A lot of people love the ‘90s Batman Beyond cartoon, set in a future where an elderly Bruce Wayne trains teen Terry McGillis to be the new Dark Knight of the future. I assume these people have forgotten about the episode “Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot,” a title that should indicate how much creativity and thought went into making it. Although it’s not an accurate title; that would have been “Nerd Buys a Murderous Sex Robot.”
The best thing about “Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot” is that it is 20 minutes long with the opening credits, so the pain is over soon. The episode begins with Terry’s Batman fighting classic villains Riddler, Two-Face, and Killer Croc. It’s quickly made clear how this is possible when Terry decapitates Croc—the bad guys are robots old Bruce is using to train his protégé. But with one “synthoid” out of commission, Bruce tells Terry to pick up a new head at the synthoid factory.
First, however, Terry has to go to high school, where he watches his “friend”—and I’ll dispute this, the character was only in five of 52 Batman Beyond episodes and I’m pretty sure Terry’s just being friendly instead of a friend—Howard Groote try and fail to invite popular guys and sexy, popular girls to a party he’s throwing. Howard is a loser who gets shunned by them all, but if that were somehow vague, Beyond helpfully makes Howard fat and short, then gives him glasses, high pants, and enormous, worryingly problematic buck teeth.
Howard believes having a hot, cool girlfriend will suddenly make him popular. “It’s a sign that you’re somebody,” he says. “Somebody pretty shallow,” Terry blessedly replies. “Shallow but popular,” Howard counters, then he spies Terry’s fancy car (supplied by Wayne, of course). “If I had wheels like these, I’d get more girls than a rock star!” he says, in case you weren’t sure he thinks of women as totems to bring him the attention of others.
Howard convinces Terry to give him a ride home, but they have to stop by the synthoid factory first, where the 1950s visual caricature of a pornographer is making illegal sex robots in full view of anybody who enters the factory. While Terry does his business, Howard overhears the sleazeball telling two clients, “You can stop worrying about those lonely weekends. Your custom order’s ready.” Howard ogles the sexy female synthoid in the tank (?), quickly puts horny two and pervy two together, and pulls out a credit card to buy one for himself.
Howard’s request: “Personality-wise, she’s got to be completely devoted to me. One-hundred percent loyal. Physically, around five-seven. Red hair, medium length, and the coolest green eyes.”
Clearly, Howard does not know what a personality is. Although it doesn’t much matter, because the episode doesn’t know what “devoted” means either; in this case, its definition seems to be “horny and murderously jealous.” When “Cynthia,” as Howard dubs her, comes to high school the next day, she overhears the jock Nelson’s plan to beat the nerd up for the crime of having a hot girlfriend. Later, she sneaks into the boys’ locker room and pushes about a dozen giant racks of lockers onto Nelson, something that is confirmed would have killed him had he not been wearing his hockey pads.
If I had to pick the thing that sucks most about this episode, it’s that Howard turns out to be right. Having a sexy girlfriend draped over him immediately makes him cool and popular, and scores of kids plan to go to his party later that night. Additionally, other sexy girls start flirting with Howard instead of shunning him, because apparently sexy girls only want what they can’t have, which is only limited to things possessed by other sexy girls.
When that sexy girl flirts, Cynthia becomes so angry she crushes Howard’s notebook in her secretly robot hands, and Terry starts to think something’s amiss. Terry follows Cynthia and prevents her from murdering the non-robot sexy girl in a jealous rage, but then she punches him off a building. He’s fine, realizes he’s dealing with an extremely jealous, murder-happy synthoid, and goes to catch the ‘50s pornographer. He has to fight a bunch of regular, non-horny robots first, but it’s not an issue.
Now, it’s party time! Cynthia gets violent with the sexy girl when she flirts again, then pushes Terry’s friend Max to the ground when she tries to get Cynthia to stop. An upset Howard leads Cynthia up to his bedroom to talk to her privately, and if you have any doubt she was created for having sex as opposed to just being a popularity magnet, Cynthia heads directly for Howard’s bed. When he tries to call the robot maker to rejigger her programming, she comes up to him and caresses his face and upper torso. It’s horrible.
“I am what you made me to be, Howard.” Cynthia says, which again, is based on a wholly fictitious definition of “loyal.” “We can be together forever.” This obsession completely freaks Howard out, who tells his sex robot he wants to see other girls. How does Cynthia take this? The way any completely reductive stereotype of a woman might: by going into a homicidal rage. Women be jealous, amirite?
As the party-goers scatter, Cynthia stalks Howard. When Max tries to stop her, Cynthia is about to crush her with a couch when Batman crashes through the window and tackles her. The two proceed to have a fight that wrecks a good deal of the Groote household. Eventually, Howard tries to stop the destruction by telling Cynthia they can still be friends, which prompts two notable reactions:
1) Terry winces.
2) Cynthia quite literally explodes in incandescent rage, destroying Howard’s house.
Happily, the rock-stupid high school students think it’s cool that Howard blew up his own home as part of the party, indicating he’ll still be popular. Unhappily, his parents return from a vacation to discover they no longer have a house and yell at their son for maxing out their credit card, which may mean they’ll be now living in poverty. The episode thankfully ends before we find out.
Batman Beyond is hardly the only good cartoon to have an absolute stinker of an episode now and then; even the universally beloved Batman: The Animated Series had its low points. But even then, the debacle of “Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot” seems egregious. The moral here, I believe, is this: if you find yourself trying to figure out how to make a story about a murderous sex robot kid-friendly, it’s better to just think of something else.
- At one point, Max calls Cynthia a “robo-bim,” which is obviously future slang for “robot bimbo.” It’s just awful, but it’s also another example that the cartoon knows this is a story about a sex robot.
- Speaking of future slang, I forgot Batman Beyond’s future version of “cool” is “shway.” I assume it’s because I hated the episode, but every time someone uttered it I felt a knife in my soul.
- It seems to take about 30 seconds to make a sex robot, which must make it a difficult crime to police.
- Terry and Max briefly investigate the locker room, but when the boys come in from Future Sports practice, Max hides in one of the lockers, and Terry abandons her there. It’s super cool.
- Batman investigates the porn guy while he takes an order over the phone: “Yeah, all six can look like keno girls.” So someone may be ordering enough sex robots, for an orgy, who will all look like Las Vegas casino girls. It’s a totally worthwhile line of dialogue as Batman Beyond’s young audience would have definitely understood the women in skimpy dresses who try to convince gamblers to play the lottery.
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