Confused Views: Looking back at the pilot episode of RoboCop

This week, Matt takes a look back at the pilot episode of the 1994 RoboCop TV series, and is disturbed by its lack of violence…

The San Diego Comic-Con was held last weekend, and the world of nerds who like film stuff has been buzzing ever since. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, and it might be, then everyone is going a bit mad about some television program, film or comic that was announced or trailed at the event. I, myself, found out about something as a result of the SDCC that has me all in a dither.

What did I find out about? There’s a porn star called April O’Neil who attended the SDCC in costume as April O’Neil from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While my being thrilled by that might just seem a bit creepy to you, what’s important here is what it means. Somehow, I’ve managed to will my desires into reality.

Naturally, once I realised I had this ability, I immediately watched the feature-length pilot episode of the live action RoboCop TV series. Because, if my subconscious can turn a foxy cartoon TV news reporter into a real life adult film star, then it can surely do something as simple as making the TV show about RoboCop into an awesome spectacle of futuristic satire and robot murder.

This eighty-five minute pilot, titled The Future Of Law Enforcement, and from what I think is the original TV series (apparently there have been a few), sees RoboCop battling against a criminal madman he previously disfigured and a rogue scientist who’s developing software for OCP, while secretly planning  to use that software to take control of the company. There’s also something going on with an orphanage giving unwanted children to a violent gang.

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I’m sad to report that my powers were not enough to save this RoboCop outing.

In fact, those involved weren’t capable enough to make the RoboCop in this film seem like RoboCop. Oh, sure, he looks like RoboCop, but he doesn’t sound like him. To say that his voice is less than authoritative would be an understatement. Call me old fashioned, but I like my robot-police hybrids to sound like they’d be able to throw a terrorist out of a third floor window. This RoboCop sounds like he can’t decide which Happy Meal toy he wants to ask for.

With the voice of a fickle half-man, half-ballroom dancing enthusiast, RoboCop seems less likely to fling a terrorist from a window than he does a dance partner around a studio, as part of his twice weekly practice.

As with any RoboCop content, some perspectives take place within his helmet. He seems to have used his computer view settings to engage a non-kill mode, which is as dreadful as it sounds, and is something we’ll come to in a minute. He’s also still bound by his prime directives, which are:

1. Serve the public trust 2. Protect the innocent 3. Uphold the law 4. The audience can shit off 5. Unbelievable, a porn star called April O’Neil!

Now, back to my previous point. Exactly when did RoboCop lose interest in hyperviolence? This is particularly frustrating, as there are a lot of characters in this thing I’d like to see RoboCop shoot into a bloody pulp. Every time a good guy character is on screen with the programmed for justice human death device, I found myself pleading aloud, “Please, for the love of April O’Neil, have a cyber freak out and start punching some genitals.” Heartbreakingly, the groin punching rampage I was hoping for never came to be. It’s enough to make me doubt that I even have super powers.

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In the opening scenes, RoboCop must apprehend a villain in order to save some elderly hostages. He traps a henchman in a wardrobe and then sends the bad guy down some stairs in a wheelchair, before he gets hilariously launched through the air. This isn’t RoboCop at all. It’s Inspector Gadget.

While RoboCop is a metallic, rusty shell of his former self, the supporting characters and villains are far, far worse.

They’ve brought Murphy’s family back, because they hate your favourite parts of RoboCop and love making you unhappy. When RoboCop finds out that his whining sack of uninteresting son has gotten himself into some trouble, he sets off purposefully. It’s hard to tell if RoboCop is concerned for his son’s safety or worried that he’s becoming a goth, which seems like a distinct possibility. I’d love to tell you if he’s successful, but I’m worried that if I give you too many details about the story you might start to care, and that’s not what this TV show is about.

The main villain of the piece is Pudface, but with his large, dangling rubber nose, he looks like he should be called Dickface. Also, with how annoying he is, he should be called Dickface. Everyone in this show should be called Dickface. Anyway, he threatens to cut someone’s throat with a baseball bat. Sometimes you need to try to explain how sharp the writing on a television program is and sometimes it explains itself.

