Pow! Bam! Zok! An Unsolicited And Sadly Thorough Review Of “Batman ’66” Season Two
Did you miss the recap of season one? Click here, bat fan.
A normal half hour television program in the 1960s would produce around thirty episodes a season. Drunk with success, “Batman’s” second season turned in twice that number, spreading quality and consistency ever so thin. Periodically the show rises to the occasion. Other times, it digs its own sad, swampy grave. Still other times, “Batman” manages to be thoroughly okay.
The only element you can truly rely on is Neil Hamilton, who commits to his character of Commissioner Gordon as if he’s playing Hamlet for both the first and last time. No matter what asinine or childish nonsense is unfolding, Neil makes you believe all of Gotham teeters on the brink and that the Caped Crusaders are our only hope. Neil’s so solid you’ll want his face on a t-shirt.
A few asides before the episode-by-episode breakdown:
I. Season two finds Batman’s ancillary vehicles in regular rotation—the Bat Copter, the Bat Boat, etc. All these vehicles debuted in the theatrical Batman movie the show filmed and released right after the first season (a film meant to sell foreign markets on the greatness of this wacky property). One mode of transport not featured in Batman: The Movie is the Alf Cycle, the bike Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred pedals around on when he is occasionally called into action. That’s dumber than spit, but who could look the wonderful Alan Napier in his caring eye and even hint at that? He’s such a sweetheart of a man, doing everything he can to help his employer live out a dangerous and elaborate vigilante fantasy with nary a question. Let him have his Alf Cycle.
II. Apparently in the first season Adam West found his Batman cowl to be too tight, so the costume people loosened it. The result is this weird open pocket of fabric under his cheeks, like the cowl’s stretched out from violent tugging. Similarly, the collar of Burt Ward’s yellow cape seems a bit loose in these adventures, allowing the collar of his red vest underneath to poke up the neck. Highly distracting but I suppose it would throw snoops off their trail. Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman; Bruce could afford a better tailor.
III. Every once in a while Bruce Wayne will reference the murder of his parents but we never learn Dick Grayson’s backstory. It’s never even so much as implied that Dick (as we learn in the comics and later films) once belonged to a famous family of traveling acrobats, the rest of whom died during a particularly daring stunt (sometimes written as sabotage at the hands of the Joker or Two-Face). We are to assume here that Dick’s Aunt Harriet didn’t have the means to support the orphaned boy on her own and Bruce, who was at the fatal circus performance, simply invited them to live with him. Maybe if they had given Burt Ward a few dramatic moments to talk about all this he could have avoided the B movie hell that awaited him following this program’s cancellation.
IV. This season is where Batman and Robin really get into taking pills to combat everything. Sorry, Joker, but we swallowed our anti-hypnotism bat pills before you handcuffed us to this giant pair of scissors. Big pharma propaganda has never looked so dashing.
Without any further adieu, allow me to tear apart this classical mess.
1. “Shoot A Crooked Arrow” / 2. “Walk The Straight And Narrow”
Art Carney rides into town as a would-be Robin Hood character called the Archer, because when you think of debonair English folk heroes you think of Ralph Kramden’s neighbor. Maybe that’s the joke. Aiding Art in his rob-from-the-rich-pretend-to-give-to-the-poor hoodwink is model Barbara Nichols (as an equally Brooklynese Maid Marilyn) and Doodles Weaver (wasted in a tiny henchman role). This adventure marks the first (and not the last) time Alfred must don the Bat suit; the old bean doesn’t look too bad in his boss’s duds.
3. “Hot Off The Griddle” / 4. “The Cat And The Fiddle”
This pair of episodes, centered around average larceny by the otherwise brassy and bewitching Catwoman, is loaded with references only true ’60s fossils will understand (Schwab’s Drugstore, anyone?). Hard to believe the Boy Wonder’s assessment of fictional hit record “The Catusi” hasn’t been sampled by a boat load of contemporary punk bands (“Oh boy! I like rock n’ roll music as much as the next red-blooded average American teenager but this stuff is awful!”). James Brolin pops up in the conclusion as truck driver Ralph Staphylococcus. It’s a better moniker than Zubin Zucchini, one of the dismal food-based names we’re beaten senseless with this season.
