Naming this episode must’ve been a rough one in the Batman Beyond writers’ room. By this point, they’d already used Meltdown, Hooked Up, and Mind Games. So when they had to name an episode about a guy getting an android girlfriend, they only had one option left.
Batman Beyond: Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
Is this my favorite Batman Beyond episode? No, of course not. Is it my favorite Batman Beyond episode title? Almost certainly.
This is a pretty skippable episode, overall. A nerdy guy (Harold) whose character design looks enough like a human beaver that he probably should’ve been in the Splicers episode is trying to have a cool party with popular people, but getting turned down left and right. Things aren’t going his way until he accompanies Terry on an errand and a customizable android catches his eye. One jump cut later, he’s dating Synthia, a severe, intense redhead that we know is an android.
Everything is schway, as the kids of Neo-Gotham say, for a little bit. Then Synthia goes haywire when Harold begins having doubts about their relationship. When he says he wants to be just friends–with the android that he literally custom-ordered–she straight-up explodes.
Falling back on tropes
Batman Beyond sometimes struggles with meshing Terry’s high school life with his vigilante life. High school is a goofy, weird time in any kid’s life, and being Batman is a deadly serious affair. This episode leans hard into high-school hijinks and instead of doing some hard thinking about the idea of synthetic relationships, it just ends with Howard getting in trouble for maxing out his parents’ credit cards and blowing up his house. Let’s take a split second to acknowledge that, yes, this is a cartoon for kids and teenagers. But that hasn’t stopped it from being interesting and thoughtful before in episodes like Lost Soul, or being ultra dark like in Disappearing Inque (remember when that weird guy ended up as a puddle of flesh in a glass tub?).
There’s a story somewhere in here about how the changing needs of humans cannot be met by a hard-programmed android, but the show isn’t interested in the ramifications of anything that happens. Synthetic androids that can pass as humans are just a thing, and no one is weirded out by that–it’s never even been mentioned. Howard thinks you can just break up with an android and it’ll just hang around. His house blows up and it’s treated with the same level of seriousness as someone denting a car on a teen sitcom or something like that. The episode has no interest in whether or not Synthia might be sentient, or the moral implications of being able to just buy a Girlfriend Robot. For that, we can look to the Futurama episode “I Dated a Robot,” in which Fry dated an android based on actress Lucy Liu.
It’s also hard not to think about the way Batman Beyond treated Willie Watt in comparison to this. His episodes pretty thoroughly condemned his actions as being reprehensible and dangerous–someone who could take lives when his rage combines with his abilities. Howard is just a sitcom character who is allowed to wreak havoc and suffer only the mildest of consequences for causing an explosion that could’ve killed dozens of kids, all because he wanted to have a cute girlfriend.
It’s just more boring than I’m accustomed to with these episodes, and I can’t help but feel like the writers wanted to do something more interesting with it and were pushed into making a wacky fun episode due to budgetary constraints or notes from the network.