Back to the Box: A Back and Forth on the Return of ‘Battlebots’

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The robot combat series Battlebots returned to television last night after a 13 year absence and a channel hop from Comedy Central to ABC. This revival features a mix of old and new competitors and a modernized Battlebox, but is virtually the same format that fans grew to love in the early 2000s.

Joey and I both grew up watching the original show, and we’ve decided to do a conversation-style review about what we thought of this reboot (spoiler: we both loved it). We talked about how it stacks up to the original, how we thought last night’s fights went, and what we’re excited to see through the next five weeks.

If you want a bit more history on Battlebots and robot combat in general, SB Nation published a terrific oral history on the show a few years ago, and it’s well worth reading. You can also read a bit about the robots that battled in this week’s episode on the show’s website. Also worth checking out for robot combat newbies is the incredibly comprehensive Battlebots Wiki, which is linked throughout this article whenever we mention a specific robot.

For reference, this week’s fights were: Icewave (winner) vs. RazorbackPlan X (winner) vs. WrecksWarhead vs. Bite Force (winner), and Nightmare vs. Warrior Clan (winner).

NOSTALGIA

Joey Daniewicz: We both have fond memories of watching robot fighting over a decade ago. Ryan, what about past Battlebots made you excited about the show tonight?

Ryan Gibbs: I’d say the big thing was that there were so many teams and builders that competed in the original show. Every one of the show’s four fights had at least one team that competed in the original show. In two cases, there were robots that actually competed in the original show! It was pretty cool to see how these teams adapted (or not) their designs or what new robots they built for this tournament. Although you know, I wasn’t expecting Warhead to be back.

Joey: The fresh faces were exactly what I was looking forward to. I needed to have some of my cravings for nostalgia satisfied. I saw some videos earlier about bots that are in the competition, and I saw both Team Whyachi and Team Nightmare. Because of their season four match, I started joking that maybe they’d face each other. I flipped when I saw that no, they were actually doing that tonight. At least this time Nightmare had the dignity of totally destroying one of Warrior Clan’s minibots.

Ryan: Hey, at least Team Nightmare covered their wheels this time! It was a well known thing with Battlebots fans back in the day that Nightmare had a nasty weapon, but all you needed to do was get behind it to disable it. And hey! Guess what happened tonight!

Joey: Or just smack it head on and destroy the whole thing.

Ryan: Right?

Joey: It was really, really funny watching Nightmare scurrying around on its back.

Ryan: Gotta admit I got some real nostalgia from that.

Joey: It’s almost like there would have been more dignity if it was just upside down, and that was it. Like it used to be with Nightmare.

Ryan: I always thought Backlash, the lightweight counterpart of Nightmare, was the more effective design.

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW TOURNAMENT

Ryan: This tournament is going to be just one weight class instead of four separate ones like the original show. What do you think of that idea?

Joey: Well, we see less variety, which is unfortunate, but also we don’t get crap like Son of Whyachi‘s weight class being switched between seasons, and it’s more focused. It even looks like we’ll get to see all of the fights, which remains one of my biggest qualms with the original series. There are 31 matches in this tournament. They have six episodes, and had four matches tonight. Averaging about five matches per episode should get them there, though.

Ryan: I think the one weight class will make it a little easier to follow for people who have never seen the show. Remember, it’s been over a decade and it’s on network TV for the first time. And if accessibility means ratings and means more Battlebots, I’ll absolutely take it! Also, no weight class divisions was how the show’s British equivalent, Robot Wars, was done. I loved Robot Wars a little more than Battlebots, so I’m used to this one-size-fits-all concept.

Joey: I think as time goes on they’ll have fewer backstory distractions. This is on ABC. This is like an America’s Got Talent summer slot. It’s a big deal! And I’m surprised with how seriously they’re treating it. They’re talking about it like it’s the future, like it’s the coolest crap ever. I’m really happy with what ABC primetime has forced the show into.

Ryan: I also really like how ABC is constantly tying this show into the original, with clips of the old show whenever they had a team that was on it. Lets people who are watching this for the first time know that this concept has a history.

Joey: Still surprised they didn’t show the Whyachi/Nightmare clip, but yeah. That was the first Battlebots episode I ever saw, and I flipped out.

Ryan: I know! That’s one of the most iconic fights from the original, they had those same teams up against each other and nearly the same thing happened. And they didn’t show it!!

THE ROBOTS

Joey: Of the bots you saw winning tonight, who do you think has the best chance of taking it all?

