The science fiction anthology is quintessentially American. As argued by Scott Bukatman (1999) and echoed by Lincoln Geraghty (2009), the “deeply American genre” (Bukatman, 265) presents a space for “science, technology, nature run amok, alien invasion, conspiracy, disaster and space exploration that correlate with particular moments in American history” (Geraghty, 2). Further, Molly Schneider (2016)—in her analysis of Method acting in 1950s anthology dramas—has asserted a linkage between the format and “a sense of what might be called ‘Americanness’” (37). Additionally, works on animation have posited the development, industrialization, and significance of animation as “a familiar part of the American cultural landscape” (Arnold, vii).
On March 15th, 2019, Netflix will release Love Death + Robots, an animated science fiction anthology. Described by its “full roster of stories [that] will cover a variety of adult topics including racism, government, war, free will, and human nature,” the anthology seems to follow the trail of a number of similar programs that have risen in prominence, including Black Mirror (Netflix 2016-present), Electric Dreams (Amazon Prime, 2017-present), Dimension 404 (Hulu, 2017-present), and Weird City (YouTube Premium, 2019-present). Yet, as the ultra-edgy trailer positions itself apart from other like-minded programs, I posit that the show’s association with the globally dominant streaming platform also culls itself from the packed crowd of science fiction anthologies in streaming media today.
From Black Mirror’s “Metalhead” (a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic future in which AI has hunted humanity into near-extinction) to Electric Dreams’ “Kill All Others” (a descent into one’s experience with Orwellian technology and political paranoia), many of the stand-alone narratives within these programs continue to tap into the social, political, and technological anxieties of the 21st century.
However, Love Death + Robots may offer a unique angle in a crowded genre and form of streaming television. As the production included a “global calling”—resulting in the shorts coming from all over the world, including France, South Korea, Hungary, Canada, and the United States—Netflix’s design as a platform that easily distributes content globally (with the exception of Crimea, Syria, North Korea, and China) complicates the American quality usually attributed to science fiction programming as well as anthology dramas. Additionally, the mere circulation of the show on the streaming platform as well as the show’s structure of short installments (running from 5 to 15 minutes each) raises the question—can we call this show television?
Recent scholarship—such as Ramon Lobato’s Netflix Nations (2019)—examines the ways in which global television culture has been transformed by streaming television and internet distribution. Although many of the platform’s offerings contribute to the larger conversations about Netflix’s global outreach, Love Death + Robots distinctly utilizes the affordances of the platform to deconstruct the confines of genre, form, and television itself. Yet, as an anthology that is both produced transnationally and distributed globally, Love Death + Robots surveys the possibilities for the platform’s relentless global push.
Arnold, Gordon B. Animation and the American Imagination: A Brief History. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2017.
Bukatman, Scott. “The Artificial Infinite: On Special Effects and the Sublime.” In Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science-Fiction Cinema, edited by Annette Kuhn. London: Verson, 1999.
Geraghty, Lincoln. American Science Fiction Film and Television. Oxford: Berg, 2009.
Schneider, Molly. “Television’s Tortured Misfits: Authenticity, Method Acting, and Americanness in the Midcentury “Slice-of-Life” Anthology Drama.” Journal of Film and Video 68, no. 3-4 (Fall/Winter 2016): 30-50.