May 19, 2021

Streamin' Meemies: Love, Death and Robots...(and Sausages), Season 2


The second season of Love, Death and Robots dropped May 14, and the first thing you notice is that this season has only eight episodes in contrast to the first season's 18. Overall, I think this is a good thing, as the first season varied widely in quality, and this one seems tighter and more focused. These episodes are for the most part based on relatively recent SF stories (for instance, Rich Larson, the author of episode 2's story, "Ice," has only been publishing since 2012). These stories are short--episode 7, "All Through the House," is only 7 minutes, and is one of the best, as far as I am concerned. The animation quality varies from "Ice's" strange and old-fashioned style, with its mostly red/brown palette until the frostwhales breach the ice and flash their blue and purple bodies across the screen, to the Pixar-like "All Through the House" and "Snow In the Desert" (notwithstanding the latter's very unPixar explosions of blood and gore). 

There was only one episode I didn't care for: Ep 5, "The Tall Grass." This was due to the fact that the main character really was Too Stupid To Live, and manages to survive despite that. If the train I was traveling on inexplicably stops in the middle of a field in the dead of night, with waves of tall green stretching away on either side, and the conductor tells me to stay by the train, you had better believe I would stay by the train, especially when there are strange noises and glimpses of weird bodies flashing through said tall grass! But no, our "hero" just has to go poking through the tall grass just to see what's out there, and nearly gets himself eaten by some extradimensional monsters for his trouble. Fortunately (or unfortunately, in terms of my liking for this jackass) the conductor feels duty-bound to rescue his charge, and the train goes puffing down the tracks and away, leaving the monsters behind. 

The lead episode, "Automated Customer Service," based on a story by John Scalzi, attempted to capture the humor and whimsy of Season 1's best episode, "Three Robots" (story also by Scalzi) and didn't really succeed, I don't think. This tale of a futuristic retirement village with lots of robots, and what happens when one woman's Vacuubot malfunctions and attacks first her yippy white dog and then her, falls a little flat (despite the episode's best line, "Fluff and fold, motherfucker!" as the woman is trying to distract the Vacuubot long enough for her to either get away or shoot it). If nothing else, however, the episode did make me decide I was never getting a Roomba. 

The three best episodes are episode 3, "Pop Squad," episode 4, "Snow In the Desert," and the aforementioned "All Through the House." "Pop Squad" is the darkest episode of the season, taking place in a future where people live virtually immortal lives because of "rejoo" and unregistered children are forbidden. Our protagonist, Briggs (he sure as heck isn't a hero) hunts down illegal families and children and...executes the latter. This isn't explicitly shown, but that's what he does. One child--or rather, the child's abandoned stuffed dinosaur--comes to haunt Griggs, and he finds the shop where the toy was sold and pursues a woman he sees there, another mother buying a toy for her child. He corners her and questions why she is doing what she does--i.e., raising her hidden, forbidden child. Briggs ends up dying in the end, shooting his partner who has followed him to the woman's house, and suffering a fatal shot himself. The final shot is of Briggs falling to the ground, while the camera pans up to the incredibly tall skyscrapers towering into the sky, bunched around the small patch of ground on which the woman's house sits, and we know this civilization is dying, just as Briggs is. 

"Snow In the Desert" takes place on an alien planet and is another take on immortality in the form of the titular Snow, an albino who apparently has rejuvenating cells in his reproductive tract (which makes no sense as I type that out, come to think of it) because everybody is after his balls. The animation in this episode, I think, is the best of the season, but it is also the goriest, with lots of gunshots blowing people's heads away and arms/legs off, with accompanying gouts of blood. Snow meets up with a woman who turns out to be a mostly-cyborg, with an organic spinal column, brain, and covering skin (a Terminatrix, I guess, although she's definitely got more of a conscience than Ahnold), who rescues him from a band of mercenaries trying to take him in. Snow has been alone since his wife killed herself 123 years earlier, because she was aging and he wasn't. This is a bit of a cyborg/immortal love story.

"All Through the House" is the shortest and tightest of the episodes, a twist on the kids-wake-up-on-Christmas-Eve-and-spy-on-Santa premise. In this case, Leah and Billy hear a noise and sneak downstairs, where Santa is drinking the milk and eating the cookies set out for him--but Santa is a goo-dripping monster that looks like a cross between Aliens' Xenomorph and Stranger Things' Demogorgon, complete with fangs and slime. This episode provides more than a bit of macabre humor as the monster corners the kids in the corner of the room, drips slime in their faces, pronounces them "good"--and proceeds to vomit up their presents, all prettily wrapped and bowtied, before scampering back up the chimney. After it leaves, Billy opens his present to find the toy train set which he says is exactly what he wanted. The kicker, though, is the final line of dialogue, after the two are back in bed. Leah whispers: "Billy, what would have happened if we weren't...good?" 

I watched the end credits for each episode, as I wanted to jot down the stories they were based on. As I was doing this, however, something began bothering me. Let me list the credits and see if you can figure out what it was.

Ep. 1: "Automated Customer Service," story by John Scalzi
Ep. 2: "Ice," story by Rich Larson
Ep. 3: "Pop Squad," story by Paolo Bacigalupi
Ep. 4: "Snow In the Desert," story by Neal Asher
Ep. 5: "The Tall Grass," story by Joe Lansdale
Ep. 6: "All Through the House," story by Joachim Heijndermans
Ep. 7: "Life Hutch," story by Harlan Ellison
Ep. 8: "The Drowned Giant," story by J.G. Ballard

Spot the trend? Just for fun, let's go back and list the writers for the original short stories adapted for season 1. 

Peter F. Hamilton
John Scalzi 
Alberto Mielgo
Steven Lewis
Alastair Reynolds
Ken Liu
Joe R. Lansdale
Marko Kloos
Vitaliy Shushko
Michael Swanwick
David W. Amendola

Kirsten Cross
Claudine Griggs 

(18 names not listed because some writers [though not the female ones] had more than one episode.)

Really? Twenty-six episodes, two female writers? Tell me, what year is this again?

This is ridiculous, and sad, because off the top of my head I can name four female writers who could have been mined for appropriate short stories: Elizabeth Bear, Carrie Vaughn, Kameron Hurley and N.K. Jemisin. I know this because I have volumes of their short story collections! Jemisin often straddles the divide between SF and fantasy--I sometimes categorize her under "science fantasy"--but she has written stories with enough of an SF bent to fit into this series, including last year's Hugo Award winner for Best Novelette, "Emergency Skin." Needless to say, with her multiple Hugos, other awards, and her MacArthur Genius Grant, she is one of the best SFF writers of her generation. Elizabeth Bear is very prolific, with many stories in SFF anthologies and "best-of" year-end volumes; Kameron Hurley has made a career out of writing weird, wonderful SF; and Carrie Vaughn has published both SF and urban fantasy. I didn't have to think for two seconds before tossing out these names, and you know (or you should) that there are many many more. 

The point is, the people running this show are apparently lazy asses who don't think they need to represent half of humanity. All this would take is setting a goal--"I want 9 out of 18 episodes [1st season] and 4 out of 8 episodes [2nd season] to be written by women"--and keep reading stories written by women until they find the 9 or 4 stories that would fit. Unfortunately, this would take time and effort, instead of unthinkingly defaulting to a sausage-fest. 

Once I saw the pattern, it soured me a bit on the entire enterprise. This is not to say you shouldn't watch the series--I enjoyed it for the most part, and I thought this season was better than the last. But damn, this ignorance and overlooking of women's accomplishments is getting tiresome. 

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