Ryan: Icewave has a nasty weapon and reminds me a lot of Hazard from the original show. And from the looks of that fight, might be just as nasty! Definitely my favorite out of the four moving on.

Joey: Icewave might be my pick too, but there’s also Bite Force, which looks like a weird combination of Biohazard and Complete Control. That fight was brutal, although maybe it’s just that it was up against freaking Warhead.

Ryan: I brought this up when we were talking when the show was on. Warhead was the most surprising of the returning robots from the original Battlebots. The team itself I was excited to see compete – aside from Warhead, they’re the same guys behind Razer, a legendary robot from the UK Robot Wars–but Warhead was never really that great a robot. Which made the color commentary hyping it up as a legend to be very weird.

Joey: They didn’t change him at ALL. It was CRAZY.

Ryan: Is the team legendary? Absolutely. Even if Americans who didn’t have access to BBC America in the early 2000s might not know that. Is Warhead legendary? No.

Joey: Warhead’s spinning disc hurts it more than it hurts the other bot. It’s pathetic.

Ryan: I’m also very surprised that there were no changes to Warhead. That robot had some design and control flaws in the original show and they were still there!

Joey: Not Wrecks pathetic, that was like watching a legless robot trying to crawl away from a car accident, but pathetic.

Ryan: Wrecks is a bizarre concept. And that’s saying something. In the classic series, a team literally entered a toy fire truck with a Buddy doll in the seat. And, if I remember correctly, it actually won a match or two. Wrecks had a cool weapon, but the central design of it was so strange. Walking robots have been historically hit-or-miss in competition. Wrecks was a waddling robot!

Joey: It’s like the purpose of its crawling was that its crawling was less easy to disable than wheels would be.

Ryan: The moment I saw it in motion I knew it was going to lose. I’m a little surprised it made it all the way through the fight and it went to judge’s decision.

Joey: If it had wheels, that thing would’ve been motionless. Although, really, I was pretty underwhelmed by Plan X, which did most of its damage by shoving.

Ryan: Really interested to see how far Plan X goes. We really didn’t get to see its main weapon in action during that. It’s also really cool to see Lisa Winter and her family back for this show. Her robot from the original series, Tentomushi, was an iconic fan favorite with a unique design (it was primarily a ladybug sandbox cover) and that inventiveness has carried onto Plan X.

Joey: Overall, I’m really satisfied. I’m excited as heck for the next few weeks. Game of Thrones‘ absence is barely felt now that Battlebots is on.

THE SHOW ITSELF

Ryan: What were your thoughts on the parts of this show aside from the actual battles? I thought the color commentary this time around was a little too G4 for my liking, but we’ll see how it goes.

Joey: I was paying really close attention during battles, I barely noticed! And between battles I just kind of relaxed, usually. They could do a lot worse.

Ryan: Battlebots always had the human interest angle and backstories of the competitors. I like that they retained it, but didn’t make it too “reality show,” if you get what I mean.

Joey: Yeah, absolutely. Sickest moment of the show, by the way? Bite Force putting Warhead under the pulverizer, then dragging him all the way across the floor to the other one. So much disrespect.

Ryan: I don’t know how much disrespect is involved in that. It’s Warhead. It’s not like it’s Razer or anything.

Joey: I bet the team thinks it was just a fluke. They’ll return with Warhead next time, unchanged.

Ryan: What do you think the audience for Battlebots is in 2015? Do you think it’s mostly who remember the original show, or do you think it will appeal to younger viewers who were our age when the show was on back in the early 2000s?

Joey: I think it’s good for my mental health to not think about TV demographics.

Ryan: Ha! As for me? I think it’s going to mostly be the former, but since this is basically the same show, virtually unchanged, I think it might appeal to the latter too. It’s the perfect show for social media.

Joey: If only Battlebots teams could gain Tumblr fandoms.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Ryan: So, since we’re both going to keep watching, what are you most excited to see going forwards?

Joey: Spinbots wrecking stuff up. Plain and simple.

Ryan: I noticed at the end of the episode that Complete Control is competing! That robot always struck me as underrated in the original show. It and its predecessor Pressure Drop were really cool and never got a chance to shine. Maybe this year?

Joey: I think Complete Control made it to finals once or twice! Only to get ripped apart violently by the GOAT, Hazard.

Ryan: And yes, I’m also excited to see more spinbots. Spinbots were the coolest in the original show. Ziggo completely disemboweling Scrap Daddy is still one of my all time favorite TV moments.

