. But, for right now, I don't think I will be tuning in too often.  I'll be restricting my SyFy viewing to shows that have earned my respect: Being Human, Lost Girl and Face/Off. Let's all hope that the upcoming series Defiance has more merit than this shite. 

So much potential. So much build-up. So much fail.  


Maggie Cats said...

Am I the only one who still finds it weird that Sci-Fi switched to SyFy?

Get over yourself, cable channel.

PS: Face/Off continues to rule, though I have to say Lost Girl has not been doing it for me as much this season.

KatjaMouse said...

This is what happens when a network's helm is taken over by someone who states from the get-go that they have nothing but contempt for the network genre. No seriously. That's what happened and why the channel veered off into WTF territory for so long culminating into SyFy.

arsenic pie said...

I find it weird. I heard it was some legal issue, but I'm not entirely sold on that theory.

I am completely disappointed in that show and all of the commercials for it just bug the crap out of me now. Seriously, the new exec hates the genre? Well, isn't that just plum dandy.

Face/Off was excellent tonight. I was so glad to see Autumn go last week. Ugh.