A police sergeant (I think he’s called Sergeant Dickface), is introduced in a scene where he’s lecturing a colleague about police protocol. Within one minute, he’s mentally abusing an orphan. He’s one of the good guys.

The orphan he’s insulting is a new character in the RoboCop universe, and holy shit, she’s annoying. Upon meeting RoboCop, Irritating Little Girl (I think she was called Abigail Dickface) says, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.” In that case, stay in school, work hard, listen to your parents and be sure to get violently slaughtered by a gang of unhinged bank robbers. Seriously, who watched RoboCop and decided that what it was missing was a kid sidekick? If I wanted to listen to a whiny child prattling on about things I’m not interested in, I would visit my kids occasionally.

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One of the more confusing new characters is a cyber-ghost woman. Let’s call her Cyber-Ghost Dickface. Guys, before you judge the character on how awful the idea is, you haven’t heard the hook yet, she’s feisty!

Presumably, she was included because it would be a crime if the RoboCop TV series wasn’t at least a bit like Weird Science. Alarmingly, towards the end, Cyber-Ghost Woman and RoboCop get a little flirty. I found myself asking the following questions. Are they going to have sex? No? Why not? I think I speak for the entire audience when I say that we really, really want them to.

The other major villain is a whacked out scientist, Professor Dickface, who’s building a supercomputer that requires a human brain to run (hey, just like RoboCop). Faced with a full series of this cowabullshit, I contemplated volunteering. I’m actually now a supercomputer and have willed porn April into existence. However, given that her existence is what caused me to watch RoboCop the TV series and become a supercomputer, therefore negating my ability to create her with my mind, I think I’ve created a paradox.  That, or I’ve bullshitted myself into a corner. 

These dreadful dick-faced characters get together and bring the story to a conclusion so dull that the script pages double as a guide to shrugging. The final showdown sees RoboCop storm OCP headquarters while gang members shoot him. (Earlier they had a gun that shot a hole through RoboCop, which they appear to have misplaced by this point in the film.) Robo causes an explosion, which sends Dickface flying through the air, again. Seriously, twenty minutes of this thing is just villains flying through the air in slow motion. Then someone electrocutes a building. Then I appear to have written ‘Robogofuckyourself’ two hundred times in my notebook.

Rather than a television companion or a spin off, this film really feels like confused people bumbling about with the concept of RoboCop, completely unsure of what to do with it. It’s like watching a monkey fumble with a Game Boy. He inspects it, jabs at the buttons, snaps it in half, drops it and then starts flinging his shit every which way he can.

This is a poor imitation by people with neither the skills nor the resources to recreate a sandwich, never mind a brilliant sci-fi action film. Or rather, it’s a grim rehash, not like a modern film remake, but like someone vomiting up their breakfast and trying to eat it again. I will never run out of ways of describing how bad this is, so I will move on to making a suggestion. If they really wanted to adapt RoboCop as a TV show, they should have made it a sitcom, like ALF. A family has to hide RoboCop from the government, and he turns their lives upsidedown and tries to eat their cat.

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There are many attempts to recreate scenes from the original film, which only serve to remind us that we’re not actually watching RoboCop. “Hey, remember that scene or this character? Well, here’s a really shitty version of it.”

Who is this for? Given the time it was released, I can only assume it was made for people who wanted to watch the film RoboCop once a week, but couldn’t work their video recorder. Or people who liked RoboCop, but were put off by the violence, language and awesomeness.

Another reminder that you’re not actually watching RoboCop is the chunk of film that doesn’t feature RoboCop. Good shout. Play to your strengths.

Perhaps the best way for me to finish, is to tell you about the scene which features a devious businessman and a corrupt orphanage manageress attempting to have a sexy phone conversation. It features suggestive rubbing, all from him, and they actually use the word “sexorcise”. Ever since I heard it, my balls have refused to speak to me. Now, of all times, right when I find out about the adult film works of April O’Neil? Damn you, the pilot episode of RoboCop the TV series! Damn you to bastarding hell!

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