As a TV comic book, RoboCop is pretty good; in some ways, the weekly series format and the show’s exaggerated characters capture the spirit of superhero comics even better than the 1987 film on which it’s based. On television, RoboCop is played by Santa Barbara‘s Richard Eden. He seems to have been cast primarily because his big lantern jaw is a close match for that of Peter Weller, who originated the film role. Both the movie and the TV show were created by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, and you may remember the premise: In the near future, policeman Alex Murphy is blasted to death by some ruthless criminals; his remains are grafted onto a super-duper cyborg body, all gleaming steel and menace.
Whirring and clicking, speaking in a monosyllabic metallic buzz, RoboCop stomps around the futuristic Delta City and its nightmarish neighbor, Old Detroit, an urban sprawl even more lawless and run-down than the present-day version. Together with his police partner, Lisa Madigan (Yvette Nipar), RoboCop blows away thieves and terrorists with remorseless efficiency. The idea is that the world has become so corrupt and violent that flesh-and-blood law enforcement has become useless; only a revved-up cop like our Robo can keep a lid on things.
For a cheesy-looking action show, RoboCop boasts scripts that are far more dense and allusive than most of the junk cluttering syndication. Each episode is framed by reports from a schlock TV news show called Media Break, whose empty-headed anchors Bo (Dan Duran) and Rocky (Erica Ehm) read appalling stories of Old Detroit crimes. Media Break itself is frequently interrupted by clever cartoon commercials featuring Commander Cash, who promotes the cutting- edge consumer goods manufactured by OmniConsumer Products, or OCP.
In the original RoboCop, OCP was a malignant corporation despoiling the planet for profit. In the TV series, it’s just an especially aggressive arm of capitalism headed by a profit-minded but basically benevolent chairman (David Gardner). When OCP does something wrong, it’s not because of corporate policy, but because a bad apple has infiltrated the company. So far the juiciest rotten apple in RoboCop is Dr. Cray Z. Mallardo, a criminal scientist played to the campy hilt by Cliff de Young in a recurring role. The series’ best plot to date involves a new OCP research-and-development product called NoGain-” nature’s own appetite suppressant”-a diet pill so effective it turns its chubby users into addicts who’ll rob or kill to get massive quantities of the stuff.
One thing the RoboCop movie, directed by Paul Verhoeven, had going for it was the freedom to depict violence as thrillingly extreme. Limbs explode with a surreal vividness impossible on syndicated television, though I’m still occasionally startled at the blithe viciousness of the way TV’s RoboCop smacks crooks in the face with the barrel of his gun. The film was also deepened by Weller’s performance. Even encased in a metal mask, he managed to bring a brooding soulfulness to the role that Eden doesn’t bother trying to achieve.
For all its satiric intentions, there was a romantic aspect to the original RoboCop; the half man, half machine was forever mourning his human life and the family he left behind. In the TV show, Murphy’s wife (Jennifer Griffin) and child (Peter Costigan) are still around, but they think he’s dead and gone-they don’t recognize him as RoboCop-and they’re hauled in front of the cameras occasionally just to provide a few moments of melancholy between bang- bang scenes.
It would be nice if RoboCop were a little bit funnier, a little bit sharper in its pop politics, than it is. It could also stand to lose a couple of supporting characters, such as a cranky police sergeant (Blu Mankuma) and a wiseacre little orphan girl called Gadget (Sarah Campbell). But compared with most action-adventure series these days, RoboCop is just about the smartest shoot-’em-up around.