The original BattleBots went off the air thirteen years ago, 2002, after five seasons. I was about ten years old, which is just about the perfect time to think robots fighting each other with hammers and chainsaws is the coolest thing in the known universe. I also remember being incredibly disappointed to learn that to take part in an actual robot fight you either needed A) to know how science works or B) to be an actual robot. I lacked both criteria.
Last night, while I was mired in the frowny-faced mucky muck of True Detective’s season two premiere, ABC aired the first of six episodes in its updated BattleBots tournament. Once again, teams wired together some parts, and worked together to ruin another team’s hard work. I finally got around to watching this afternoon, and the big question was: Does BattleBots hold up after all these years?
The answer is oh god yes. This thing is absurd, ridiculous and kind of amazing, and none of that has anything to do with the robots.
Because here’s the thing that has become apparent after 13 years—the title BattleBots sounds cool. The idea of two robots fighting each other is cool. All the robots look cool, and have cool names. But robot fighting rarely, if ever, actually looks cool. It’s mostly just two mini-fridges ramming into each other for five minutes. Occasionally there are sparks. At least one explosion happened, because they needed a visual for the commercial, I guess.
Smartly. BattleBots makes up for this by surrounding the actual fights with so much insane hyperbole and grandstanding that you can’t help but feel like you’re about to watch a competition with the fate of the damn universe hanging in the balance. From the opening minutes, this show paints the most outlandish picture of a world of robot fighting. From the intro alone:
“Drive. The spark that ignites in the darkest night. The desire to reveal greatness within. Hours spent in the workshop,the basement, the garage. Home to the do it-yourselfers, the builders, the dreamers. NOW THEY ARE THE CHOSEN FEW.”
Holy shit, did I just get super powers from reading that? It doesn’t sound like the winner of this competition gets the ugliest trophy known to man. It sounds like they get to join the Avengers. But wait, they go on to say: “It began on the back streets of San Francisco, and grew to jam-packed arenas in front of world-wide audiences.”
Wait, did it? Did robot fighting actually start in the streets? Was there full-blown gang-warfare settled with robot fighting? Is there an underground robot fighting league in which shady businessmen place bets on killing machines in dark basements? Because if so take the funding from BattleBots and make that documentary ASAP.
Then, there are the intros for the fights themselves. Ring Announcer Faruq Tauheed is tasked with speaking some of the greatest sentences ever uttered, in front of a rabid crowd that is apparently fueled by the sight of robots fighting. Every fight is proceeded by Tauheed—I want to say announcing but it’s more like screaming—the phrase “AER YOU READY? IT’S ROBOT FIGHTING TIME.” This is when the crowd hits peak oil-lust. They live for this. Without robot fighting the lives of these crowd members are meaningless. One small child in particular has an absolute fucking conniption, as if the one dream he has harbored in his short life was to see these two robots bump into each other again and again.
One robot, Icewave, is described as having an “unquenchable thirst for destruction, that’s only served in one way. ON THE ROCKS.” Oh my, that’s perfect. Another, Razorback, gets this priceless gem of an introduction: “Get ready to ROCKY MOUNTAIN DIE!”
Rocky. Mountain. Die. That is poetry. Put that on my tombstone when I go. For the record, Icewave knocked out Razorback in like a minute, which wasn’t nearly as entertaining as a man in a referee shirt yelling “We’re done” as if he was genuinely concerned for the health of this robot.
Throughout all this, former UFC fighter Kenny Florian provides color commentary, because who better to discuss robotics?
Don’t take my word for it, and definitely don’t watch the highlights. It’s not the bot battles of BattleBots that’s entertaining. It’s BattleBots’ insistence that these battles are the most epic occurrence in recorded history that is fascinating, and honestly more fun than most things on TV. Okay, and that one explosion was pretty cool, too.