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My Life as a Teenage Robot

Entry updated 26 May 2020. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2003-2007). Frederator Studios. Created by Rob Renzetti. Directors include Randy Myers, Rob Renzetti, Chris Sauve and Tim Walker. Writers include John Fountain, Heather Martinez, Brandon Kruse and Bernie Petterson. Voice cast includes Thora Birch, Chad Doreck, Eartha Kitt, Quinton Flynn, Janice Kawaye, Candi Milo, Cree Summer and Audrey Wasilewski. 75 eleven-minute (excepting three double-length) episodes. Colour.

Sometime in the future, elderly Scientist Dr. Nora Wakeman (Milo) creates "a super-powered Robot built to protect the planet"; but XJ-9 – who prefers to be called Jenny Wakeman (Kawaye) – wants to behave like a normal teenager: ironically her relationship with Nora is that of rebellious daughter and strict mother. She befriends Brad (Doreck), his kid brother Tuck (Wasilewski) and the nerdish Sheldon (Flynn). They get into all sorts of scrapes, with Jenny's body unleashing a vast armoury of advanced Technology, including cannons, bladed spider legs and a giant robot-shredding cheese grater (see Weapons).

Stories move between Jenny having teenage problems – school, peer pressure, romance – and saving the world. Though Nora and Jenny love each other, there are conflicts. Nora: "I thought I gave you a heart when I made you, but I guess I was mistaken" (sobs). We see many of Nora's other inventions, including a Time Viewer and XJs 1-8; in her youth she was a member of the Skyway Patrol during the first galactic War, and her adventures are summarized as old Pulp SF covers (see Illustration).

The main antagonist is the Cluster, a robot civilization whose Queen Vexus (Kitt/Summer) wants to assimilate Jenny and enslave humanity. The Cluster's military sometimes resembles a bee-like society (see Hive Mind), but when Jenny visits its homeworld it appears a robot paradise. She befriends another robot, Vega (Birch) and attends school, here she watches propaganda films about that "traitor to the robot species and monstrous defender of the human world" ... XJ-9! Fortunately the portrayal is so distorted that no one recognizes her; but she is eventually exposed in a scene recalling Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Vexus is overthrown and her daughter – Vega – takes the throne.

When Jenny says she wants to dream, Nora wonders "What do Androids dream of ... electric sheep?" (see Philip K Dick) and inserts a dream chip: Jenny can now dream whilst awake, experiencing a hallucinogenic reality (see Drugs; Perception) shown in differing animation styles. Nora's Genetic Engineering creates an intelligent but revolutionary lab mouse, somewhat resembling Mickey. Sheldon goes (unwillingly) into space; from Jenny's perspective returning a day later, but 75 years older due to relativistic time-dilation (see Relativity; Time Distortion), having had many Space Opera adventures; fortunately Nora has an age-reversing machine: "Well, isn't that convenient." "Isn't it though!" There are many Aliens: invaders (see Invasion), tourists, and some who worship Jenny as a Comet goddess (see Religion), dragging the Sun towards the Earth in tribute.

Astro Boy (1963-1966; vt Mighty Atom; Astroboy) was clearly a big influence on the series, though Jenny is more romantically inclined. There are copious sf nods, including to Metropolis (1926); Frankenstein – both Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Frankenstein (1931); Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982). My Life as a Teenage Robot was a clever, funny show whose animation frequently displayed imagination and style. [SP]


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