‘Love, Death + Robots’: The Story Behind the Anthology Series’ First-Ever Sequel

Ever since its debut in 2019, Love, Death + Robots has subverted expectations. So for Season 3, the NSFW anthology of animated stories is, again, doing something completely unexpected: a sequel.

The new episode “Exit Strategies” welcomes back K-VRC, XBOT 4000, and 11-45-G, the trio of inquisitive droids at the center of “Three Robots,” as they continue their investigation into the cause of the end of the (human) world.

“Just like any archaeologists, human, robot or otherwise, they are going on information that is piecemeal at best,” says “Exit Strategies” writer John Scalzi. “And they have to make assumptions, they have to guess, and sometimes they get it wildly incorrect. When they do, hopefully, it’s funny.”

While the original “Three Robots” episode was based on a short story by Scalzi, the acclaimed sci-fi author of the best-selling Old Man’s War series and the Hugo Award-winning Redshirts, this time around he wrote the script, too – concurrent with a short story.

Ahead of Love, Death + Robots’ Season 3 debut, Scalzi talked about revisiting these characters, why he wanted to write the script and the surprising experience that helped prepare him for the collaborative process.

How did it feel to return to these characters?

For me, the thing that was great is I wrote the characters because, years ago, a friend of mine kept poking me until I contributed to her anthology, Robots Vs. Fairies. I knocked it out in about an hour. The fact that something I did to keep my friend from annoying me has gone on to have such a long life – first in the book, then the first season, then being the only episode that is explicitly a sequel – just tickles me. And it thrills me, because the longer I’m with those characters, the more I love them.

The episode manages to make a point, without being heavy-handed. Is that a line you’re aware of walking?

Oh, absolutely. This is the thing I’m very conscious of in my science-fiction generally. Your first job is to entertain people. If they’re aware I’m coming with a point with a capital P then immediately a bunch of walls go up. My interest is less in lecturing people than it is in letting them have a good time and then once they get out the door they can think about the things that they’ve seen.

With the first “Three Robots,” Philip Gelatt adapted your short story, but here you’ve written both, right?

They were written in tandem. Because [executive producer] Tim [Miller] said, “Can we have a sequel?” So I pitched a treatment, then wrote a script, then wrote a short story that was more in the style of the original story. It was interesting to present this story in different media. Having the original animated version gave me a real solid grounding of how I wanted those characters’ personalities to proceed. XBOT 4000 is massive yet neurotic. K-VRC is enthusiastic, but not the smartest kid on the block. And then 11-45-G is basically Daria – from the MTV television series Daria. Just completely deadpan and the smartest of the group. Just having that mix of characters made it a lot easier to come back and say, “What sort of scenarios are you going to put them into?” We know the format has to basically be: “We are at the end of the days of humanity.” And they’re fascinated by human culture. So how can we continue that and not just have it be a rehash of what’s been done before? ’Cause there’s a fine line between having a mode and having a shtick.

How did you find the collaborative process of adapting your work?

I can understand why a lot of novelists don’t like it. The good news for me was before I became a novelist and short story writer, but after I’d become a journalist, there was a period of time where I was doing a lot of corporate consulting. And that consisted of coming in and saying, “What is it you need? How do you need it? Let me do it. What are your notes?” So, weirdly enough, corporate America was much more useful for me, in terms of dealing with the collaborative filmmaking process, than fiction was. That’s not to say I accepted every single note. I argued with Tim back and forth. And one of the great things about Tim, in particular, is that you can say to him: “No, I think this is bullshit, and here’s my 10-point list why.” And he will actually listen. Sometimes he’ll be like, “You’re wrong,” but you never got the feeling he wasn’t listening.

In terms of the science fiction community, how do you feel that Love, Death + Robots as a whole is perceived and valued?

To have Love, Death + Robots come out and immediately there are so many hot takes — both from the science fiction community and the people who are watching in the film-television community — has been really gratifying. It wasn’t a pebble thrown into the ocean that sinks straight down with barely a ripple. It was a big fucking splash.

Love, Death + Robots Volume 3 premieres May 20.