TV Recap: Battlebots, Series Premiere

Written by DJ Chapman

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It’s been over a decade since Battlebots last was on television. Battlebots, for those who (unfortunately) do not know, was the robot destruction show of the early 2000s that showed us how much fun it could be to watch two robots smash, saw, and burn each other. With its resurgence ABC’s Battlebots reminds us that robot fighting never gets old. The premise has changed very little since 2003: two robots fight in a three-minute cage match. If your robot gets destroyed or “pinned” down — you lose. If neither happens in three minutes, three judges decide the winner based on various criteria. Throughout the arena there are different hazards, such as corkscrews surrounding the perimeter, and opponent controlled hammers in the corners.

Battlebots will feature play-by-play analysis from veteran sports broadcaster Chris Rose, and color commentary from former UFC fighter Kenny Florian. Hosted by celebrated sports anchor Molly McGrath. Photo Credit: ABC/David Moir
Battlebots will feature play-by-play analysis from veteran sports broadcaster Chris Rose, and color commentary from former UFC fighter Kenny Florian. Hosted by celebrated sports anchor Molly McGrath. Photo Credit: ABC/David Moir

During the hour-long episode, there were only four three-minute matches. This seemed light considering there was less than twelve minutes of action, since not every match went the full three minutes. Much of the episode was used to explain the different robot teams and how the robots were built. Some of the team stories were interesting, but I didn’t need a four to five minute segment explaining how they got into robot building or what their robot was about. Even after the clip the commentators did a good job of explaining how each robot worked so some of the team centered segments seemed unnecessary.

The matches themselves were entertaining. At face value it’s easy to enjoy two robots slamming into and destroying each other. One thing that was missing from the fights that was iconic from the original show were the floor traps. The buzz saws, flamethrowers, and steel pistons that come up from ground were not present for any of the fights. They appeared to be a part of the arena but they were never triggered. It wasn’t clear if they just weren’t used for the first round or if they weren’t used for some other reason. Regardless, it’s a shame they weren’t there for an explosive premiere episode.

The show did a good job of amping up the production value since its first run in the 2000s. The boxing-style announcer, the intense light show, and the UFC-esque commentary all provided for an experience that accentuated the robot fighting well. Without all that extra production, it might have been boring watching a saw on wheel ram into a spinning blade on wheels.

Photo Credit: ABC/David Moir
Photo Credit: ABC/David Moir

I was surprised that the robot designs haven’t changed much over the past ten years. Considering that back in 2003 cell phones were basically in black and white, I imagined the robots would be much more intense. I suppose it is hard to improve on the idea of putting a weapon onto some wheel and have it spin until it shatters or breaks it’s opponent. There was one robot that had a “brain” but all it served as was to have some LEDs light up if it got hit. I would like to see some kind of robot that is being controlled by an iPhone, or has some sort of intelligent design that can know to defend itself or something like that; however, it is possible we may have hit the summit of robot fighting technology, which is fine – robot fighting is still an awesome thing to watch.

Overall, I would say the return of Battlebots is a success. However, there is one thing we need more of — more robot fighting! I’m not too interested why the teams got together or how they came up with the idea for their robot. This could be done for a couple of extraordinary teams, but not every match. Sometimes there are interesting facts like how some of the competitors were former competitors, but for the most part it winds up being: this guy likes robots so he got a bunch of people together and made robots to mess up other robots.

If you miss watching robots smash each other into bits then definitely give Battlebots a shot.

Rating: 7/10

Battlebots airs Sundays on ABC

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