Tune In Tonight: "Mann & Machine"
We've gone through several iterations of the “future cop” for this theme. We've talked about the lovable Yoyo, who wore his robot appliances on the outside of his body. We've talked about Haven from Future Cop, who looked like a person but had the personality of someone who spent his off-time murdering prostitutes. We’ve talked about Automan, who could generate cars and airplanes out of thin air but is lit up like a planetarium show. It’s surprising that in nearly twenty years of networks trying to get a show, any show, about robot cops to connect with an audience, it wasn’t until the nineties that they would try one with a sexy lady robot. That would be NBC’s Mann & Machine, which was met with the same response as its predecessors—complete indifference.
Mann & Machine takes place “somewhere in the near future,” or rather, a future far enough away where human-like androids live and work among the general population, but near enough that the clothing and cars are still strictly in 1992. Virtually no background is supplied as to how long androids have walked among us, but evidently it’s long enough that they’re regularly partnered with human police officers out in the streets. No nonsense L.A. cop Bobby Mann (David Andrews) really hates working with them, however, and has no sympathy when his partner is destroyed in the line of duty, literally kicking it when it’s down. He refers to them as “machines,” with the same sort of distaste one would use for the word “pedophiles,” and yet he’s considered the best cop on the force to teach a new kind of android, one who can learn human emotion, how to function in society.
That android is named Eve (get it??), played by Yancy Butler. Eve has laser eyes, is super strong and agile, and she’s a dead shot with a gun, but most importantly she’s incredibly beautiful, as opposed to Yoyo, who looked like an appliance salesman. Eve may be highly efficient at her job, but, you guessed it, she doesn’t understand colloquialisms, nor did anyone bother to program her not to take her clothes off in front of people. Her designer tells Mann that Eve has the emotional capacity of a seven year-old, which makes some of their interactions, particularly when she asks him if she can watch him shave or take a shower, a little squirmy at best. It actually helps that Butler isn’t a strong actor, and comes off more as someone who’s just awakened from a five year coma and is regaining all of her functions, rather than a robot with the mind of a child. A really smart, sexy child.
The actual plot of the episode is minimal at best, with Mann and Eve investigating a series of murders in which all the victims were international steel brokers. How many international steel brokers could there be in Los Angeles, you might ask? Well, at least five, and they all end up dead, their deaths traced back to a cop buddy of Mann’s. Mann initially refuses to believe his friend could be involved, insisting that he just can’t believe in the idea of a “bad cop.” Considering this episode aired during the trial of the four Los Angeles police officers who were recorded beating Rodney King, it took some iron balls on the part of the writer and director to have Mann say “It’s a contradiction…we fight the bad guys, we don’t become the bad guys” with a straight face.
How this plot is resolved is incidental, however, because the only question that matters in Mann & Machine is “When are these two going to fuck?” Because if there was one thing all the other shows I’ve reviewed for the “Future Cops” theme lacked, it was blistering sexual tension between the two leads. Given that he’s a jerk doing a bad Jack Nicholson impersonation, Mann doesn’t seem like the most qualified person to teach Eve how to be a functioning human being, but of course the idea is in that teaching her, he becomes a better, more empathetic person who’s more in touch with his yeah, yeah blah blah blah when are these two gonna fuuuuuuuck? Eve certainly seems down with it, particularly at the end of the episode, when she peeks at Mann in the shower in grinning fascination. Nevertheless, it’s up to Mann to keep things under control, at least until she has the emotional development of an eighteen year-old or so.
Any resemblance Mann & Machine may have to another story about a hard boiled L.A. cop in the future who struggles with his simultaneous repulsion for and attraction to a beautiful lady robot is 100% intentional, as evidenced by the fact that a minor character in the premiere episode is named “Deckard.” Though the romantic subplot in Blade Runner has its own problematic elements, at least there was no question about at what functioning level its lady robot was operating. The show seems to coyly want to play it both ways, where Eve is always a few steps ahead of Mann when it comes to solving crimes, and yet she doesn’t know that you shouldn’t try to follow someone into the bathroom and look at them naked.
There’s a grody undercurrent to the whole thing, a suggestion that Eve’s proficiency at her job combined with an ignorance of personal boundaries, let alone taking everything Mann says to her with literally wide-eyed, guileless acceptance, makes her the ultimate male fantasy. One can assume that Mann, in the show’s ever-so-brief nine episode run, eventually reveals himself to be a good, stand-up guy under that rough exterior, but Mann & Machine feels like the plot of a million bad Literotica posts.
Original airdate: April 5, 1992