So once again we have survived.

RoboCop History Week: RoboCop: The Series (pilot)

still_robocoptv7robocophistoryweek“The Future of Law Enforcement” is the two-part pilot to the 1994 ROBOCOP live action tv series, sometimes known as ROBOCOP: THE SERIES or ROBOCOP: THE BEGINNING. Orion Pictures licensed the TV rights to a Canadian company called Skyvision (no relation to Skynet) who made one season that started airing about 4 months after ROBOCOP 3 took flight. (get it, because he can fly in part 3.) Despite that proximity it seems to ignore the events of the sequels, for example Murphy’s family doesn’t know he’s RoboCop. Sorry, ROBOCOP 3 – you just left theaters like five minutes ago, and we’ve already disavowed your sorry ass. On Canadian television, even. You blew it, ROBOCOP 3. Admit it.

The script is credited to original ROBOCOP writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, and it definitely has some of their sense of humor in it. I keep reading that it’s adapted from their rejected part 2 script CORPORATE WARS. But as a movie sequel you figure they’d try to make it somehow bigger than the modestly budgeted part 1. And now they have to scale it down for a Canadian syndicated television budget. It definitely would’ve had to have a whole hell of a lot more plot, excitement and things happening to seem like a theatrical movie.

robocop3Sure enough this description of the sequel script sounds very different from the TV show. For starters, in the script he gets killed in the opening scene and it skips forward 25 years to a much more futuristic world. In this version it just takes place a couple years later in a cheaper version of the same near future Detroit.

At the start of the series we find that RoboCop is… being RoboCop I guess? He’s a cop, he is at the headquarters sometimes, sometimes he drives around in a police car, a few times he attempts to apprehend criminals and they shoot at him. He’s not in the show as much as you would hope though. He’s played by Richard Eden (who was also on an episode of the show Total Recall 2070! But not the Starship Troopers cartoon, unfortunately). You see him with the helmet off a couple times, but I don’t believe he does any emoting at all. He does, in my opinion, do a really good job of walking around like a wind-up tin toy. The suit looks great, exactly like in the movies, and it’s enjoyable to see him walking around among normal humans acting like he thinks he fits in.

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He doesn’t have Anne Lewis as his partner now, but it’s still a lady, Detective Lisa Madigan (Yvette Nipar of the two Kevin Sorbo WALKING TALL DTV sequels).

They definitely make an effort to re-create the world of the movie, beginning with a “Media Break” and including some fake commercials (which I imagine must’ve bled into the real commercial breaks). They even went through the trouble to make an animated commercial where a super hero named Commander Cash tries to convince you and your children that it’s heroic to have OCP credit cards. (In a later episode of the show Roddy Piper plays a live action Commander Cash).

There’s a line in the Media Break where they’re talking about what NeuroBrain is supposed to do, and one of the anchors jokes, “But can it program your VCR?” So that’s the time period we’re dealing with here. The time when it seemed like everybody would always have VCRs.

It’s also a time before digital effects were cheap enough to really do on TV, so this is all done the old fashioned way. There are some nice matte shots of Delta City buildings:

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And they follow Verhoeven’s lead by including lots of RoboCop POV shots, complete with video scan lines.

There’s one semi-entertaining bad guy, “Pudface” Morgan (James Kidnie, True Justice: Street Wars Part 2), who looks like Randy Quaid in DICK TRACY makeup.

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His face is burnt up from a previous RoboCop arrest, he’s escaped from the Henry Ford Center For the Morally Challenged, and he’s out for revenge. Unfortunately he’s just used as a pawn for less interesting villains, some assholes from OCP who have been stealing homeless people’s brains for computer experiments and blaming it on a fake serial killer. They’re creating a super computer called NeuroBrain to control the city, and they end up killing a BATMAN RETURNS style nosy secretary (Andrea Roth, HIGHWAYMEN, THE COLLECTOR) whose ghost somehow controls the computer and I think in later episodes maybe becomes RoboCop’s girlfriend or something. So in that sense it definitely predicted the future accurately, considering how many people meet online now days.

robocop1The computer is created by one of those annoying wild haired mad scientist characters, who is named Dr. Cray Mollardo (Cliff De Young, THE SUBSTITUTE). Unfortunately we see a file on him and he’s listed as “Mollardo, Cray Z. Dr.” Get it? He’s a crazy doctor. Boooooooo.

