No, Tobor, no!: 16-plus ridiculous killer robots
- 13 Arrested Development quotes to summarize reactions to the new episodes
- “Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money”: 20 inept magicians in pop culture
- It’s not TV—and it’s not available on HBO Go: 27-plus HBO originals unavailable from the streaming service
- The adventures of Tookie De La Crème: 13 surprising celebrity novelists
- The hand that rocks the puppet: 13 pop-culture attempts to make puppets appealing to adult audiences
1. Roberto the stabbing robot, Futurama
A lot of Futurama’s robots had pretty baffling purposes, but paramount among them is the rust-colored Roberto, who was apparently built to stab people. Depending on which origin story you want to believe, he was either the result of a failed experiment to build an insane robot, or the product of abusive parents. (According to one of his shrill, frightened rants, his mom might’ve welded him to the wall for spilling transmission fluid.) Regardless, Roberto is high-strung and psychotic, he kills on a whim, and he literally has a couple of screws loose. He can’t handle anyone disagreeing with him, and he seems to habitually commit certain crimes so frequently that they’re on a loop—he robs the same bank three times in his debut episode, and will probably case the joint again once he’s free. This might sound funny, but if you saw a bug-eyed, gravestone-shaped robot walking down the street wielding a knife, you’d probably take your chances in a dark alley instead.
2. Robotic Richard Simmons, The Simpsons
Originally slated to be part of the Simpsons episode “Burns’ Heir,” Robotic Richard Simmons was the casualty of a deleted scene, which resurfaced during the very special “138th Episode Spectacular.” The setup: Bart runs to Mr. Burns, with Homer in hot pursuit. To get Homer off his property, Burns releases the Robotic Richard Simmons—a pudgy android that dances around to “Shake Your Booty,” has the liquid-metal healing power of the Terminator from the second film, and eventually succumbs to his own exploding ass. There’s hardly a human alive as ridiculous as Richard Simmons, so it’s no surprise that his robot dopplegänger followed suit. This scene was also preceded by one of the best lines in Simpsons history, via Homer: “What are you gonna do? Release the hounds? Or the bees? Or the hounds with bees in their mouth, and when they bark, they shoot bees at you? Well… do your worst!” He did, Homer. He did.
3. April, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Midway through season five of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (in the episode “I Was Made To Love You), a mysterious girl shows up in Sunnydale, asking if anyone has seen Warren, her true love. If anyone gets in her way, as one lucky chap does at The Bronze music club, they receive a wallopin’. And wouldn’t you know it, April just won’t give up, going door-to-door all hours of the night. Turns out her monotonal speech pattern and inhuman strength were hints that she’s a robot, which Warren built to love him unconditionally, but Warren has moved on and found a flesh-and-bone girl to love, and April is pissed. Aside from all the beatings, April interacts with the Scooby gang through graceless, socially awkward conversations, of which there are many: “I love Warren”; “Warren is my true love”; “Warren Warren Warren.” It’s enough to make viewers unjustly hate all Warrens.
4. Ro-Man, Robot Monster
The trouble with the baddie in the notorious 1953 cheapie Robot Monster starts with the name. Is it a robot? Is it a monster? What the hell is it? Whatever it is, it isn’t scary. Made up of a gorilla suit and a deep-sea diving helmet, Ro-Man is nobody’s idea of a terrifying threat. (His scheme to eliminate Earth’s few remaining humans via a bubble machine doesn’t help.) The cast’s screams and Elmer Bernstein’s overachieving score all seem to mock a villain ridiculous even by the famously generous standards of ’50s B-movies.
5. Satan’s Robot, Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek has always been light on evil robots. It follows, then, that the resident mechanized horror of Star Trek: Voyager is far from frightening—in fact, he’s downright absurd. But that’s the point: Satan’s Robot is one of the denizens of the holodeck’s Captain Proton program, a throwback to old-fashioned science-fiction serials of the 20th century. Looking like something assembled in a mad scientist’s garage, Satan’s Robot clanks and steams through three episodes of Voyager—and is hilariously neutralized by Borg crewmember Seven Of Nine in the episode “Night.”
