?Robots! Has there ever been a nerd worthy of the name that has not dreamed of an amazing automaton by his or her side? Perhaps a brainy ‘bot to do homework? An iron guardian to protect one from bullies? A helpful housedroid to do tedious chores? Or just an eternally loyal and utterly non-judgmental friend? (“Loyal”, that is, until the order comes in from the Mainframe to terminate all biological life and begin the New Era of cybernetic perfection.)
But there’s a certain type of person who looks at a robot and doesn’t see something useful or fun or interesting. They see lame slapstick and dreary sight-gags… they imagine grating, pun-laden dialogue delivered in cutesy, obnoxious voices. And unfortunately, many such joy-hating individuals are in charge of Children’s Programming for TV studios, or are producers who want some “family friendly” content or “comic relief” in their sci-fi action dramas. They relegate robots to roles typically reserved for precocious, disaster-prone children, disgustingly cute talking animals, or weird-ass magical gnome-type creatures.
So today we look at five robots that made us head to the garage with a box of vacuum cleaner parts and a desire to play God… and five criminal wastes of circuitry that made us pray Skynet aims his missiles well, so we could die before we have to hear the fuckers tell jokes. Note: Don’t bother looking for Artoo or Threepio. Too easy.
5) Marvin, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Granted, one might wonder just how much fun Marvin would be to hang out with, what with his crippling depression and nihilistic demeanor and all, but Douglas Adams’ despondent droid has been a fan favorite for decades, not to mention being probably the most quotable character in the entire Hitchhiker’s series (“Life…Don’t talk to me about life”). Now, as much as I adore Alan Rickman, I chose to feature 1980s BBC Marvin in the above clip as opposed to 2000s Hollywood Marvin. “New” Marvin always seemed a bit too cute for my taste.
4) Kryten, Red Dwarf
On the other hand, Red Dwarf‘s Kryten 2X4B-523P is quite nearly Marvin’s polar opposite: He’s cheerful, helpful, positive, and he honestly enjoys serving humans. Intended as a one-shot guest star during Red Dwarf‘s second series (“series”, by the way, is what them British-types call a “season”), the character proved popular enough to warrant being brought back in series 3 as a regular cast member, despite Red Dwarf creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s previously stated policy of “No robots, and no aliens.” Enjoy the above clip of Lister’s endeavor to teach the impeccably proper and unfailingly honest Kryten to lie.
3) H.E.L.P.eR, The Venture Bros.
The Venture family’s household robot is well-named: unlike many robots in popular fiction, he’s actually useful! Built by Dr. Jonas Venture to help look after the future Dr. Thaddeus Venture, his name is an acronym for “Humanoid Electric Lab Partner Robot.” H.E.L.P.eR now assists Brock Samson in looking after the Venture boys, does chores, and has been known to serve as an artificial kidney. H.E.L.P.eR’s electronic beeping language is indecipherable to anyone outside the Venture household — a fact that did not stop the Monarch from kidnapping and attempting to interrogate him, as shown above.
2) GIR, Invader Zim
Ah, the majesty that is GIR! For those of you unfamiliar with Jhonen Vasquez’s brilliantly off-center Nicktoon Invader Zim, try to imagine a bionic Ralph Wiggum in a silly dog costume (and if that sounds like the most awesome thing ever, then you’ve come to the right website). Unwilling to waste a perfectly good SIR (Standard-issue Information Retrieval) unit on what was believed to be a wild goose chase, The Almighty Tallest instead pulled a used robot out of the trash, and filled its head with pocket lint and spare change and gave it to Zim on his mission to conquer Earth. And thus, GIR was born, a worthy companion to the incompetent and delusional Zim. Watch the accompanying clip for a rare insight into the workings of GIR’s warped little mind.
1) Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, MST3K (tie)
Joel Robinson’s most magnificent creations, the bombastic Tom Servo and the snarky, acerbic Crow T. Robot spend their days in geosynchronous orbit aboard the Satellite of Love. Here, they help their inventor (and later, his replacement) slog through the galaxy’s most heinous excuses for cinema, and they deserve all the adoration nerd-dom can pile upon them. Of course, just because they’re sidekicks doesn’t mean they’re not ready and willing to take out their anger on their human counterpart. You can talk about Asimov’s Laws all you want, but none of Asimov’s robots ever had to sit through Space Mutiny.
We rounded up the annoying robots and shoved them all on the next page.
5) Game Boy, Captain N: The Game Master
Arright, so maybe Game Boy isn’t exactly a robot, but my hatred for the thrice-damned thing is so intense that I can’t bring myself to care. On a show that was a veritable buffet of obnoxious characters, Game Boy managed to outdo them all in the realm of pure, teeth-grinding, blood pressure-raising annoyance. To this day I remain half convinced that Captain N: The Game Master was part of a plot concocted by parents’ and teachers’ groups to make children hate Nintendo. Incidentally, I have a feeling that this is one of Frank Welker’s thousands of voice roles that he doesn’t like to talk about.
4) Scooter, Challenge of the GoBots
How much do you have to suck to be considered the lamest GoBot? I mean, really!
Sure, the Autobots had one or two members who weren’t much good in a fight (Wheelie and Perceptor spring to mind), but there were hundreds of them! They could afford one or two non-combatants. But there are only three Guardians (well, only three that we see on a regular basis) which means that a full third of their forces are utterly useless in combat. It’s a wonder the Renegades didn’t wipe the floor with them.
Oh, and this is the other voice role Mr. Welker probably prefers not to mention at parties.
3) Jinx, SpaceCamp
If you’re not an aficionado of questionably good ’80s cinema (like me), you might still remember SpaceCamp as the most poorly timed movie in the history of film (its release had to be pushed back several months due to the Challenger explosion). Now I’d never be so insensitive to say that there was a worse aspect to this movie than that it reminded audiences of the most tragic shuttle disaster in U.S. history, but if there was, it was Jinx, supposedly a prototype maintenance droid designed for the space station. Not only did the damn thing give kids like me unrealistic expectations about NASA of 1985’s level of AI technology, but this seemingly innocent little droid was dangerous. It engineered a potentially lethal engine test accident in order to force NASA to launch the shuttle Atlantis just because it overheard Leaf Phoenix (the future Joaquin Phoenix) say he wanted to go into space. Thank God it didn’t run into him on a bad day and overhear “I wish I was dead”! If Jinx is the future of space exploration, then perhaps we should all be thankful NASA mothballed the shuttle program.
2) T-Bob, M.A.S.K.
After stealing shape-changing vehicles from Transformers, as well as elite commandos and world-conquering terrorists from G.I. Joe, it seems the makers of M.A.S.K. decided to rip off Thundercats, too. But instead of swiping animalistic warriors, magic swords, or undead sorcerers, apparently SOMEONE convinced them it was a good idea to make goddamn Robo-Snarf. (My guess it was the CEO’s nephew — somebody with connections that they couldn’t simply laugh at and fire.) Oh, and like GoBots‘ Scooter, this little bugger also transforms into a scooter. Coincidence? I think not. I selected this clip solely on the virtue of it featuring T-Bob get kicked by a horse. It’s just as satisfying as it sounds.
1) Twiki, Buck Rogers
LOOKIT THIS THING! GO ON: TAKE A GOOD, LONG, HARD LOOK.
This friends, is the face of evil: Twiki. Gaah! The blank, soulless face, the disturbingly childlike appearance — not to mention the sympathetic mortification one feels on behalf of the late, great Mel Blanc, whose magnificent vocal talents are utterly wasted on this walking tin-plated dildo! (at least it’s not Frank Welker again).
If you are anywhere near sharp objects, firearms, or dangerous machinery: DO NOT watch the accompanying clip! Not only do the demonic writers of Buck Rogers assault our senses with another robot of Twiki’s diabolical make, they imply that the infernal things have genders — and that Twiki’s about to go get him some! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!