"Real or Robots?" first aired in the US on 1st December 1991 and makes up the first half of the eighth episode of Season 1. A good indicator that this was an early episode in the series' run (other than the rougher animation and Tommy having a red shirt instead of his standard blue) is that the issue of the whereabouts of Chuckie's mother is still up in the air at this point. I'll go into this in more detail when I review the episode "Mother's Day" as part of my "Children's Lessons in Mortality" series, but the short of it is that the show's creators did not initially intend for Chuckie's mother to be deceased (rather, they put off introducing her for so long that they grew accustomed to the idea of Chaz as a single parent), and the early writers were clearly working on the assumption that she was still in the land of living. Stu tells Chuckie that his mom and dad will be around to collect him in the morning, and Tommy later suggests to Chuckie that "our moms and dads have been taken capture to the planet Mars or something." People get confused by this inconsistency, but that's where the process of retconning comes in.
The movie that Tommy and Chuckie are watching at the start of the episode is...really something. It starts out with a maniacal yet curiously weedy-looking blonde scientist who mutters something about taking over the world via an elaborate scheme that involves replacing its entire population with robots. Uh-huh, good luck with that, mate. We see him activate one robot (who bears a vague resemblance to Stu), only for the son of the robot's original human counterpart to suddenly walk in on the lab and exclaim "Oh no! Dad, you're a robot!" with hilariously stilted horror. Honestly, if this is spoofing a specific movie then I would absolutely love to see it. Stu then shows up and turns the TV off, having twigged that Tommy and Chuckie probably shouldn't be watching this; the seed of wild and irrational fear has already been firmly planted within Tommy, however. Before he's put to bed, he manages to sneak in one additional morbidly curious peak at the robot movie, only to be greeted with the horrific sight of the robotic dad carrying off the screaming young boy. If the sheer hamminess of the horror pastiche had left you with a smile on your face then alas, you were merely being lured into a sense of false security. The image in question is not a pleasant one, and the kid's screaming is positively blood-curdling. Suddenly, I find myself really very anxious what the weedy blonde lab coat did to the boy's original father, and what he now has in store for the boy himself.
Naturally, Tommy isn't feeling very settled as Stu tucks the two babies in, and once they're alone in the room he goes off on some paranoid spiel about how anybody could be a robot and you wouldn't know it. Chuckie, ever the sensible rugrat, advises Tommy not to think about such things or he'll get bad dreams, but Tommy has decided that they're already living in enough of a nightmare. Tommy suspects his father because his behaviour didn't seem quite right earlier when he came in and switched the TV off - in actuality, Tommy has mistaken Stu's lethargy for robotism. As Tommy resolves not to sleep until he's uncovered the truth, we cut to the adults' bedroom, where Didi, appropriately, is reading a book entitled What Kids Fear while Stu mutters semi-coherently to himself. Didi expresses concern that Stu has been working too hard and reminds him of an incident last summer where he overworked himself into a sleepwalking stupor and was found attempting to cook a thirteen-egg omelette on the kitchen floor. Stu insists that he'll be fine so long as he gets a good night's sleep, unaware that he's in for a ghastly night of being poked and prodded in uncomfortable places by his infant son.
Tommy and Chuckie escape their crib, thanks to the former's indispensable skills in screwdriver concealment, and make their way along the darkened corridor toward the adults' bedroom where they find Stu snoring. The corridor material, which includes Chuckie leaping in fright at the sight of a swinging clock pendulum, is a little superfluous, but I do love what a clear sense you get in this scene of Chuckie's unease at being out in the open in dark and unfamiliar territory. Tommy reasons that robots don't need to breathe so he can test Stu's humanity by sticking his fingers up his nostrils and cutting off his air supply. Stu reacts as you would expect any healthy human to do, by waking up in fright and banishing the little nuisances back to their crib, which he assumes to be broken and attempts to secure with a piece of string. Chuckie is satisfied that Stu's response has proved he is not a robot, but Tommy has merely descended into deeper paranoia, having mistaken Stu's snoring for the sound of grinding gears from deep within his body. He tugs on the string and opens he crib easily enough, then fumbles his way to a conveniently-located toolbox right underneath (why would you keep your toolbox under the baby's crib? Are Stu and Didi asking for trouble?). Tommy pulls out a pipe wrench and leads Chuckie back down the corridor to the sleeping adults, while Chuckie, sensing that this can only end very messily, begs him to turn back. Instead, he gets saddled with flashlight holding duties as Tommy plants himself upon Stu's chest and starts to unbutton his shirt. There's a hilarious moment where Tommy mistakes Stu's nipples for the bolts that will open his chest, but it takes a sharply wince-inducing turn when he attempts to work the wrench on them and has Stu waking up in even greater shock than before.
