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Killer Robots!

If you're anything like me, you're getting impatient for the day when shows like Survivor stop being such wimps and just give the contestants swords and nets so they can fight to the death for the amusement of the viewing audience. What good is it being in the year 2000 if television isn't even as exploitative and violent as what the Roman Empire had? It's not fair, I tell you. Where are my bread and circuses? Actually, come to think of it, I just had some toast, and I saw Cirque du Soleil a couple of weeks ago. But that doesn't solve my basic problem, which is that I hunger for blood sports.

Luckily, Comedy Central is on the case. I tell you, whenever there's someone hungering for blood sports or reruns of Saturday Night Live, there's nothing like Comedy Central to cure what ails you. The prescription in this case is BattleBots, a brilliant show in which robots try to kill each other.

Okay, so they're more like buzzsaws mounted on remote-control cars than eighty-foot-high laser-wielding mechanoids, but it's clearly a step in the right direction.

Starting on Wednesday, the BattleBot tournament begins, in which robots will claw (and spike and saw and hammer) their way through the brackets to become the most dangerous robot or something. Also they have a grand prize called the Golden Nut. But so far I haven't had much of an opportunity to form emotional relationships with the robots themselves, so I don't care about the show-to-show continuity. It's all about the robots drunkenly bumping into each other with sharp pieces of metal.

It's not all great, though. One of the problems is the announcers. They're your standard enthusiastic "hip" play-by-play guys that couldn't get hired by any of ESPN's channels. One of them is Bill Dwyer, who you might remember from a series of commercials for some sports videogames. His costar in those commercials was Matt Vasgersian, who's now a host of Sports Geniuses on Fox Sports. They did such a great job pretending to be sports anchors in commercials that they got real jobs doing it. Well, nearly real jobs. At least they're not announcing Rollerjam -- although my point here is that they should be. Robot fighting is a serious business, and it deserves better announcing.

Of course, the show isn't nonstop carnage, and that's where it becomes particularly clever. If somebody happens to be watching television with you (this doesn't happen to me because I'm a toast-eating, Cirque-going loner), you can point to the interview segments. "See?" you can say. "This isn't a show pandering to my base need for violence! It stars scientists!" You don't have to mention that the scientists are mostly disaffected geeks working in their garages with blow torches.

Anyway, I bet some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the ages came from guys who were avoiding their wives by building killer robots.

My point is, there's a slight (very slight) overlay of intellectualism on top of the sheet metal combat.

There're also some personality profiles in the rare instances that the whirring blades of motorized death were designed by a fourteen-year-old girl. Otherwise, the "competitor" section has things like "Weight: 472 pounds. Primary weapon: Big steel claws." That's Mechadon, who looks really cool. But don't get the idea that all of the robots are huge gleaming chrome death machines. There're also a couple that are just cute as a button. I'm thinking, of course, of Tentoumushi, which was designed by the aforementioned fourteen-year-old girl. Its primary weapon? The dreaded "Smothering Pink Lady Bug!" Yikes!

It is possible that I'm overstating the carnage a little. The combat segments are really just a couple of funky-looking metal wheeled things bumping into each other while the breathless announcers enthuse about the action ("He's ripped off the steering unit! That spells doom for KillBot 3000!"). It's not so much what's shown here as the potential that excites me. They've taken a pretty basic concept and added spikes, in much the same way that "Grease" took drag racing and added unconvincing hubcap-shredding spikes. I realize that's not a very useful analogy, but I just happen to like that scene in "Grease," and who's writing this article anyway? I'm all hopped-up on the fightin' robots, and I take guff from no one.

Incidentally, in 200 years, when the robots are in charge and humanity is kept in slave camps, they're going to point back to BattleBots as the reason. All I know is, if I'm a robot from the future, I'm probably not liking the idea of robots fighting to the death for the amusement of human yokels.


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