There’s also one of these gangs they have in movies that are some punks that live underground and recruit legions of runaway children who they use sort of like slaves. They’re called the Dogtown Boys, but surprisingly they don’t have skateboards. They also don’t have as enticing of an underground lair as, say, the same type of gang in the NINJA TURTLES movie I reviewed, who had free Pepsi and video games. They do pass out free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, boasting that they’re made on “white bread, of course.”

Murphy’s son Jimmy (Peter Costigan) gets angry with mom (now named Nancy, and played by Jenn Griffin, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK), runs away and joins them briefly, before speaking out against them and getting into trouble. And he’s actually not the main precocious kid in this show, there’s also a little orphan scamp (Sarah Campbell, BODY PARTS) who witnesses a crime but the grumpy sergeant (Blu Mankuma, CONNORS’ WAR) doesn’t believe her and keeps sending her back to a fraudulent children’s home. It looks like she continued as a sidekick throughout the series, and her name is Gadget.

robocop5The biggest problem with this is that RoboCop isn’t in it enough and doesn’t have enough to do. In the first movie he went through this whole journey and was an interesting Frankenstein’s monster type of character, learning to deal with his memories of being a human being. In this one the best he can do is rehash the flashback about his son liking T.J. Lazer. (There is a quick flashback of Clarence Boddicker footage too, by the way.) There’s not much development for the human part of him. He does occasionally get to use his robot abilities to do police work that organic humans couldn’t do. Specifically, he zooms in on the retina of a dead body and scans the image on it to find out who the killer was. (Of course, this is a futuristic take on an outmoded belief so old it was in Jules Verne books and was suggested as a way to catch Jack the Ripper.)

But then he gets shot and is out of commission for a while. At least the scene where it happens is funny. A limo pulls up and a guy says to Robo, “Excuse me officer, I’d like to report a crime in progress.”

“Where?” he asks.

“Right where you’re standing!” And Pudface jumps out and shoots a hole through RoboCop with some kind of super gun.

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It’s not until the end that we finally get some pretty fun action, with Robo fighting thugs including a guy on rollerblades and a guy on fire while riding a motorcycle. Robo’s fighting techniques include pushing the rollerblader and clotheslining the flaming cyclist. There are some good stunts here, some motorcycle jumps and pyro stuff. But wouldn’t you know it, the DVD messed up and froze up on me right here where the good shit was going down.

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That’s an excellent RoboClothesline, and I know I was almost to the end when it froze up, but I wish I could’ve found out more about what the PortaPerp is exactly.

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Although there’s some Neumeier/Miner type satire and funny dialogue in here (and a hat-tipping use of the phrase “total recall”) it’s mostly just repeating the type of stuff that was in the movie and not taking things to another level or to new territory. There are not really much in the way of “corporate wars,” and their super computer plan is a lame plot that, rather than leading to cool stop motion effects sequences like the movie’s ED-209 scheme, just leads to a cheesy hologram lady.

The director is Paul Lynch, who did PROM NIGHT and HUMONGOUS before he became mostly a TV guy. He wasn’t able to make this one feel very cinematic, though. It’s mostly bland and style-free, except for a goofy gimmick shot where two characters are on Stairmasters and he shoots it sideways and has them say suggestive things so at first you’ll think they’re fucking.

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That part actually seemed a little racy for TV. But Canada was ahead of us on that type of shit.

