There are many great anthology TV shows to watch or stream right now, but I believe there is only one at the moment that deserves to be called, not necessarily “the best,” but the “perfect” anthology series. One that features episodes that almost any type of audience can enjoy — whether they prefer action, horror, comedy, romance, and, most importantly, science fiction — and offers a stunningly unique visual experience each time. I believe Love, Death & Robots (also one of Netflix’s best sci-fi TV shows) fills that void with flying colors.
Created by Deadpool helmer Tim Miller and executive produced in part by Academy Award nominee David Fincher, this multi-Emmy-winning Netflix original is a collection of short animated films (most of which are adaptations of acclaimed short stories) that, typically, have something to do with the three titular subjects. Each of the 36 episodes released so far boast breathtaking animation, captivating voice acting, and an enduringly powerful, thought-provoking narrative, which made it extremely difficult to narrow my selection of the very best episodes from all three seasons down to just 10. Nevertheless, I persisted and came up with the following list of the best Love, Death & Robots episodes (in my opinion) — but, first, let’s shed light on a few honorable mentions.
Probably my favorite episode from Love, Death & Robots’ premiere season that did not make the Top 10 cut is the wonderfully absurd “Alternate Histories,” which imagines various scenarios of what could have happened if Adolf Hitler died young. Season 2 had a few haunting morality tales, but none more thought-provoking than “Pop Squad,” which stars Nolan North as a dystopian cop assigned to put down "unregistered offspring." Season 3 was especially rich in mini creature features, with the Lovecraftian “In Vaulted Halls Entombed" (starring Joe Manganiello and Christian Serratos) being one of the more viscerally horrifying and action-packed of the bunch.
Now, on to the Top 10!
10. Beyond The Aquila Rift (Season 1)
I am not sure if there is anything more frightening than the idea of being lost in a dark, cold, and infinite environment like space, but this adaptation of Alastair Reynolds’ tale depicts the most welcoming and serendipitous result to that situation imaginable…until it doesn’t. When a freight ship crew wakes up to find themselves lightyears off course from their journey homeward, the captain (Henry Douthwaite) is at least happy to be reunited with a former lover (Madeleine Knight), but soon begins to question if everything is truly as it seems. The unspeakable truth revealed at the end (let alone its stunning motion capture animation) easily makes “Beyond the Aquila Rift” one of Love, Death & Robots’ most haunting cosmic horror stories.
9. All Through The House (Season 2)
If I were to recommend any Love, Death & Robots short that someone could show their kids (something I would highly advise against normally), “All Through The House” is the one that comes closest to being somewhat suitable. However, it still might be a gamble, because this Rankin/Bass-inspired adaptation of Joachim Heijndermans’ short story about a brother (Sami Amber) and sister (Divi Mttal) who discover who (or what) Santa Claus really is one Christmas Eve night chilled me to my core. Nevertheless, it will surely be an annual tradition alongside my favorite holiday horror movies from now on.
8. Automated Customer Service (Season 2)
I believe there is not a more cautionary reminder of our increasing over-reliance on technology these days than the invention of the fully automated customer service hotline. Thus, I really appreciated the aptly titled, Emmy-winning John Scalzi adaptation, “Automated Customer Service,” in which a senior citizen (Nancy Linari) finds absolutely no help from a catty, pre-recorded voice on the phone (Ben Giroux) to defend herself when her robotic vacuum accidentally goes into “purge mode.” It is an alarming premonition of a not-so-distant future presented in a hilariously relatable and thoroughly action-packed fashion.
7. The Witness (Season 1)
Some Love, Death & Robots episodes live and die by their stunning animation and few studios associated with the series have a signature look nearly as inventive as Alberto Mielgo’s Pinkman.TV, which earned the show three Emmys with this Season 1 segment. Of course, “The Witness” has more going for it than an aesthetic like a comic book brought to life with the dystopian landscape of Blade Runner if illuminated by a soap bubble’s colorful iridescence and shot with a vintage camera. What initially appears to be a simple (if not shockingly graphic) cat-and-mouse game between a young club dancer (Emily O’Brien) and the murderous stranger (Ben Sullivan) she catches red-handed from outside her window slowly evolves into a mind-bending nightmare with no end in sight.
