I knew about this from back in the day but never actually watched it. Recently dabbled a bit with it, curious what it was about.
I loved it. My favorite incarnation of RoboCop by a wide margin.
The actual mechanics of the franchise were all in place too. The Robo-Suit was movie-accurate, and Richard Eden did a pretty good job filling Weller's shoes as RoboCop, even if he obviously wasn't quite as effective.
I actually thought he was much better in the role than Weller. Weller's Robo was just Weller talking really loud and mechanically
, and once his memory started to come back he was basically just playing Murphy in armor. Eden did a great job defining RoboCop as a distinct character in his own right, not just Murphy but a new hybrid entity that arose from the synergy of Murphy's fragmentary memories/identity and the AI programming of RoboCop. And he played the role with such nuance, thoughtfulness, and inner sadness, and was surprisingly soft-spoken. No actor since Leonard Nimoy has been so good at conveying emotional depth with such little outward display of emotion.
Having said all that, the attempts to tone down the movies' predeliction towards violence in order to make The Series more palatable for children became stupidly comical at times. RoboCop himself still has his iconic gun, but repeatedly uses it for Non-Lethal takedowns, something which rankled me compared to the bloodbaths seen in the movies. Is it believable for somebody to aim his gun at a bad guy and then suddenly decide that, no, I'm going to shoot the cupboard next to him and make it fall down? It'd just be more effective to make Robo take everybody on in hand-to-hand combat, surely? Yeah yeah I know, they didn't want to give the kids anything they could copy in real-life. I do appreciate why they did it, but by the fifth or sixth time it happened it really started to look silly. Especially in context of how over-the-top violent the movies are.
I think the series handles the issue of police violence a lot more intelligently than the movie sequels -- and in a way that's far more consistent with the original movie than people realize. Here's what I had to say about it in my blog review
"If you really take a good look at the first movie, Robo’s tactics in his normal patrol aren’t that much more violent than in the series. In the convenience store robbery, he disarms the perp and tosses him through a glass case. In the attempted rape, he uses a precisely aimed trick shot to disable rather than kill. In the hostage situation, he pulls the guy through a wall and tosses him out a window. At the gas station, he again uses precise aim to shoot Emil’s bike out from under him. Sure, in the film’s more graphic interpretation, these would’ve more likely been crippling or fatal than in the show’s more cartoony reality, but then again, Emil didn’t seem too badly hurt by his bike crash, and Verhoeven’s exaggerated violence is just as cartoony in its own way. Later, when Robo regained his memory and went after Boddicker in the drug lab, he was freer with the gunplay, but even there, he often took theoretically nonlethal shots to the shoulder, hip, etc." (Yes, I know that in reality they'd probably be lethal without prompt treatment, but in the stylized reality of action movies, they're generally portrayed as nonlethal.) "And his level of violence can be explained as lashing out in retribution for what was done to him. He attacks Boddicker and almost strangles him, but then remembers that he’s a cop, and so he chooses to proceed by the book, arresting Boddicker and letting the justice system deal with him rather than giving in to base revenge. This is crucial: it shows us that RoboCop does not cavalierly throw away life, but, like any good cop, uses only as much force as he needs to. Later, Robo is more violent against Boddicker’s gang, but they’re armed with weapons that could kill him, so it’s justifiable as self-defense. Sure, he says he’s not here to arrest Boddicker, implying he intends to kill him; but he doesn’t actually pull the trigger when he has the chance, and when he finally takes out Boddicker, it’s unambiguously in self-defense. As for his takedown of Dick Jones in the end, it seems excessive, since the R:TS RoboCop would’ve just shot the gun from his hand Lone Ranger-style. But at this point, Robo’s targeting was damaged, so a kill shot was the only reliable way to uphold Directive 2, 'Protect the innocent.' Thus lethal force was justified.
"So there’s really not that great a difference in the violence levels of the original movie and R:TS, just a difference of presentation and emphasis. In both, RoboCop’s preference was to use nonlethal force when practical, as any police officer would be trained and required to do (and R:TS’s showrunner Stephen Downing, an ex-cop, certainly knew this). When he went beyond that in the film, it can be seen as an aberration due to his turbulent psychological state (as in the drug lab) or an escalation justified by the circumstances. Sure, his nonlethal tactics in the movie were harsher, more crippling, but it was just the OCP tough-on-crime programming guiding him at that point; as Murphy’s persona re-emerged and became integrated with the RoboCop program, it could’ve given him more of a conscience as time went on, made him more judicious in his use of force as seen in the series.