There were 23 episodes of this series. Unfortunately the pilot was not good enough to inspire me to watch the other 21..


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 at 3:23 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “RoboCop History Week: RoboCop: The Series (pilot)”

  1. I had that Robocop lunchbox and comic book as a kid. Super-jealous about that stationary set though.

  2. This show was always on but I never watched much of it. Doubt I will now, either.

    Saw the new Robocop movie last night…. and well, I can’t wait to read Vern’s review of it. Pretty sure I can guess how he’ll take it, but I’m sure it will be hilarious (and possibly totally pissed).

  3. Robo probably learned that clothesline from Sting:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGUJYLDgR8k

    I watched this when it was first out. I remember it really going out of it’s way to not have Robocop kill anyone, so if he had to take someone out who wasn’t in grabbing distance, he’d throw some pellet that inflated and trapped them, or he’d shoot a miniature explosive behind them so the explosion would propel them through the air. Terrible. They also neutered the corporate satire a bit though by making the head of OCP this Scrooge-lite sort of figure who wasn’t really such a bad guy deep down. That precocious kid…it’s funny, didn’t Robocop 3 also have an oprhaned little girl sidekick in it? Yet this is an unrelated character. Some progressive writing though, as when the show featured the President, it was a female one.

    A lot of TV shows based on movies tend to retcon stuff from the source material, sometimes to the effect of missing the point. Like the MEN IN BLACK cartoon (made after the first film, but before the second), had Kay still working with Jay and apparently not all that bothered about getting old or missing civillian life. THE MASK’s cartoon had Stanley still owning the mask so he could be a superhero, despite the Mask persona kinda being an amoral maniac who only ever did good as a side-effect of messing with people he didn’t like.

  4. In all fairness, the MIB cartoon actually had a seriously great Hollywood themed episode, in which they revealed that the movie is really just a movie and some screenwriter used the “real” adventure, that happened to the characters of the series, for his script. Which is also something that happens in the universe of that show every few years and usually results in a brain erasement of Hollywood.

  5. The Canadian Broadcasting Standards must have blandness written into their manifest when producing television. Every TV show I have seen from that country is mostly bland and dulllooking.Unsurprisingly they turned Lasse Hallströms excellent MY LIFE AS A DOG into dogshit. They should stick to hockey. I know I watched this show when it aired in Sweden. That is the most positive thing you will ever hear from me about the show.

    PRIME DIRECTIVES at least was not full of the family friendly bullshit that plagued this series, which almost automatically makes it very watchable, even though it is Canadian and looks incredibly cheap and bland.

  6. Once upon a time, I got to act in a couple of scenes with Cliff de Young in a really atrocious movie. People sometimes wonder why actors take these super shitty roles, but my god, even on shitty movies these people get paid an awful lot. Even if it’s bottom barrel union fees. Nice guy. He’ll always be the dad from FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR to me.

  7. Shoot, try TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL! Best Canadian TV show EVER!

  8. I remember I used to watch in the afternoon on Sundays. I also remember that Yvette Nipar chick from Phantoms (Affleck, you the bomb in Phantoms yo!) when Liev Schreiber is going to show her something cool in the end. So I guess this show had be shown in Norway probably around 96-97.

  9. So you guys are telling me that VIDEODROME was not an accurate depiction of Canadian television.

    Kind of a relief, but also kind of a bummer.

  10. That’s awesome Nick. It’s mostly from FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (one of the movies I was obsessed with at an early age), but he’s one of those actors I’d always spot in stuff later on like FLASHBACK or THE HUNGER, or even the pilot of THE X-FILES.

  11. CJ- Best Canadian show ever?! Is that supposed to mean something?

    I do apologize to Canadians for my previous,present and future statements for any generalizing statements I might have done, just made and possibly will make.

  12. The Best Canadian Show Ever was DUE SOUTH. Period.

    Currently, CONTINUUM is pretty good though.

