Reality Check: Combat among Syfy's robots disappoint with lack of action
March 16, 2013 4:00 AM
Coach Greg Louganis, left, schools former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the fine art of diving in the new reality show "Splash," premiering Tuesday on ABC.
By Maria Sciullo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's easy to see how Syfy hoped to captivate viewers with "Robot Combat League" and its life-sized Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Like the machines in the movie "Real Steel," the 12 robots are different in size and shape, with different strengths, weaknesses and "personalities."
When one takes a hit, sparks literally fly and, sometimes, hydraulic fluid spurts out of broken lines like the fake blood in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
A pair of operators controls each robot. Carnegie Mellon University grad student/tech superstar Heather Knight and CMU graduate Chris Hardouin, who is by profession a toymaker, are two of the experts charged with the heavy lifting.
It's their responsibility to work the fighters' movements in the ring. Their jockeys -- in these cases, John Peel and Diana Yang, respectively -- work the upper body movements for robots Medieval and Scorpio.
Scorpio won its first round, and Tuesday Medieval takes on the aptly named Steampunk.
Three rounds are contested. In 20-minute breaks between rounds, the techs scramble to fix what's broken or, if the fight is going well, do a quick maintenance check.
The single-elimination tournament is surrounded in trappings usually assigned to mixed martial arts mayhem or a prizefight. The problem is, beneath the crash and clank of robot warfare -- which sounds audio-enhanced -- the fights themselves just aren't that compelling.
Limited in mobility, the robots smash away at each other until something breaks. When a smaller robot defeats a big bulky bruiser, Commando, it literally breaks it in half. In another fight, a robot loses its head.
This should be cool. Instead, it leaves you wondering whether someone didn't just use really cheap materials.
Around the reality world
• Former Steelers punter Mitch Berger put his love life in the hands of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," Patti Stanger (Bravo, Tuesdays), and came away a winner. His first date with model Bambi Lashell was a horseback trail ride that led to Date No. 2 -- Mr. Berger cooking dinner for her.
It didn't hurt that he borrowed a friend's romantic Malibu beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
"You have to be with someone with the same passions," Mr. Berger said. "I can tell the difference between a psychotic football fan and a girl who is just a sport girl who enjoys sports.
"The only negative part is she's a Raiders fan."
They began dating for real after shooting "The Millionaire Matchmaker." He invited her to Vancouver to attend a charity event with him, and she moved to the city shortly thereafter.
"Things could not be going better," he said.
• The library was open on "RuPaul's Drag Race," (Logo, Mondays), and the queens were ready to read. Pittsburgh's Alaska, aka Justin Honard, won the right to decide who would perform in what order for the inaugural RuPaul Roast.
At the request of others, he chose to go first. Judge Michelle Visage noted that going first is a particular challenge and that he should begin thinking more about himself than his competition. But he killed his part in the roast and took another high-heeled step toward the winning the crown.
• If watching 7-foot-2-inch former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar take part in a diving competition is appealing, then ABC has the show for you.
"Splash" premieres Tuesday and features 10 celebrities coached in the fine and somewhat perilous art of platform and springboard diving. Besides Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, the celebs include Keshia Knight Pulliam, Kendra Wilkinson and Katherine Webb, who caught the cameras' attention while cheering on University of Alabama quarterback/boyfriend A.J. McCarron last year.
Among the coaches is former Olympic great Greg Louganis. Promos indicate "Splash" isn't going to take itself too seriously, a good sign, indeed.