"The problem with RoboCop 2
is that it made RoboCop a casual killer, little more than a thug. With one exception, where he lets a gunman live to squeeze him for information, every single shot he takes in the film is a kill shot. That’s not what he did in the first movie, and that’s not what any plausibly portrayed police officer would do. It’s just part and parcel of the second film’s gratuitous excess. As for the third film, it toned down the violence for a PG-13 rating, so RoboCop doesn’t use much lethal force, but he rarely had the opportunity, and it does seem he would have if he could. Certainly he’s more driven by revenge than law enforcement for much of the film. (I doubt there’s a police-procedural justification for torching an office with a flamethrower.) So really, RoboCop: The Series
is truer to the original film’s portrayal of RoboCop’s approach to the use of force, and truer to legitimate police procedure."
In short, I submit that it's the movie sequels that missed the point of the original's violence by making it excessive and gratuitous. In the original, yes, it was a violent world, but Robo was only as violent as he needed to be, which was what made him different from the villains. His computer-precise aim made him capable of reliably taking down criminals without kill shots, and his armor made him all but invulnerable to being shot so he didn't have as much need to kill in self-defense. The show is true to this principle in a way the movie sequels were not.
Also, one thing a lot of people don't seem to remember about the original film is that it was a comedy, a broad satire. The over-the-top violence of the film was part of the joke, poking fun at action-movie violence by escalating it to a ludicrous degree. It wasn't about glorifying violence like it was in RoboCop 2
, but about using violence as a means to a satirical end. Naturally the TV series couldn't be similarly violent, so it played up the broad satire and farce in other ways, and I think that's true to the spirit of the original.
And one more thing to keep in mind is that the RoboCop character was extremely popular with children at the time. When I went to see RoboCop 2
in the theater back when it first came out, I was stunned that more than one parent had brought small children to see this ultraviolent, hard-R-rated movie. You can call that reckless parenting, but the simple fact was, kids were
going to watch the TV series no matter what, so it would've been just as reckless and irresponsible of the show's makers not
to tone down the violence and make the show more suitable for the inevitable child audience.
The Sergeant character is an obvious replacement for the Warren Reed character seen in all three movies, and Madigan is maybe too much like a cookie-cutter replacement for Nancy Allen's Officer Lewis, right down to her relationship with RoboCop and the fact that she's chewing gum when we first meet her. I'd have almost have rathered if the comparisons were less obvious, although I understand the series itself changes this by making her a Detective instead of a beat cop, at least differentiating her a little bit more from Anne Lewis.
It's only in the pilot that Madigan comes off as a stand-in for Lewis. She becomes much more distinct in the series, thanks to the writing and to the gorgeous, gifted Yvette Nipar's performance in the role. And Blu Mankuma makes Parks a much more avuncular character than Reed.
One thing I like about R:TS is that, unlike most TV series based on movies, you can actually reconcile it pretty smoothly with the continuity of the original movie -- so long as you ignore both film sequels, which I'm happy to do. Quoting from my blog review again:
"In the film, Murphy had just transferred from Metro South to Metro West, so it’s easy enough to assume that Madigan had been his partner before Lewis.... Perhaps in the 3-5 years between the film and the series (the date references are inconsistent), the Metro West precinct was torn down to make way for Delta City, and RoboCop was relocated back to Metro South. The gentrification may have driven the poorer elements southward and turned Metro South into a more dangerous precinct than the original film suggested. “Pudface” Morgan seems to have been based on Emil from the first film, his face deformed in a toxic-waste accident, but given the polluted corporate dystopia in which RoboCop
takes place, it’s possible that Robo could’ve had two separate confrontations that ended in bad guys getting exposed to toxic waste.... As for Murphy’s family, the film said they moved away, but maybe that just meant they moved to a different part of Detroit. And Murphy’s wife wasn’t named in the original film, so her name Nancy in the series isn’t a contradiction (since I’m disregarding the film sequel where she was called Ellen in the script — though the name wasn’t stated onscreen as far as I could tell)."
I also think that the show's portrayal of the OCP Chairman as a morally ambiguous figure -- someone whose priorities are skewed by corporate greed but who basically means well and disapproves of the more blatant and murderous corruption of his subordinates -- was truer to the original film's portrayal than the overtly evil Old Man of RoboCop 2
So I think of R:TS as the true continuation of the original film, and disregard the movie sequels.