5. “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / 6. “Barbecued Batman?”
On paper a villain named the Minstrel who strums a medieval instrument as he taunts Batman about stock fraud sounds torturous but somehow they lend this absurdity proper gravity. There’s great shadow work (darkness lurking almost literally in every corner) and Van Johnson is camp-free in his turn as the titular villain (hey, the guy knows how to pluck a lute menacingly). You can almost envision this jaunt working in the Chris Nolan Bat films. Granted, there’s a lot of Batman talking to guys in suits here, but negotiation is a vital part of his crime-fighting skill set. Did I mention the Phyllis Diller cameo? Surprisingly, she does not appear as herself.
7. “The Spell Of Tut” / 8. “Tut’s Case Is Shut”
In which the potion-based plotting of King Tut teaches us the meaning of words like scarab, apothecary, and Cavia porcellus. A tremendous series moment occurs when Sid Haig, appearing as one of Tut’s henchmen, is given a chance to reply to a question about what lurks behind a mysterious door. “Trolls and ghouls and amulets,” Haig intones a la possessed wizard, head tiled back, eyes a-bug. “Evil spells that will turn your bones to celery stalks!” Unfortunately, we do not get to see Robin transform into celery. We do, however, witness Batman using a public telephone, which today is as antiquated at Tut himself.
9. “The Greatest Mother Of Them All” / 10. “Ma Parker”
These entries mark one of the rare instances where criminals fire real guns at Batman and Robin. You’d think that would happen more often. Alas, only Ma Parker and her gang are smart enough to realize our Caped Crusaders wear nothing bullet proof. History buffs might be annoyed that the villainess played by Shelley Winters perpetuates the myth that her real life counterpart (Arizona Donnie “Ma” Barker) was a deft criminal mastermind. Less stodgy folk will probably have no issue getting down with Parker and her takeover of Gotham State Penitentiary. Go big or go home, you know?
11. “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” / 12. “The Clock King Gets Crowned”
Bob Kane may have been able to smudge Batman collaborator Bill Finger out of history for several decades but he couldn’t prevent his former pal from co-writing these two episodes. Shame it had to be Clock King, a malefactor who has forever been a punchline. What’s onscreen here doesn’t help (did the guy really need multi-colored clock faces glued to his black cape?). As the King Walter Slezak does what he can, but if this were baseball he’d languish in the minor leagues. The cannibalistic undertones in the scene where Batman and Robin eat bat burgers are dampened when they order Orangeade to drink. No self respecting creatures of the night would be caught dead sipping juice.
13. “An Egg Grows In Gotham” / 14. “The Yegg Foes In Gotham”
Just when you think this television show from the mid-60s is doing a good job keeping its head above water in terms of social issues they vomit up a broad and offensive Native American character named Chief Screaming Chicken (portrayed, of course, by a white guy named Edward Everett Horton). That’s the only thing marring Vincent Price’s debut as nefarious dandy Egghead. At least the plot recognizes the fact that Gotham really belongs to its indigenous peoples; Egghead maneuvers around city government to gain control of the municipality from the Chief so he may ban Batman and Robin from policing inside its borders. Of course the final battle includes a lot of egg throwing.
15. “The Devil’s Fingers” / 16. “Dead Ringers”
Liberace played some really fantastic piano in his day. If you listen to live recordings, he was also pretty clever with onstage banter. Unfortunately Lib was no actor, and as clumsy as he is playing himself he’s even worse as an evil twin brother. This is one of those sad moments where a merger that seems like a slam dunk bounces coldly off the rim. Too much garish camp and your stew becomes slurry. On the plus side, they give Aunt Harriet more stuff to do; Lib’s evil musician strikes up a dubious romance with Aunty H and they come so close to making out you want to reach for the Bat signal. It’s enough to make Bruce and his youthful ward fake their deaths, again. They’ve done it so many times already but it’s still such a shock!
