Die, Robots, Die! | TV & Games | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press | Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984. Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

News » TV & Games

Die, Robots, Die!

Comedy Central’s BattleBots and the American Way.



Call me a bonehead (go ahead, everyone does), but I likes my cable TV.

It ain’t an easy thing to admit publicly. On one hand, you’ve got the satellite dish clique proclaiming themselves a superior race of humans because they can watch Malcolm in the Middle reruns from five different time zones anytime they want. On the other, you’ve got the I-don’t-watch-television-because-I’m-so-friggin’-sophisticated set who spit on you for even watching TV, much less watching TV you pay for. God forbid you actually write about TV, and there’s no scum lower than a TV writer who doesn’t liberally spill a majority of his/her ink on PBS.

Punch my ticket to hell. Screw the dish people, screw the non-viewers and screw PBS. I’ve been plugged into cable TV for my entire misbegotten life—anything less than 50 channels and I break into cold sweats.

I even suffered though the unspeakable atrocities of the Salt Lake City-TCI Cablevision years (shudder). Did I cave and get a satellite dish when the now-thankfully-defunct TCI, the worst cable service this side of Czechoslovakia, kept insisting that all those “good channels” I kept hearing about didn’t really exist and that I should just shut up and pay up? No way. I held out until the fine folks at AT&T took over last year and upgraded the system—at least in my corner of the valley—to a pretty decent lineup of “good channels” on Expanded Basic. Basic and Digital are still a bit iffy, but Expanded is all good with me.

As for the I-don’t-watch-TV crowd, well, they’re probably reading the Catalyst and listening to NPR right now, so no need to bother with them. If they were skimming through The Only TV Column That Matters®, however, they’d harrumph about the utter lack of Public Broadcasting System coverage here, even though they never watch TV—PBS is for the good of those cretins who do watch, don’t you see?

My theory on PBS—which mostly stands for Pretentious British Sitcoms—is this: I’ve already forcibly paid Uncle Sam for it, so I don’t have to watch it. My Theory, Part 2: There’s nothing on PBS that cable TV can’t do bigger and better. The ultimate proof? BattleBots (Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 11:30 p.m.).

For some time, PBS has aired a British import called Robot Wars, in which cute li’l robot-tank thingies, designed and built by Brits who apparently spend more time on mechanical engineering than personal hygiene, do remote-controlled sparring in a semi-hazardous mini-arena. Sounds cool, right? Not in English hands. Beyond the initial novelty and incomprehensible accents, Robot Wars is about as thrill-packed as a Narcoleptics Anonymous bumper-car rally.

The last four letters of American spell “I can,” and, God bless the US of A, someone saw Robot Wars and said, “I can make this waaay more violent and obnoxious.” Stripping away any sissy Brit sense and sensibility, good ol’ Yankee cable TV has sexed-up the metallic mayhem and spit it back to you as BattleBots. It’s a strangely perfect fit on Comedy Central, but BattleBots would seem equally at-home-yet-out-of-place on the Sci-Fi Channel, ESPN, TNT, FX, TNN, anywhere. Aside from Rod Decker’s Take Two during election season, it’s the freakiest thing on the tube.

Think cockfighting, without the cocks: Inside a 50-foot-square “BattleBox,” two homemade killer robots, featuring every mangle-making metal weapon imaginable, fight to the “death” under the maniacal remote-control of their creators—you biblical scholars can jump in anytime here. Not only do the robots have to contend with each other, but they also have to avoid attacks from tungsten buzz saws, spikes, sledgehammers and “Hell-Raiser” ramps randomly popping out of the BattleBox floor. Coo-oo-ool.

Whenever a ’bot is reduced to a sparking pile of wire ’n’ wheels by a superior competitor, you can’t help but feel sorry for the little metal guys. Even though they’re not human, any given BattleBot is still a more sympathetic character than anyone on TNN’s RollerJam. My personal favorite? Ziggo (Lightweight Division), which is essentially nothing more than a frighteningly fast spinning blade of obliteration. KillerHurtz (ironically, a British entry) from the Heavyweights is a pretty nasty contender, as well. Trading cards can’t be too far off, people.

On the flesh-and-blood tip, the play-by-play men of BattleBots (Bil Dwyer and Sean Salisbury) do double-team Dennis Miller hyperbole that can easily be corrected with the mute button, depending upon your smart-ass threshold. Bill Nye the Science Guy (from PBS—irony strikes again!) gives dazzling technical insight on the ’bots. And husky twins Randy and Jason Sklar, whoever they are, share ringside inventor interview duties with wittier-than-average Baywatch/Playboy mega-babe Donna D’Errico. Just imagine: Most of these mecha-geeks have never even seen a girl; now, there’s D’Errico actually talking to them! About robots!

God bless the US of A.