The History of ‘Robocop’ TV Shows

Drew Dietsch

In 1987, the world was blessed with RoboCop, a hyper-violent sci-fi/action film about a cyborg police officer that was loaded with heart, humor, and a heck of a lot of fun. The film was a critical and financial success, launching itself into the popular consciousness for all time. Even with two inferior sequels and a mediocre remake, RoboCop remains a beloved ‘80s classic in the eyes of its fans.

What some of those fans may not know is that RoboCop had a fairly substantial television presence as well. The first of RoboCop’s small screen adventures was actually a cartoon produced by Marvel in 1988 called RoboCop: The Animated Series. Marvel handled a comic book adaptation of the first film, so they were tasked with turning a film that had once been rated X for its extreme violence into a children’s cartoon (ah, the ‘80s). This led to the show adapting a much more science fiction-centric world in order to turn bullets into lasers and to appeal to a younger demographic.

For what it is, RoboCop: The Animated Series isn’t bad. There’s an overarching plot involving a ruthless gang called the Vandals that leads into RoboCop’s past and the animation is enjoyable for the time. There’s obviously a desire in the writers’ room to do something worthwhile. Episodes like “The Brotherhood” and “Into the Wilderness” attempt to tackle heavier subjects like racism and environmental responsibility. There’re some continuity conflicts with the film and the show is often a little sillier than it needs to be, but for an ‘80s cartoon it’s more than worth a watch. The show only lasted 12 episodes (Marvel spent the budget for episode 13 on a pilot for an X-Men animated series), but it remains a nice way to introduce a very young audience to RoboCop.

The next television series would make the jump to live-action. In 1994, a Canadian production company called Skyvision Entertainment produced RoboCop: The Series. Though the production values were quite good for a show of its scale, there were a number of problems with the series. Due to rights issues, many of the characters from the films had to have their names changed which was unnecessarily confusing. Also, Skyvision was unable to get Peter Weller to reprise his iconic role and with the unsuccessful RoboCop 3 releasing just a few months before the show launched, the series was put in a bad place when it came to cultural awareness.

The most damning change for fans came with the show’s tone. While removing the more adult aspects of the film made sense for a cartoon adaptation, a live action show had the opportunity to bring back some of the more mature elements such as the violence and satire. RoboCop: The Series was specifically aimed at a younger audience so none of those concepts really survived the transition to television. RoboCop would subdue villains in non-lethal ways and the leaders of Omni-Consumer Products are portrayed as goofy villains instead of viciously immoral. RoboCop was even saddled with a kid sidekick of sorts named Gadget. Due to low ratings and unsustainable budget costs (the 22 produced episodes cost over $1 million each), RoboCop: The Series followed its animated counterpart in only producing one season.

RoboCop would return to the boob tube four years later, and he would be making his comeback in animated form once again; RoboCop: Alpha Commando debuted in 1998 and brought with it many of the writers from RoboCop: The Animated Series. In a post-Batman: The Animated Series world, the aesthetic design of the show had to become much darker and sleeker, but the content itself inversely became much, much wackier. Ignoring practically all of the films’ continuity, RoboCop: Alpha Commando features a RoboCop that has retractable rollerblades (ah, the ‘90s), a parachute, and transforming abilities that include becoming a motorcycle. There’s even a recurring villain in the show called The Hermanator.

Although the purely toy-infused nature of the show does generate some laughs, it’s somewhat disappointing seeing how the the creators obviously want to continue the semi-serialized nature of RoboCop: The Animated Series. There’s a three-part introductory story that works as a mini-movie, and there’s also a two-part story involving the reunion between RoboCop (originally officer Alex J. Murphy) and his family. There is some fun casting info when it comes to RoboCop: Alpha Commando. Dean Haglund of The X-Files fame plays Dr. Cornelius Neumeier, named after original RoboCop screenwriter Ed Neumeier. Blu Mankuma, who played the Sgt. Reed stand-in Sgt. Parks in RoboCop: The Animated Series, voices Sgt. Reed in the cartoon. Even with those bits of behinds the scenes trivia, RoboCop: Alpha Commando is for fans of RoboCop: The Animated Series only.

The last attempt at a RoboCop show would be its most interesting and divisive; in 2001, Fireworks Entertainment brought RoboCop back to the realm of live-action with RoboCop: Prime Directives, a series of four feature-length episodes that hearkened back to a darker take on the character and his world. The return to a more mature take on RoboCop was a big step up, but unfortunately the production itself suffered from poor writing and a piddling budget. It didn’t help that the series biggest idea, an evil RoboCop, had already been partially mined in RoboCop 2.

Still, RoboCop: Prime Directives really is your best option in terms of a RoboCop show. It’s got a lot more violence and darkness going for it. At the start of the show, RoboCop is almost suicidal and the series features some more appropriate sci-fi ideas rather than turning into a motorcycle. If you can get past the bad effects, costumes, and early-2000s quality writing, you might find something you’ll get a kick out of.

RoboCop will always be one of the best movies ever made, but its attempts at making a go of it on the idiot box aren’t the most endearing. However, they are worth checking out if you’re a fan of the series and thought there was no other RoboCop content out there to consume. Here’s hoping the next reboot of the character fares better than these shows did.

Need to brush up on your prime directives? Head on over to the RoboCop Wiki. You give them three minutes and they’ll give you the world.

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