6. Battle droids, Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace
In theory, a massive army of robot infantrymen armed with lasers should be horrifying. In practice—like so much about George Lucas’ Star Wars movies from 1999 on—the Trade Federation’s battle droids were just kind of overblown and silly. First there’s the fact that they’re wee little fragile things that look like they’re cobbled together out of Tinkertoys; even a moderately talented Jedi can dispose of them by the dozen, just by waving a hand and knocking them over. Then there’s their characteristic high, goofy voices and dumb-dumb “Roger roger” vocal patterns, which make them seem like the least intelligent artificial intelligences possible. By the time of the animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars, battle droids were outright comic relief whose stupidity, obliviousness, and ineffectuality was a running gag. None of which explains why an army of them in Phantom Menace is supposed to be scary to anyone but a bunch of Gungans.
7. The Kandy Man, Doctor Who
Too bad the Daleks and the Cybermen—two of the Doctor’s clunkiest automated adversaries—aren’t technically robots. But Doctor Who’s Kandy Man is just as evil, and 12 times as ridiculous. A murderous monster built of metal and confectionery, The Kandy Man delights in drowning people in the great gobs of sugary goodness pumped out by its lumbering (and laughably low-budget) body. And, after all, how scary is a villain that can be defeated by pouring lemonade or strawberry fondant on it?
8. Box, Logan’s Run
After learning that “renewal” or rebirth is a scam perpetrated to kill off the populace at the young age of 30, police officer Michael York and sexily clad futurista Jenny Agutter team up to escape to the storied “Sanctuary,” where people can grow older. Standing in their way is Box, a robot who guards the icy gateway to the outside world. Incidentally, the robot also has some furs on hand, but the duo has to strip naked before wearing them. (That’s York’s idea, though he keeps his pants.) Box has been there since the building was a processing plant for “fish and plankton and sea greens and protein from the sea,” a fact he repeats several times over. Alas, as society broke down, the fish stopped coming, and Box needed protein to freeze and store for future diners—and at about the same time, “runners” like York started arriving, so now he freezes them instead. Cue images of frozen (and again, naked) runners, which are York and Agutter’s prompt to cut Box’s wacky, fishy monologue short by destroying him.
9-10. Robot Bill and Ted, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure taught us that the future’s awesomeness relies on the vitality of mediocre rockers Bill and Ted, played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves. The future is all peace, shades, and air guitar with their band Wyld Stallyns in place, but terror and war without them. Of course, some people like terror and war. So Joss Ackland sends evil robot doppelgängers of Bill and Ted back in time to kill off the originals, break up Stallyns, and lose the Battle Of The Bands. Suddenly, the boys who sweetly proposed to their girlfriends the night before with plastic rings are only interested in sex: “We used to be pussweeds, but now we’re metal! So get over here and put out!” The “evil us-es” also unceremoniously drop Bill and Ted off the side of a cliff and then spit on them, after revealing themselves to be robots. (“You’re metal, dude!”) Many more metal/robot jokes and a journey through the afterlife later, an alien scientist helps Bill and Ted make their own robot Bill & Teds to destroy the evil us-es. The robots meet their demise onstage at the Battle with enough drama and sparking to win Wyld Stallyns the prize, and possibly to briefly convince viewers that this whole scenario isn’t completely ludicrous.
11. G.I. Robot, Weird War Tales
For a character as inherently ridiculous as a World War II-era robot Marine corpsman, G.I. Robot—a DC Comics character created in the ’60s—has had more career turnarounds than Madonna. The first version of the J.A.K.E. (Jungle Automatic Killer, Experimental) was sent to fight prehistoric menaces on Dinosaur Island, because, er… Well, there was probably a good reason. Both “Joe” and his successor, “Mac,” were no match for the island’s many tyrannosauruses, so the third and fourth versions got sicced on regular Japanese soldiers, who proved easier to handle. Eventually, G.I. Robot hooked up with the even more ridiculous Creature Commandos, who hijacked a rocket to Berlin, but ended up getting launched into deep space. Hey, it could happen! Perhaps the most insane detail of the G.I. Robot saga is that the government issued him a pet robot dog and a pet robot cat. Stateside, everyone living under severe rationing must have been just thrilled to learn that the War Department was using their tax dollars to build a robot cat.