  13. John Fawcett is Canadian and though Orphan Black is a BBC America show it looks unmistakably Canadian and also rocks.

  14. Canadian shows that are awesome? My world is colliding!

  15. Trailer Park Boys is a Canadian show, right? What is its reception there? In the US it has a small, but devoted following. I was always on the fence for that one. It was kind of hit n miss for me.

    onthewall2983 – I totally forgot that de Young was in the X-Files! Been meaning to revisit the show on Netflix. Good reminder.

  16. Are they wearing leather, or latex, to exercise on their stairmasters? The dystopian future Detroit, as imagined by Canucks looks worse than I could’ve imagined.

  17. CJ Holden – Yeah that was actually an episode I would recommend worth checking out. Funny and clever. Or two things that MIB 2 didn’t have.

    *rimshot*

  18. Pretty much the whole run of the MIB cartoon was great to seriously good. I still wish that one day they adapt the Agent Alpha storyline (a founding member of the MIB steals body parts from alens and puts them into his own body to become more powerful, until he looks like some kind of giant, tentacled, multi-headed tick monster) into a movie.

  19. Man… I remember watching this series. I actually liked it. I thought it was fairly watered down but still had a little of the satire in there but in a more broad slapsticky way.

    And this is probably the only thing Andrea Roth has done I would remember her in. She was pretty good and her character had fun as a computer ghost.

  20. I just ramdomly remembered that the pilot was actually released on VHS as ROBOCOP 4 over here.

  21. I haven’t even thought about this for a very, very long time, but wasn’t Pudface supposed to be the dude (Emil?) in the first ROBOCOP who gets dunked in toxic waste? Except they rebootquelled it so he didn’t get run over and turned into mush. Or did RoboCop happen to dunk ANOTHER guy in toxic waste. What are the chances, huh?

  22. Wait, going back to everyone ragging on Canadian tv- I didn’t see anyone mention Bruce McDonald/Don McKellar’s badass Twitch City. That show was as good as Spaced in my opinion, maybe even better. Anyone down with the movies Roadkill, Highway 61, Hard Core Logo, etc etc etc, would also probably be into that show

  23. You know what? I’m actually digging this show. I don’t care if it’s cheap. It seems like every episode tries to be significant for Alex Murphy, like one where he has to provide protective custody for his parents who don’t know it’s their son as Robocop.

    The action is stagey but they seem to blow something up every week. Dammit,I may just have to watch all 22 now.

  24. Does KIDS IN THE HALL count as a Canadian TV show?

  25. It sounds like DEGRESSI HIGH bullshit. Is it?

  26. Shoot: Is what like DEGRASSI HIGH?

  27. I don´t know. What is KIDS IN THE HALL in the first place? I just thought it sounded like a high school series like DEGRASSI HIGH.

  28. KIDS IN THE HALL is a sketch comedy show produced by Lorne Michaels of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE fame. In my opinion, KIDS is one of the funniest shows ever put on television. You are probably familiar with at least one of the show’s stars thanks to their subsequent careers. Oh, and it has one of the best theme songs of all time.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kids_in_the_Hall

  29. Just in case anybody checks in on an old thread and wants to know: yes, Trailer Park Boys is pretty huge in Canada. The actors do touring shows here and there, most people are aware of it and you can usually run into someone who’ll recognize quotations. I don’t think blandness is written into our broadcasting rules; it’s just part of our character (and assisted by comparatively small production budgets). I think we’ve had some pretty great shows, but they’re usually in genres where no one has to spend much money, like comedy and light drama. Comedy is really subjective, so it’s hard to make an argument for them being better or worse than other countries’ outputs, but my point is that they don’t look cheap like our action series might. I will say that if you like sketch comedy in general and haven’t seen any Kids In The Hall, you really should. I have respect for CBC television largely because they would allow something that insane to flourish on there for so long.

  30. Andrea roth started out on this series.

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