Judge Clark Douglas is going to find you, Zeta. Oh, yes. He will find you.
When the assassin won't kill, he becomes the target.
"You'll find your freedom, Z…I know you will!"
Facts of the Case
It is the late 21st Century. Technology has advanced rather rapidly, and the government is using increasingly sophisticated tools to accomplish its goals. One of these tools is an "infiltration robot" named Zeta (voiced by Diedrich Bader, Batman: The Brave and the Bold), designed to hunt down and kill targets of the government's choosing. Unfortunately for the government, Zeta just so happens to have a conscience. On his first mission, he discovered that his target was innocent, and decided not to destroy him. As a result of this decision, Zeta was forced to go on the run. Hot on his tail at all times is Agent Bennett (voiced by Kurtwood Smith, Robocop), one of the NSA's most driven and intelligent men. Zeta may be a particularly talented robot, but he's not particularly skilled when it comes to blending in with other humans (despite his abilities to look like anyone or anything). So, Zeta accepts the assistance of a runaway 15-year-old girl named Ro Rowen (voiced by Julie Nathanson), who has a knack for keeping things cool. Will Z ever find his creator, the mysterious Dr. Zelig?
All twelve episodes from the first season of The Zeta Project have been spread across two discs as follows.
• The Accomplice: Zeta meets Ro for the first time. Initially their relationship is purely business, but the pair quickly grow fond of each other.
• His Maker's Name: Zeta finds out the name of the man responsible for his creation.
• Remote Control: A bratty young child named Bucky uses a hi-tech remote control to take over Zeta's body.
• Change of Heart: Zeta and Ro come to the rescue at a hi-tech science center.
• The Next Gen: A newer, better robot called Infiltration Unit 7 has been created…and Zeta feels he needs to destroy it.
• West Bound: Zeta and Ro are fleeing on a train, where they are nearly captured by the clueless Agent West (voiced by Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville).
• Hicksburg: Ro and Zeta travel to a rural area to get some important information. However, Zeta gets in trouble when he decides to pose as a famous movie star.
• Shadows: Infiltration Unit 7 turns up again, and he's more determined than ever to kill Zeta.
• Crime Waves: Zeta and Ro head to the beach to continue their search for the elusive Dr. Zelig.
• Taffy Time: Zeta and Ro attempt to escape from a bounty hunter, and they're going to need the help of…the NSA?
• Kid Genius: Bucky's back, and this time he's asking Zeta and Ro to help him find his parents.
• Ro's Reunion: After years of searching, Ro finally has an opportunity to find her long-lost brother by appearing on a daytime talk show.
In the beginning, there was a man named Bob Kane. And lo, within the pages of a relatively new magazine called Detective Comics, Bob Kane created Batman. Within a short period of time, Batman became one of the most popular characters in comics. Generations later, a man of mystery by the name of Timothy Burton directed a moving picture that the people called Batman: The Movie. And lo, the success of Batman: The Movie begat Batman: The Animated Series, featuring the adventures of billionaire superhero Bruce Wayne. And lo, the success of Batman: The Animated Series begat Batman Beyond, featuring Bruce Wayne as an old man and a juvenile named Terry McGuiness as a Batman operating in a hi-tech future. And lo, the success of Batman Beyond begat a spin-off entitled The Zeta Project, focusing on a morally perturbed robot who only appeared in two episodes of Batman Beyond. Ahem.
Anyway, the point is that The Zeta Project has a somewhat complicated history, what with being a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff of a movie based on a comic. The good thing for the uninitiated is that you really don't need to have seen any of the aforementioned entertainments in order to enjoy The Zeta Project, which plays out as a reasonably engaging children's sci-fi show. While it never quite manages to reach the heights of Batman: The Animated Series or most of DC's other animated shows, it's still a worthy effort that will actually engage the brains of young viewers rather than merely offering the usual mindless chaos.
One of the most striking aspects of The Zeta Project is the long-lined nature of the program. In a way, it's very much like a futuristic version of The Fugitive for kids, with a robot on the run searching for a scientist instead of a runaway convict searching for a one-armed man. While a handful of the episodes here are pretty self-contained adventures, most of them are concerned with advancing the overall plot. For that reason, it probably works best on DVD, where kids will have the opportunity to follow the plot strands rather than just catching random episodes whenever they happen to be on. Every couple of episodes, a key piece of information turns up, and we're one step closer to solving the mystery (maybe). Really, this is hardly a new concept for television, but it somehow feels very fresh within the confines of an animated kid's show (which are usually forced to take short attention and memory spans into account).
If you're not too impressed with the series right away, I would suggest giving it some time. The show takes a few episodes to get on its feet, but once it gets into a groove around the halfway point, it becomes consistently entertaining and well-written stuff. The humor starts working better, the plots become a little bit tighter, and the characters feel more well-defined. Though this is technically a DC Comics production, the show typically stays within its self-contained world (save for an appearance by the Terry McGuiness Batman, who behaves like a complete idiot for the entirety of his screen time…guess he's only allowed to be smart in his own show), which is probably a good move for this particular program.
The transfer is a bit scattershot, honestly. At times it looks very impressive, with a lot of sharpness and detail. Just check out the action scenes in "Shadows" for an example of how good this show can look at times. On the other hand, some episodes look really rough, with some color bleeding and blurry images. Of course, it's a little difficult to figure out what to blame on the animation and what to blame on the transfer at times, but I'd say both play a significant part. The animation is definitely to blame during a few early episodes that look sloppy and rushed at times. The animation seems to get smoother and more natural as The Zeta Project progresses. The 2.0 audio is perfectly satisfactory, if not exactly as dynamic as one might hope considering what an action-packed program this is. The primary extras on the disc are a pair of Batman Beyond episodes co-starring Zeta (including the one detailing the origin of the character). You also get a brief featurette called "The Making of Zeta," which features interviews with the creator and producers. That's it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though kids will undoubtedly find The Zeta Project engaging entertainment, it lacks the all-ages appeal of DC's other animated programs. It certainly won't get on the nerves of most adults, but it's hardly the sort of thing they'll be inclined to keep watching when their kid wanders out of the room. Additionally, I found the music in the program (written by the late Shirley Walker and her usually-reliable team of composers) to be rather irritating and distracting on numerous occasions.
A perfectly acceptable slice of sci-fi entertainment for the young 'uns. Bring on Season 2.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Bonus Episodes
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