On the season premiere of The Venture Bros., family robot H.E.L.P.eR.’s discomfort with his shiny new coworker is played for laughs. His internal conflict speaks to problems that will beset artificial intelligence, once intelligent products are self-aware enough to experience hits to their self esteem. H.E.L.P.eR. defines himself as a servant to the Venture family, and the fact that he can’t match up to a newer model is deeply distressing for him.
Of course, H.E.LP.eR. was always an anxious robot, considering he was programmed as a nanny for young Rusty Venture. As a robot who was created to serve a wholesome adventuring family, he’s comically inept at many of the darker, more action-packed functions his family needs him to complete, like driving stick or keeping his cool under pressure.
Rick and Morty comments on the existential crisis waiting for intelligent robots, as well, in a cold open segment in which Rick completes a tiny robot who’s only meant to pass him the butter, and nothing else.
MindGem.com explored robotic anxiety back in 2013, in response to the film Her, in which a man fell in love with an operating system.
“When the first artificially intelligent creature comes into being and asks ‘What am I?’, what response could people give that would answer its question? Humanity knows so little about itself that to presume to create a life with no knowledge of what is necessary to nurture it properly causes a great deal of anxiety in many.”
Rick and Morty saw the butter robot’s creator, Rick Sanchez, deflect the question completely, which was hilarious.
Space Dandy, the short series from the creator of Cowboy Bebop, illustrated identity crises in robots while following QT for an episode, in which the gender-ambiguous robot felt attraction to a female-coded robot and attempted protocol outside of its normal functioning. The experiment didn’t end well for QT.
It’s exciting to see contemporaries of The Venture Bros., which popped up during the show’s long hiatus, addressing issues that the show played with years ago. In addition to pioneering complex portrayals of artificial intelligence, the show was also one of the first animated programs that functioned with the same narrative focus as a live-action drama. As Venture Bros. co-creator Jackson Publick told Billboard recently:
“I feel like we were the first, and possibly only, animated comedy to bother with [plot continuity]. It was like we were setup to be a future Netflix show. I’m glad we followed our own writers’ instincts because we just happened to be making a show in the right decade when people got fascinated with long-form dramatic television and novelized stories.”
Now that H.E.L.P.eR. and his nemesis have been placed in opposing positions in the show’s premiere, it’s likely The Venture Bros. will explore the anxious inner questions of robots later in the season. Hopefully, Huggy will be included in the fun too.