The babies find themselves back in the crib yet again, which Stu has now attempted to hold together with duct tape. Despite Chuckie's insistence to the contrary, Tommy is more convinced than ever that his dad is a robot, or else why would be so determined to keep them prisoner in the crib? During this scene, it's revealed that the toolbox carries the brand name of "Tiny Tools", which I'd take as indication that the items therein are merely baby toys and thus not quite so sinister a thing to find hidden under an infant's crib after all. I wonder why they didn't make clearer before, then? I suppose it was a bit of a stretch that a one-year-old baby would be able to lift an actual pipe wrench, but then so is the entire notion that a one-year-old baby could be so preoccupied with his dad being replaced by a robot in the first place.
Tommy and Chuckie spring the crib by fashioning an escape rope out of blankets, and then carry the entire Tiny Tools box into the adults' bedroom with the intention of doing some serious dissembling work on Stu. Chuckie still isn't convinced and attempts to appeal to Tommy's common sense by insisting that there's no such thing robots (well, obviously that's not quite accurate, but certainly the context in which Tommy assumes they exist is bogus). Unfortunately, this coincides with Stu, now severely sleep-deprived, going into one of those sleepwalking stupors Didi had warned him of earlier, and a terrified Tommy and Chuckie find themselves fleeing to the kitchen with the muttering Stu apparently in hot pursuit. Obviously, the viewer knows full well what's really going on, so the sleepwalking Stu isn't played up as at all sinister - indeed, his immediate impulse upon reaching the kitchen is to begin making one of his famous "Stu Pickles omelettes", his slurred ramblings suggesting that he's under the delusion that he's presenting a cable cooking show. Chuckie is confused by this behaviour, and the best sense Tommy can make of it is as a secret code being sent by robot-Stu to the denizens of Mars. At this point, Stu notices the babies but apparently incorporates them into his dream as his brother Drew and assumes that he's trying to steal his cooking show. As the babies flee back into the living room, Tommy grabs the TV remote in the hopes that he can use it to fend off Stu, and we get another glimpse of the robot movie, the kid apparently having escaped the robot's grasp and now practising self-defence with a mop. Tommy doesn't have quite so much luck with the remote, although he does change the channel to a newscast which, although I do have to squint at it, I think involves a man climbing a ladder to reach a goat.
Finally, Tommy and Chuckie escape from Stu and make it safely to their bedroom, while Stu is momentarily distracted with fondling a lampshade; at this point Didi becomes aware that Stu is missing and heads to the living room to find him slumped upside-down in the recliner. Stu makes a confusing remark about an assistant called Ramona before Didi leads him back to bed, making a brief stopover to the babies' room along the way. Tommy and Chuckie are both terrified as they think there's no escape, but Stu proceeds to tuck them in tenderly while remarking to Didi of a strange dream he had where Tommy kept trying to open him up and examine his innards as if he thought he was a robot or something. Didi immediately dismisses the idea, pointing out that Tommy loves his dad and wouldn't think anything of the sort. Tommy is apparently reassured enough by their display of affection to drop the suspicion that his dad is a robot, admitting to Chuckie that he was right all along. Unfortunately, paranoia can be a deeply infectious thing and it suddenly dawns on Chuckie that his own dad's humanity remains untested. Cue a dramatic flash of lightning and the episode ends. It's really too bad that we never find out how that robot B-movie concluded.
And no Chuckie, I think we can be fairly confident that your dad's not a robot. Thanks to the joys of retconning, however, we do have grounds to be suspicious about your mother.