Netflix’s flagship animated anthology series Love, Death & Robots has often been a hard show to love. On the one hand, it’s a dazzling showcase for VFX artists at the top of their field, adapting some of science fiction’s most interesting short stories to a new medium (not unlike the Heavy Metal comics from which executive producers David Fincher and Tim Miller derived the premise).
On the other, that same love of Heavy Metal extends to the exploitativeness of many of its stories — especially in its first season, which never met a woman it didn’t like to punish, hypersexualize, or exploit for gut-wrenching violence.
Still, despite the Reddit-iness of it all, there are still quite a few gems to be found amongst the Call of Duty commercials and Starcraft cutscenes, especially as the show course-corrected in Seasons 2 and 3 with the arrival of showrunner Jennifer Yuh Nelson to break up the boys’ club — the newest season contains some of the best shorts the series has showcased (though also one of its worst: We’re looking at you, “Kill Team Kill”).
With that in mind, and with no word as to whether this is it for the series, we wanted to go back over the 35 shorts Love, Death & Robots has featured in its tenure, and picked out the cream of the crop. This way, you can marvel at the imagination and ingenuity of the series at its height, without having to cringe through yet another short about a Special Forces team fighting one supernatural beastie or another.
15. “Helping Hand” (Season 1)
I’m a sucker for space-disaster stories, ones in which the realities of space travel and their effect on the human body are laid terrifyingly bare. “Helping Hand” from Season 1 is potentially the slightest of these on the list, but it’s full of that nail-biting Gravity-adjacent tension of what happens when you get in deep trouble in the black and have nothing but your spacesuit and your wits.
In the case of astronaut Alexandria Stephens (Elly Condron), the only way back to safety is sheer physics — throwing something in the opposite direction to get you back to your spaceship. Only trouble is when all you’ve got is your spacesuit… or, eventually, your vacuum-frozen hand. Gruesome but effective stuff.
14. “Ice” (Season 2)
Animator Robert Valley, who will show up much later on this list, has an enticing visual style, with his characters rendered as Peter Chung-esque statues of too-long limbs and sharp angles. And that unique look works wonders for this short-but-sweet tale of two brothers — one with genetic enhancements, the other without — who’ve moved to an icy colony planet with their parents and get into some late-night shenanigans with a group of local kids.
What follows is a playful race that doubles as a moment of connection between two brothers who bristle against each other’s differences, with some outstanding shadow and light work when the Frostwhales finally make their appearance.
13. “Lucky 13” (Season 1)
Military sci-fi is a well-worn, often repetitive genre, especially in Love, Death & Robots, so a good deal of the show’s love for military porn didn’t necessarily make this list. But most endearing among them is Jerome Chen’s bittersweet love story between a hotshot pilot (Samira Wiley, one of the most realistically-rendered visages and performances of the whole series) and an unlucky dropship she must pilot in the midst of an interstellar war.
Before her, the last two crews on “Lucky 13” perished in horrible circumstances; but in her hands, the ship works wonders — and it’s implied that the ship itself is a little bit alive, and fights specifically for her. Plenty of Top Gun-esque dogfighting and fist-pumping sci-fi action here, but it’s underpinned by Wiley’s understated performance and a sci-fi-tinged spin on the undying bond between pilots and their planes.