6. Suits (Season 1)
The one Love, Death & Robots episode I would most love to see expanded to feature-length would have to be this invigorating piece of sci-fi action bliss about a farming community taking on a horde of extra-terrestrials with their own homemade mech suits. Based on Steven Lewis’ short story, director Franck Balson’s “Suits” keeps you on the edge of your seat with its brilliant, steady escalation of creature feature suspense and healthy dose of genuine humanity. If you thought the man-powered-machines-vs-monsters action of Pacific Rim could have benefitted from a blue collar character ensemble and “rural” setting, your prayers have been answered.
5. Good Hunting (Season 1)
I love stories that borrow heavily from the mythology of various cultures, but challenge some of their more traditional elements by reflecting modern progress on both a technical and social level. Never have I seen a more powerful and narratively unique achievement in this than in “Good Hunting,” based on Ken Liu’s story that traces the friendship between a young former spirit hunter (Matthew Yang Kang) and a shapeshifting creature from Chinese mythology called a Huli Jing (Elaine Tan) during the Industrial Revolution. The anime-style short is not without its moments of gore and graphic sexuality of an unpleasant nature, but at its core is an emotionally captivating tale of self-reinvention and rediscovery in a most astonishing way.
4. Jibaro (Season 3)
In Love, Death & Robots’ third season, writer and director Alberto Mielgo topped himself to more Emmy-winning acclaim with his even more devastating, more visually enthralling, and oddly romantic follow-up to “The Witness.” “Jibaro” follows a group of conquistadors who fall prey to the violence-inducing screams of a dancing siren, except for our deaf titular hero (Girvan “Swirv” Bramble), who is instead entranced by her jewel-encrusted skin. This is yet another example of a Pinkman.TV creation that is so aesthetically serene and emotionally compelling that, no matter how vexatious its subject matter may grow (especially the siren’s shriek), it is impossible to take your eyes off of it.
3. Zima Blue (Season 1)
I like to think that an essential goal of Love, Death & Robots is to challenge — or even eradicate — everything fundamentally “true” about art itself and no episode makes that more apparent than “Zima Blue.” The title of this Alastair Reynolds adaptation refers both to the revolutionary artist at its center (Kevin Michael Richardson) and the color that became a staple of his, literally, larger-than-life exhibitions that we learn about from journalist Claire (Emma Thornett), who discovers more about this legend than she was prepared for. The short itself is a larger-than-life art exhibition in every wondrous frame, right down its inspiring conclusion that may change your entire perspective on the link between humanity and machinery.
2. Three Robots (Season 1)
While it was not every Netflix user’s first Love, Death & Robots episode, “Three Robots” might be the perfect entry for first-time viewers, as it gives you a taste of, pretty much, everything to expect from the series. Based on John Scalzi’s post-apocalyptic comedy, it follows a trio of very personable cybernetic organisms (Josh Brener, Gary Anthony Williams, and an actual synthesized computer voice) taking a tour of Earth years after humanity’s extinction and unapologetically poking fun at our own common ideals and shortcomings at every stop. The sharp satire thankfully inspired an aforementioned (and more overtly biting) sequel in Season 3 called "Three Robots: Exit Strategies" and I certainly hope that is not the last we see of these characters.
1. Bad Travelling (Season 3)
One could accuse me of choosing “Bad Traveling” as Love, Death & Robots’ crown jewel purely because it is the only episode so far directed by series executive producer and legendary filmmaker, David Fincher. However, I am inclined to believe most people assuming that have not seen this epic adaptation of Neal Asher’s tale about a sailor (Troy Baker) who must act prudently when a ferocious, but astute, sea beast boards his ship and begins to drive a wedge between him and his crew. It has all the teasing paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing, the blood-curdling suspense of Alien, and a more thrilling and entrancing story than any other episode can boast, that never tires on rewatch.
You may notice that “Bad Traveling” is lacking a bit in the area of love and robots. Yet, honestly, Love, Death & Robots could continue to put out episodes that have little or nothing to do with love, death, or robots and I will still gladly keep my Netflix subscription around to watch any of them. As long as each of its segments are rooted in fascinating and fresh concepts and executed in ways that are pleasing to the senses and nurturing to the mind, I will never lose faith in my belief that it is not only one of the best shows on Netflix, but the kind of anthology series that all others should aspire toward.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.