I was born in 1987, and therefore, remember very little about the 1980s. My first memory is of my second birthday party, but unless an entire decade revolved around grocery store-bought cake, it’s probably not reliable. All of my recollections are secondhand: the music, the fashion, the single slice of pizza spinning around a turntable, the robots. The 1980s were the golden era of robots, or so FX’s The Americans and Netflix’s GLOW, both set in that decade, have taught me. Both which show — one of which is as joyful (GLOW) as the other is tragic (The Americans) — has the better robot?
Let’s find out, based on seven different categories.
The Americans: One minute, we’re living in a Mail Robot-less world. The next, in the season two premiere, Martha (#PoorMartha) is walking to the hallway to fetch some mail, and nothing would ever be the same. (My favorite thing about this scene is that no extra attention is paid to Mail Robot. It’s an inauspicious debut, as if it’s a normal thing for a rolling automaton to deliver mail to the FBI. “Agent Johnson, that top secret letter you were waiting for has just arrived, thanks to a robot that — get this — brings the mail to you!” It sounds like the setup to a Yakov Smirnoff joke. How appropriate.)
GLOW: The GLOW girls are already smitten by producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard’s fancy house in Malibu, but they, particularly Melrose and Carmen, light up with enjoyment when they meet GLOW-bot. What’s its mission? Well, GLOW-bot, who can nod, has a phone on its chest, and some random buttons and knobs that lead to… a hidden compartment filled with drugs! Or in the instantly immortal words of Melrose, “There are drugs in the fuckin’ robot.” Legends aren’t born; they’re built. Probably in some factory in Japan.
The Americans: Mail Robot lives up to its name: it’s a robot that delivers mail. You know what comes in the mail? Bills and random issues of Popular Mechanics, which you’ve been getting for five years even though you never paid for a subscription. Mail Robot is useful, sure, but it also brings bad news.
GLOW: GLOW-bot is like having a butler, if your butler was a robot with a landline telephone on his chest and drugs in his pants.
Mail Robot is a robot, but it was built by humans, and humans are imperfect. Therefore, so is Mail Robot. Frank Gaad once kicked our poor robotic friend (after Martha informs him that it’s “jammed again,” signifying this has happened before), and in season six, Stan told Henry that Mail Robot is “more trouble than it’s worth.” That’s classic FBI behavior. They took Mail Robot for granted (who’s going to deliver mail? A human?!?), and when they weren’t looking, two undercover Russian spies planted a bug in the malfunctioning mail-bot. If the government had taken better care of Mail Robot, and paid it the respect it deserves, maybe Gaad and that old lady would still be alive.
GLOW: Mail Robot, like Pass-the-Butter Robot, has a purpose. GLOW-bot just follows Bash around his mansion, like a feral cat that’s just been fed for the first time in days, so the opportunities for comical disaster are plentiful. Almost as soon as the GLOW girls meet it, Justine spills water on GLOW-bot, which starts speaking Spanish. Water and robots mix about as well as water and Gremlins, but it wasn’t that much water. Imagine what would if there was a leak on the roof. GLOW-bot is flashier, but Mail Robot is slightly sturdier.
Winner: The Americans
The Americans: From a 1996 Baltimore Sun article.
It’s no secret that the FBI has plenty of fancy tools to ply its crime-fighting trade — high-speed computers, digitized color mug shots, automated fingerprint identification systems, sophisticated snooping devices. But one tool has pretty much stayed a secret at the FBI.
Special agents call him “Marvin,” a beeping, blinking robot straight from a Jetsons cartoon script who delivers thousands of pieces of mail every day at the FBI’s Baltimore field office… Each robot costs between $22,000 and $80,000, depending on the number of features, which can include devices that open doors and summon elevators, allowing the machines to deliver the mail without humans.
GLOW: A drug-dealing robot never existed, but, per Bustle:
According to PC Magazine, there were a whole host of robots made throughout the ’80s, and they were often advertised as personal helpers that could do laundry, pour drinks, and make other everyday chores a little easier, even though in reality it seems like they just wheeled around the house. They ran quite pricey for the time, with most of them ranging from $600 to upwards of $6,000 (which PC calculates as about $16,759 when adjusted for inflation), but it certainly sounds like something Bash would dole out money for.
Better Social Media Presence
GLOW: GLOW-bot somehow doesn’t have a Twitter. Yet.
Winner: The Americans
Better Photo with Alison Brie
The Americans: N/A
GLOW: THE ROBOT IS WEARING A BOWTIE.
Finishing Move In a BattleBots-Style Fight
The Americans: Mail Robot shoots letters out of it’s stomach (?), which is an effective move against humans, who can be immobilized by a million paper cuts, but not other robots, who feel nothing. Let’s keep it that way, too.
GLOW: GLOW-bot isn’t the fighting sort. It would rather let another robot, like the one from Robin Sparkles’ awesomely ’80s “Let’s Go to the Mall” music video, do the dirty work for it (that’s what the chest phone is for: calling for help). As thanks, GLOW-bot gives Mall (not Mail) Robot a free line of cocaine.
The winner? It’s close. Mail Robot has been around longer and played a more important role on The Americans than GLOW-bot on GLOW (so far, at least), but GLOW-bot is a robot that deals drugs, so… GLOW-bot wins.