Joey: Team Whyachi weirdly kinda made their spinbot uncool.

Ryan: I didn’t like the multi-bot design of Warrior Clan, but it’s cool to see the Whyachi team competing in this. I’m not quite sure about its flamethrower weapon. Flame weapons were banned in the original show. It’s weird seeing one in competition now, even if it didn’t actually give them the edge in the fight.

Joey: I’m hoping they end up just kind of being ineffective.

Ryan: Any final thoughts?

Joey: That’s about it. Sparks flying. Robots dying. It’s like I’m a preteen again!

Ryan: Definitely! It’s great to see Battlebots back on TV again and I hope it becomes a regular summer thing.

What are your thoughts on the reboot of Battlebots? Let us know in the comments!

Ryan Gibbs is the music editor for The Young Folks. He is based in Newport, Rhode Island.
  • Don Hollway

    First of all, I loved the original Battlebots, I love the reboot, and I love that the reboot pays homage to the original. The action was good and I like the new format. In short, nothing to improve in the arena.

    But the show format? 4 fights, 3 minutes each. That’s 12 minutes of robot combat in a 60-minute show. I haven’t timed each segment, but I’m willing to bet the total commercial breaks roughly equalled the total arena time. One or two breaks together took more time than all the fighting in the episode. It was worse than NFL football. And I *like* NFL football! And I like Battlebots!

    I’ve been in advertising over 30 years. Commercial breaks are what’s killing old-school TV viewership. Come on, ABC! Nobody watches little TVs anymore. We’re all big-screen HD, especially this audience. There’s plenty of room on-screen, and we’re all used to online ad banners and onscreen news crawls. Instead of commercial breaks, why not run an ad crawl across the bottom of the screen while the action is playing? Then your audience will be guaranteed to be sitting in front of it, instead of having gotten up to go to the bathroom, or take a nap, or raise kids to adulthood while you run the same commercial twice in the same freaking commercial break, over and over again. Meanwhile you could squeeze in two more bouts, three per half hour. Your audience will like it, your advertisers will like it, and your show will be a hit.

    Short version: we’re looking at 6 episodes here. That’s 6 hours of commercials, background info, and more commercials, in order to watch a total of one hour and 12 minutes of actual robot combat. ‘Nuff said. End of rant.

    • voxullus

      That is why I pulled a torrent from the intarwebs this morning! No commercials at all.

      • Don Hollway

        And all 4 of last night’s fights were on YouTube within hours, commercial-free. (Because everybody clicks through those annoying pre-video commercials, right?) If ABC ran “web banner” commercials, those would have carried over to the YouTube rips and ABC could demand ad payment from advertisers per view, without having spent a dime for extra production. What are these network guys and agency execs thinking???

        Meanwhile I’ll either be watching on the web, or DVRing the episodes from here on out and fast-forwarding through all the commercials. Who’s got time to sit through all that?

  • Bacca

    The show was excellent, I agree with Don… it was 12 min of robot combat a banner at the bottom of the screen for commercials could fix that.

    As far as the rules, Those little sacrificial boats need to go. If you enter the ring with 3 working bots, in order to win you need to finish the fight with 3 working bots.

  • Brent Minder

    Too many commercials. Need comedians for commentators (miss Bil Dwyer). Commentator guys: please include the hot chick in the conversation; she actually seemed interested (or well acted) in the bots and competitors. I’m surprised that there are still vertical spinners (physics dictates that this design is inferior for several reasons). I miss the weight classes. There used to be a domed spinner with spikes in the lightweight class that was killer – don’t remember the name. There was another wedge that was super fast in the same lightweight class. Good to see the 14-year-old chick back and taking it seriously (no beetle). Great to see this coming back. Hope the commercials don’t kill the ratings. Very tough to watch the traditional way – won’t make that mistake again.

    • maththemath

      The domed spinner was multiple-time lightweight champion Ziggo!

      • Brent Minder

        Give that man a cigar.

  • BMurdoch

    I am so happy that this show is back on. My kids and I were rushing from going out for Father’s Day dinner to see it….. I was disappointed by all the knockoff shows (the robot combat league game close but they were slow moving hulking robots…. I like pieces flying, not robots going dead when hydraulic lines burst)…. The flames were ineffective, but fun to watch….. There was that one fight where the bot with the spinning bar caught fire…. It is lucky that ref called the fight because they were both incapacitated at that one point…. Hopefully, the success of this show will compel Hulu to bring back the original series to their straming service…. I’d love to watch the originals again…. HD or no….