TV Review: 'Robot Combat League'

Battling robots isn’t exactly a new idea for reality TV, which doesn’t prevent Syfy’s “Robot Combat League,” a self-explanatory title if there ever was one, from being kind of a goofy kick. Aping the movie “Real Steel,” two-person teams control each of the eight-foot-tall robots, which slug it out in an elimination contest that airs over several weeks. The fights aren’t exactly of the rock ‘em-sock ‘em variety  —  they mostly wail on each other until something breaks  —  but you still suspect enough young guys will look upon the big ‘bots with envy to keep these steel fists flying.

Tailor-made to the WWE crowd, where the fighters are flesh and blood but about as real, “RCL” doesn’t leave much to chance. Not only are there a number of attractive young women among the pugilists, who strip down to tank tops while in combat mode, but they’ve thrown in George Lucas’ daughter  —  mixed martial arts fighter Amanda Lucas  —  for good measure. See, these really are the droids you’re looking for.

On top of that, wrestler Chris Jericho hosts, and the robot fights take place in what looks like Thunderdome, with screaming extras (er, sorry, deeply committed “Robot Combat” fans) cheering them on.

It’s all incredibly cheesy, true, and the premiere engages in a whole lot of vamping and time-killing before any action begins. By that measure, this is perhaps the perfect show to DVR, excising all the baggage to get down to the fun of watching these consciously Transformers-like creations trade blows, as sparks and fluids fly. (Just to cement the association, they even have ridiculous names, like Drone Strike and Steel Cyclone.)

Syfy’s move into unscripted fare has been predictable in its intent and focus, dealing in supernatural, silly and stunt-oriented concepts in an effort to woo young men. And while a lot of jabs are being thrown at that audience, at the very least, “Robot Combat League” delivers a better-than-glancing blow.

Produced by Smart Dog Media. Executive producer, Craig Plestis; co-executive producers, Michael Maloy, Peter Herschko, Brett-Patrick Jenkins; supervising producers, Jason Stewart, Nikki Frakes; producers, Sue Kutch, Matthew Krul.

Camera, Ali Moghada; production designer, John Calkins; casting, Kate Purcell, Carly Ullinskey. 60 MIN.

With: Chris Jericho, Dave Farra.

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