12. The Awesome Android, The Fantastic Four
If there’s one thing comics do even better than awesome killer robots, it’s asinine killer robots. The Awesome Android started out that way: created by the crazed scientist known as the Mad Thinker and resembling, more than anything, a huge gray version of the Gumby-menacing Blockheads, he tried and failed to defeat the Fantastic Four roughly a hundred billion times in the ’60s and ’70s. Decades later, though, writer Dan Slott hit upon by far the best use of him, simply by not taking him seriously. In Slott’s brilliantly subversive run on She-Hulk, The Awesome Android showed up as a mute law-firm temp, complete with Dwight Schrutean mustard short-sleeve shirt. Redubbed “Awesome Andy,” the reformed killer robot, equipped with a tiny chalkboard on which he could write his thoughts, went through lots of (intentionally) ridiculous workplace antics, including a doomed office romance.
13. Tobor, Captain Video And His Video Rangers
The next time you think about how hokey and dated the original Star Trek seems, remind yourself how much better it was than what preceded it. Captain Video And His Video Rangers debuted in 1949 on the Dumont Network, and is considered the first ongoing science-fiction TV series; it’s also considered pretty ridiculous. Its ultra-low-budget and comparable production standards made the serial sci-fi of the ’40s look downright professional by comparison, as evidenced by the existence of Tobor. The robot henchman of the show’s main villain, Dr. Pauli, Tobor was an easily confused extra who appeared to be wearing a bunch of cardboard boxes wrapped in aluminum foil. Many of his battles with Captain Video consisted of him blundering across the paper-frame sets as Dr. Pauli urged him “KILL! KILL, TOBOR, KILL!”—at which point our hero would say “No, Tobor! No!” Tobor would then stagger back in the other direction, and this would go on for about 15 minutes, until the extra had to go lie down for a while. It’s an open question where Pauli got his doctorate, given that his only programming idea for his greatest creation was “Listen to whoever yells at you the loudest,” but at least Tobor set the standard for all dumb killer robots to come.
14-15. H.E.L.P.eR. & G.U.A.R.D.O., The Venture Bros.
In the world of The Venture Bros., nothing is more illustrative of the difference between super-scientist Jonas Venture and his underachieving son Thaddeus than their respective robot creations, H.E.L.P.eR. and G.U.A.R.D.O. The former is an effective, albeit incomprehensible, assistant and guardian, bristling with enough weapons to have stood alongside the original Team Venture. He doesn’t like Led Zeppelin, and he’s hard to shut off once he gets to drumming, but he’s a good machine to have around in a fight. G.U.A.R.D.O., on the other hand, is big, tough, and fearsome, but Dr. Venture nodded off before he could program it to tell people apart, so it attacks anyone in range, including those it’s supposed to protect. On top of that, it suffered the ultimate humiliation of catching a bad case of robo-Chlamydia from a vengeful Monarch.
16+. Pretty much everyone, Transformers
Everyone complaining that Michael Bay’s 2007 blockbuster Transformers had inappropriate sexual contact with their childhoods is forgetting one thing: The original ’80s cartoon had an awful lot of problems too, starting with wildly inconsistent animation and some pretty basic ’80s cartoon plots, in which the bad guys engaged in generally harebrained schemes unworthy of titanic alien-robot forces of destruction. That said, Bay’s movie should have been a slam-dunk in the “scary robots” department, simply by virtue of introducing giant, homicidal, heavily armed metal men to Earth. Instead, much like Lucas in Phantom Menace, Bay went for goofy designs and goofier behavior. His Autobots and Decepticons look like unassembled, building-sized Erector sets, and their use of already-dated human slang and contemporary references, plus the generally insipid, adolescent tone of the movie, robbed them of all majesty and menace. And hey, more of them are on the way this summer.