If you’re interested in picking up your very own copy of RoboCop: The Series, then you can follow the link right here for more details. It’s available in either Blu-ray or traditional DVD.
By their very nature, feature films invest a significant chunk of their budgeted change into making characters, costumes, environment, and set pieces look larger-than-life: it’s why they call it ‘the movies,’ after all. In some cases – especially when you’re dealing with franchise properties – no expense is spared in giving the motion picture the visual clout needed to compete in the ultimate venue of big and bold cinematic ideas. Audiences can expect to be more than reasonably entertained in exchange for the price of a ticket, and studios are inclined to put-up-or-shut-up with the hopes of wooing them back again should the prospect for a sequel get introduced.
Still, RoboCop: The Series has made an obvious investment.
The producers have gone to good lengths to recreate Robo’s Old Detroit precinct house, assorted lab environments, and even some mileage within the city itself … and a good portion of it is on display in “Prime Suspect,” the procedural’s second episode of its only season in original broadcast existence. The short skinny? Well, it all looks pretty good, though the digital compression employed by this set’s distributor does rear its ugly head in a few spots late in the show. While they didn’t destroy the experience, they certain through a layer of rust onto an otherwise good-looking hour.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Corrupt TV evangelist Reverend Bob Taker launches an anti-RoboCop campaign, calling the cyborg a ‘tool of Satan.’ When Taker is mysteriously murdered, the evidence points to RoboCop. Mayor Friendly, whom RoboCop has caught taking bribes from notorious Old Detroit underworld boss, Vlad ‘Dutch’ Molotov, orders the law enforcement cyborg shut down.”
One of the lessons I’ve learned from interviewing a handful of behind-the-scenes creatives in the television production business is that writers – when they’re taxed for time – are very prone to borrow from some of what’s come before.
As an example, a film as popular as the action spectacle Die Hard (1988) has seen an incredible number of small screen reinventions for a variety of properties. Need more? Well, cinematic benchmarks like 1954’s Seven Samurai or even the war classic The Dirty Dozen (1967) have been revamped – in a very toned-down fashion – to fit the needs of many genre shows. When the formula works, then why not use it to great effect whenever you can, even when that requires you do so on a budget? I’ve been assured this technique gets bandied about quite often in writers’ rooms, and I’ve seen the results – good and bad – in programs all around the TV dial.
RoboCop’s “Prime Suspect,” is essentially a small screen reworking of The Fugitive (1993), a hugely successful remake of the popular 1960’s TV show. In the film, Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly accused of killing his wife; he escapes the police and spends the remainder of his time up in lights tracking down the real perpetrators and seeing them brought to justice. While “Prime” removes the marital angle, many other elements survive the translation, all the way down to the fugitive Robo coming face-to-face with the lawman hot on his trail in the city sewer system.
And you know what?
It works not just well but extremely well, so much so that I wish this episode had been the program’s pilot episode. I wouldn’t have seen it expanded to a two-parter – though that certainly could’ve worked wonders, too – but the story tapped into just the right balance of exploring Robo’s existential predicament with questions about his civic responsibilities and the fate of his human soul while dishing out the kind of conflict, fisticuffs, and action audiences have come to expect from franchise entities. This ‘felt’ bigger than life – much like The Fugitive did before it – and I believe it’s a fabulous stand-alone yarn.
One of the additions to the expanding Robo-mythology introduced in that pilot involves actress Andrea Roth. Her character ‘Diana Powers’ was murdered in the two-parter as the show’s villains needed an exceptional human brain to enact their citywide neural network technology; this gives her the ability to – ahem – appear as an almost technological ‘fairy god mother’ who both counsels and assists RoboCop in his pursuit of justice. Though I wasn’t a fan of how that script made use of this addition, “Prime” dials it back a bit, building a relationship of support for the two actors to bounce off one another. Given this welcome twist, it’ll be interesting to see where future episodes take the pairing.
As for the technical specifications?
Well, I’ve read online that some longtime fans of the show are a bit upset with this release: the episodes have all been formatted 16:9 for widescreen televisions but the show was original broadcast in standard 4:3. My expertise is certainly not in the technical areas covered by some who do reviews, but I can say – after viewing a few episodes – there are some hiccups regarding cropping. It’s nothing glaring – only a handful of scenes ended up looking shot with a person’s head out-of-frame – so I’m not inclined to make a big deal out of it. However, there are also a few scenes of obvious grain I suspect are a result of the increased focus; again, it’s nothing ‘tragic,’ but it is what it is. (I’ve seen other shows broadcast on HD channels reformat older programming that looks vastly worse than this.)
As for the special features?
The set provides a handful of the typical behind-the-scenes whatnot including extras kinda/sorta repackaged from the show itself. Cast profiles are also a nice touch, along with some other documentary-style shorts about the show, some of its props, etc. (FYI: much of it is printing and photographs, so be prepared for some reading the fine print.) For what it’s worth, I thought it a nice assortment for folks either casual or die-hard enthusiasts of the greater RoboUniverse. Well done.
Highly Recommended. While I wasn’t quite won over with the two-part premiere episode (“The Future Of Law Enforcement” which can be found here), “Prime Suspect” was a winner so far as plot, circumstance, and characters. Not every character introduced in these forty-five minutes was put to best use, but I can’t help but wonder if the showrunners were merely positioning a few key players for return appearances or bigger twists in the tales to come. Alas, the formatting issue really destroys a few good scenes (especially in the hour’s final moments) as it’s glaringly obvious that this was digitally skewed in order to preserve what was originally filmed. Argh.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Liberation Hall provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Robocop: The Series by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.