Plot summary: Geeky Howard Groote buys an illegal femmebot to be his girlfriend, but her devotion to him proves to be a little extreme.
After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!
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Episode Title: ‘Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot’
Original Air Date: January 15th, 2000
Directed: Dan Riba (7)
Written: Paul Dini (2) (story) & John P. McCann (1)
One of the requests for the series from Warner Bros. was to make it like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. About a year after this episode aired, Buffy featured its own episode with a nerd building a robot girlfriend who goes haywire at a party.
Max Brooks walked in on the producers trashing a movie and thought they were talking about his audition performance so was surprised to be cast as Howard Groote.
Speaking of Howard, the character is modelled on a young Paul Dini.
A robotic version of Killer Croc appears. The writers wanted the genuine article to appear thanks to his reptilian physiology giving him a long lifespan, but alas, it would not come to be.
Terry runs a gauntlet of Bruce’s old villains in the form of robotic versions of The Riddler, Two-Face and Killer Croc. His mentor praises his work, but insists he source a replacement robot for him after school.
Speaking of school, the nerdy Howard invites all the popular kids to his party but keeps getting rejected. Terry and Dana try to talk him into inviting fewer, nicer people, but Howard remains fixated on status.
Howard accompanies Terry to a synthoid factory to collect the replacement robot, but while our hero is off signing paperwork, Howie witnesses the illegal sale of a ‘custom order’. A sex bot, basically.
The worker who made it offers to do the same for Howard, who eagerly lists off all the specific physical traits he wants but goes no further than hopelessly devoted to him when it comes to the personality.
The next day in school, the femmebot creates quite a stir as she blows off the jocks in favour of Howard, who states her name is Cynthia. Get it? Like synthoid.
Hearing Nelson badmouth Howard, Cynthia secretly tries to murder him in the locker room, with Dana later speculating he only survived thanks to his sports pads.
Terry investigates the crime scene and notes small hand indentations on one of the banks of lockers but no fingerprints. He also notices some unusual behaviour by Cynthia, particularly after Chelsea hits on Howard.
Good thing too, as he prevents her from crushing Chelsea to death with a giant sign. He interrogates her; curious about how she seemingly appeared from nowhere. She attacks, and nearly murders him.
Returning to the synthoid factory, Batman threatens the worker behind the side-hustle, overlooking the fact he is able to remote control dozens of bots to attack.
Much violence later, Terry is the last one standing, advising the creep to get a good lawyer… leaving him unable to take Howard’s call when Synthia attacks Chelsea and Max.
Turned off by Synthia’s all-consuming desire for commitment, Howard tries to break up with her, so she goes on a rampage. Enter Batman and exit party guests as the two tear each other apart.
But in the end it’s Howard telling her he wants to be friends that causes Synthia to literally explode, with Terry flying the moron to safety… where he’s praised for throwing a legendary party… and then chewed out by his parents.
Max Brooks makes for an endearing enough little incel, blabbering on about his desire to be popular, and completely putting his foot in his mouth near the end. You can see why they’d want to bring him back.
But Matt Landers made a huge impact as Louie the creepy synthoid factory worker running a side gig of selling sexbots. The pair of phone calls he makes to buyers are excellent, but the highlight is his sarcastic manner of dealing with both Howard and Batman, going as far as telling the latter than he should get a sexbot of his own instead of spending his Friday nights being an amateur fascist. His unwarranted confidence in the face of a beatdown from Batman rules.
Dan ‘Homer’ Castellaneta is fantastic in the dying seconds of the episode as Howard’s father. Somebody should pay that man a lot of money.
Finally, all the teens put in good work for the party scene, especially Melissa Disney and Seth Green as Blade and her unnamed boyfriend, who make sex jokes and sound high as hell.
Another obvious but not necessarily bad idea for a show set in the future with a mandate for more teen-stories, as Howard the rich incel buys an illegal sexbot that turns murderous when he tries to dump it for a popular girl.
I want to praise it for being good campy fun that plays into tried and tested sci-fi tropes, and for being more focused than most of the episodes near the bottom of the rankings, but there are a few glaring issues.
For one, the episode opens with Bruce imparting wisdom to Terry about how to deal with the more colourful villains, which you’d think would be set up in order to be paid off at the end with the Robo Rogues Gallery on a rampage, but in actuality the scene only exists to justify Terry needing to go to the synthoid factory. Leaving money on the table a little, but hey, keeps things moving… but then it strikes me as a little off for Terry to bring Howard with him in Bruce’s fancy car (which we have never seen him borrow before). It’s a slightly clumsy way to bring the femmebot into the equation, is what I’m saying.
The middle portion is decent, with Cynthia secretly trying to murder Nelson for badmouthing Howard, and then Chelsea out of jealousy. Terry immediately rumbles her, and then we get the fun return to the factory and the party scenes. Batman fighting many robots and then Cynthia herself makes for a fun pair of fights, but I personally think it’s silly (in a bad way) that Howard being such a fuckboi that the murderbot overloads is what resolves the threat.
- Disappearing Inque
- A Touch of Curaré
- Rebirth Part I
- Hidden Agenda
- Lost Soul
- Earth Mover
- Black Out
- Dead Man’s Hand
- Rebirth Part II
- Once Burned
- Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot (NEW ENTRY)
- Mind Games
- Hooked Up
- The Winning Edge
Cynthia (Shiri Appleby) (first appearance)
If not for the fact she attempts to do several murders, I would try to make the argument Cynthia is a victim of the true villain, Howard.
Him giving her no personality beyond hopeless devotion to him leads to said attempted killings of Nelson, Chelsea, Terry and Max with her superhuman strength. It’s a fun, if overdone cautionary tale, and barely qualifies for ranking, but we can’t have our first ever blank in this category after all this time!
- Mr. Freeze
- The Jokerz
- Derek Powers/Blight
- The Royal Flush Gang
- Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
- Willie Watt
- Mad Stan
- Robert Vance
- The Terrific Trio
- The Brain Trust
- Dr. Stephanie Lake
- Howard Hodges & General Norman
- Paxton Powers
- Jackson Chappell
- Cynthia (NEW ENTRY)
- Mr. Fixx
Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker.
My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues coverage of Hawkeye.
There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week it’s the criminally under-awarded The Truman Show.