So, how do you ruin eight-foot-tall, one-ton robots going head to head in single combat? You turn it into a reality show. Robot Combat League is a reality/game/sport show produced Smart Dog Media on Syfy (seen on Space in Canada) in which twelve humanoid robots, controlled by teams of two contestants, battle for a one-hundred-thousand dollar prize. If you ever saw the movie Real Steel or played Rock’em Sock’em Robots as a kid (or an adult – I don’t judge), you get the idea.
First off, I want to congratulate Mark Setrakian and his team for their amazing robot builds, and a nod to Chris Jericho for a decent job as host. Each robot is a work of art and awesome to behold. It is what the producers of the show have done with them that bothers me.
Now Syfy has never been known for it production values. These are the people who brought you Sharktopus. In fact, last night I watched a Syfy produced movie where the character says that zombies haven’t figured out doors yet, and then less than one minute later a zombie pulls open a door. Oh Syfy, we love your campy goodness. Don’t ever change. *sigh*
Anyway, back to the robots. We start off with the obligatory origin story for the robots. Which is fine. We need to understand the specs and get a sense of the scale of these machines. But then we spend the next five minutes meeting the robots and watching them be introduced to their teams. Okay, are they going to fight now?
No, we are now treated to another montage of training and qualifying rounds that eat up seven more minutes of the show. This segment consists mainly each team trying to land a single punch on a practice dummy. Because having been given giant robots to play with, nothing is more exciting than watching people try to figure out the buttons on the controller.
That brings us to the mid-point of the show, and all the preliminaries are out of the way, so we’re ready to fight now? Nope. Another training montage to kill five minutes of air time. All of this is wrapped up in the same artificial touchy-feely, vignettes that turned American Idol from a singing competition into a soap opera. I am not impressed.
Okay, the big graphic says FIGHT NIGHT so we must be ready to rumble, right? Nope. Two more minutes of talking and then a commercial break. (As a side note. I love when they play an ad for the show that’s on. Are people’s attention spans so bad they forget what they are watching?)
Aaaaaand we’re back. It’s the last eighteen minutes so they better get moving. So, let’s introduce the two teams that we’ve been watching for the last forty-five minutes. Anything else we can do to waste time? Introduce the colour commentator? Check. Twitter hashtag? Check. Oh, and explain the rules? Check.
CAN WE FIGHT NOW?! WHAT ABOUT NOW?!
Finally the metal monsters start to throw some punches and they manage to ruin even that. With the swinging boom camera shots, endless chatter from the commentators that sounds like it was recorded after the fight, and a set that stole its lighting from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, they manage to suck all the joy from giant robots hitting each other.
But the one thing that bothered me more than anything was the sparks. Now most people would not even notice the pyrotechnics that were added to make the fight “better” when one of the robots scored a good hit. We are so accustomed to seeing sparks fly, cars blow up, and bullets ricochet that we’ve come to expect it. We forget that these things don’t usually happen in the real world. In my opinion adding the fireworks is unnecessary overkill. It’s like spinning hubcaps on a monster truck.
First round and the actual fighting is not bad. I wish they had started about half-an-hour ago. After two minutes one of the combatants has a broken arm and there is hydraulic fluid everywhere like robot-Carrie at the prom. And now we wait twenty minutes while they fix the robots for round two. Even the producers realize that is waaaay too long for nothing to happen, so they cut it down to three minutes and a commercial break.
You know something is going to happen because there are only four minutes left in the show. Another minute of fighting and one of the robots springs a leak and the fight is over. So the underdog comes from behind to save the day. Yay. It’s almost like they knew it was going to happen that way. Or they edited to look that way.
The conclusion: In one hour, they managed to show exactly ONE ACTUAL FIGHT!
Do not call this a sport. There are entire communities of people who build their own robots and fight with them for real. We don’t need Robot combat league to create the artificial drama of a reality show. This would have been a better show if they had just thrown the entire production budget into the prize money and opened up the completion to the makers and builders out there. It makes me wonder – with all the amazing people in the world doing remarkable things, why are we constantly subjected to this fraud called reality television?
I don’t usually judge a show by its first episode, but I don’t see this one getting better any time soon. My recommendation: record the show and skip to the good parts. Or wait until someone posts them on YouTube. I give this show one Wheaton out of five. Lame.
- Slice of SciFi Asks: Are You Excited About “Robot Combat League”? (sliceofscifi.com)
- Syfy’s ‘Robot Combat League’ Debut Hits Two-Year High For Network (deadline.com)
- TV Review: Robot Combat League (geekalabama.com)
- Robot Combat League: A Slice of SciFi Behind the Scenes Exclusive (sliceofscifi.com)
- How To Build A Bot Army: Inside The Robot Combat League (fastcocreate.com)
- Robot Combat League? Sign JACK FM Up NOW (931jackfm.cbslocal.com)
- Fighting robots: Intel duo competes in ‘Robot Combat League’ (oregonlive.com)
- ‘Firefly’ Revival: Nathan Fillion On The Chances Of A Reunion And The ‘Dr. Horrible’ Sequel (huffingtonpost.com)
- A ‘Firefly’ reunion on ‘Castle’ (marquee.blogs.cnn.com)
- 14 Episodes, Sheer Excellence (roofpig.wordpress.com)