Friday, 2 October 2009

We Seem To Be Made To Suffer

I haven’t seen any new robots around Melbourne for a while but I was quite touched last night by the tragic tale of Cheesoid, Mitchell and Webb’s ‘robot that smells.’ If you haven’t seen it yet I’d heartily recommend a few minutes here on You Tube. I take my hat off to them for a story that starts off so cheerfully and yet descends so quickly into Frankenstein-esque existentialist horror. And for bringing together robots and cheese in the name of comedy and pathos (‘Why Cheesoid exist...? Cheesoid hate self…’)


Naturally enough Cheesoid got me thinking about other famous comedy robots, so here’s a list of some of my other favourites, starting with (might as well get him out of the way):

Marvin the Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) The original and best, Marvin is the Robfather – the don of all crap but lovable robots. He epitomises anthropomorphised boxes-painted silver, covered in crappy LEDs and old oven knobs and bestowed with a voices that are highly unlikely for machines meant to make human life better.

Of course Marvin had life through the Hitchhikers books and radio series long before he first appeared on telly, so its his droning, moaning voice that is his most recognisable and endearing feature (‘The first ten million years were the worst, and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.’)

This is just as well because I’m sure if Marvin could have seen the lame-arsed job the BBC props department did with his physical incarnation he would really have had something to moan about. Still, he now has a whole BBC mini-site dedicated to him, which might have made him smile somewhere inside. Maybe.

Talkie Toaster (Red Dwarf) Naturally enough for a show set in the future, cargo vessel the Red Dwarf has more than its fair share of inhabitants with artificial intelligence. This seems to balance out the lack of natural intelligence shown by Lister, Rimmer and the Cat. ‘Service Mechanoid’ Kryten and ship’s computer Holly are the most celebrated, but they are a little too developed for this particular list. Elsewhere there are the Skutters, wandering about the enormous ship undertaking menial cleaning tasks, insulting Rimmer with the middle digit of their three-pronged claws and renacting key scenes from their favourite John Wayne movies.

And yet of all the artificial lifeforms on Red Dwarf, none tickles me more than the Talkie Toaster. Like the best robots he has just one mission (I toast therefore I am) and goes to great lengths to make sure that he carries out his directive. To tell you more would be to spoil his joys, so I suggest just watching his finest moment, trying to persuade a disinterested Lister to partake in some warmed-up bread products.

Alternatively you can look at attempts by real people with real jobs to make a real Talkie Toaster by clicking here.

Dylan (Vic Reeves Big Night Out) It’s interesting how much sympathy can be engendered by a plastic flip-top bin on wheels with flashing lights, deely-bopper eyes and a computerised Middlesbrough accent, but I still feel sad about poor Dylan. When he first rolled onto the Big Night Out stage as the cheery ‘special friend’ of Les, Vic Reves’ silent and oft-abused sidekick, who could have known the sorry existence he would have to endure.

Constantly berated by Vic as Les’ ‘sycophantic little robot’ Dylan responds to Vic’s ongoing cruelty to him and Les with a camp and indignant “ooh you bugger!” Despite his loyalty to Les, he eventually dies an ignominious death at the hands of a 'quite riled' Mr Dennis (a newsagent who doesn’t stock Curly Wurleys because they are far too elaborate). His appearances were fleeting so I’m not sure why Dylan’s memory has stayed with me all these years (apart from saying ‘ooh, you bugger’ makes me laugh) but I’m glad to have the opportunity to commemorate his short-lived life.

Ooh, you bugger!

Medibot (Look Around You) Medibot is the future of medical science according to the Tomorrow’s World-parodying 1979-tastic vision of the world that is Look Around You. Despite resembling a cake tin attached to a police filing cabinet he is able to perform any number of complex surgeries with only minimal assistance from his friend and keeper, Dr Franklin Fu.

His only reward is a serving of his much beloved hundreds and thousands (sugar sprinkles for all you Australians and North Americans out there) which Dr Fu pops in his mouth after a gruelling day at the surgeon’s table. Medibot’s vocabulary may be limited (Meh-di-bhot!) but he makes up with his jaunty style on the mouth organ. Until Cheesoid, Medibot was my favourite 21st century comedy robot. Now they’ll just have to share. Meh-di-bhot!

MaxiPower (the League of Gentlemen): More Transformer than pure robot, MaxiPower is a crime fighting G-reg Fiat Uno whose ride has been well and truly pimped by idiot-savant Neds to impress his young mate Tristan. Although possessed with a slightly larger dictionary than Medibot (“Hello Neds, let’s solve some crime”) she is generally a bit crap, though she does play the Knight Rider theme quite well. For a while.

Her one and only mission (to stop 'some lads who are going to rob some fags from the cash and carry and sell them to their mates at the power station') ends in disaster when Neds reveals that he wasn’t able to find Tristan’s requested machine gun but has fitted a can of silly string and an ejecting box of paper clips (‘It’s meant to be drawing pins but Mrs Ridley’s ran out…’ explains Neds). Tristan’s doomed ‘aw, fook’ as the flames rise around them is worth your admission price alone.

Honourable Mentions

Smash Robots – more robot/food interfacing with cocky Martian robots mocking the stupidity of humans for eating real potatoes. English humans, to be fair.

Techno Trousers (Wallace and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers, 1993) Mechanised remote control pants plus evil penguin plus Peter Sallis equals ace. You do the maths. (‘It’s the wrong trousers Gromit! And they’ve gone wrong!’)

Twiki (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) ‘bidi-bidi-bidi

Metal Mickey – ‘boogie-boogie-boogie

Tim Brooke-Taylor’s Golden Ticket-seeking computer (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) “I am now telling the computer exactly what it can do with a lifetime’s supply of chocolate


Ross Lowe said...

I have just staggered upon this page after an unsuccessful attempt to find an image or footage of Dylan the robot from Vic Reeves' Big Night Out.

Thank you so much! Myself and my sister remember Dylan very fondly. Apparently he also said that he was to go away with Vic or Les, and "we will have fishing and pop" or something like that. That's how we remember it anyway.

Thanks again X

Mint Custard said...

Thanks for the kind comments Ross. Glad to have brought Dylan closer to your heart!