17. “Hizzoner The Penguin” / 18. “Dizzoner The Penguin”
The Penguin runs for mayor, and Batman decides the only way to stop this waddling ne’ever-do-well is to run for mayor himself. It’s punishing for us until Batman refuses to kiss a baby; this kicks off a Batman backlash and there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching strangers yell at Adam West. Please note: despite her credit as Little Egypt, the belly dancer who cameos at the Penguin’s campaign rally was merely a Little Egypt imitator named Lorraine Shalhoub. The three women usually credited with pioneering the Little Egypt character (enchantress of rich and curious Western audiences in the early 20th Century) all died decades before this show existed. Now Paul Revere and The Raiders, they’re the real deal here—right down to their trademark Revolutionary War regalia.
19. “Green Ice” / 20. “Deep Freeze”
As the frosty villain Mr. Freeze Otto Preminger wears your patience by declaring anything and everything as “wild, WILD!” With each refrain your lobes dull and you angrily curse the concept of catchphrases. Burt Ward sports a mysterious injury on his right arm during these entries; they try to block it with other actors and Robin’s cape, but every so often you catch a glimpse of a large bandage around the appendage. If we’re to believe Burt’s autobio he most likely hurt himself roughly sexing a zealous fan. At any rate, the show runners could have never guessed we’d one day live in a world of high def screen capture and endless reruns. All your mistakes live forever.
21. “The Impractical Joker” / 22. “The Joker’s Provokers”
Somehow the Joker invents time travel, but the rules are vague and the special effects vaguer. Equally painful is the introduction of Alfred’s twin cousin who works for the city. “Batman’s” split screen tech makes “Patty Duke” look like Multiplicity. This is season two’s nadir, veering into bargain basement Saturday morning dreck produced at your local affiliate. Chris Bale should have dropped the nuke on these eps at the end of Dark Knight Rises.
23. “Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds” / 24. “Marsha’s Scheme Of Diamonds”
Gotham’s posh cougar Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds (the refreshing Carolyn Jones) tries to trick Batman into holy matrimony—though she has more in her arsenal than mere feminine charm. You see, Marsha’s eccentric aunt is a bonafide witch who mixes up love potions for her niece in a giant bubbling cauldron. Just when you think this story is going to end in the most ludicrous way possible—Batman and Robin turned into frogs!—something even more ludicrous comes along—Batman and Robin were just pretending to be frogs via ventriloquism! So that’s what Bruce and Dick practice in their down time.
25. “Come Back, Shame” / 26. “It’s How You Play The Game”
The climax of this western-themed yarn features the Dynamic Duo amidst a stampede and it looks like the program actually spent the money to get real bovines. Cowpoke Shame isn’t a very inspired bad guy but Cliff Robertson finds a way to make the grizzled saddlesore work. A major surprise arrives in the form of Werner Klemperer, who cameos as Col. Klink and establishes the fact that “Batman” and “Hogan’s Heroes” take place in the same goddamn universe. Seems like apprehending a Nazi would be bigger potatoes than Shame; Bats doesn’t agree, not even touching upon the Third Reich’s many atrocities in the polite chat he has with Klink. Is Gotham actually in Brazil?
27. “The Penguin’s Nest” / 28. “The Bird’s Last Jest”
If you dislike Stafford Repp’s bumbling Chief O’Hara, this is the adventure for you. In the midst of a forgery plan the Penguin kidnaps O’Hara, locks him in a trunk, and throws him in an electrified swimming pool. As if that isn’t crazy enough, later the feisty bird captures Alfred and attempts to cook him in a pie crust. That would probably be a very drawn out, painful way to die. Naturally, on this series they make it look like the least dangerous situation in the world. God forbid youngsters get the wrong idea about those human sized pie crusts you see at the market.
29. “The Cat’s Meow” / 30. “The Bat’s Kow Tow”
A sloppy Catwoman outing saved as always by the amount of vulnerability Julie Newmar brings to her performance. Our feline mastermind attempts to steal the voices of singing sensations Chad & Jeremy because she somehow thinks it will wreck the British economy. Finally, Batman and Robin have an excuse to visit the British Embassy, and do they ever. Don’t worry, though—they manage to crowbar in a sequence where Chad & Jeremy have tea with Aunt Harriet. Guess the old biddy is cruising the airports looking to pick up foreign twinks. Well, maybe C&J are too tall and masculine to be true twinks. As you can tell, these episodes are very inspiring.
31. “The Puzzles Are Coming” / 32. “The Duo Is Slumming”
Negotiations with Frank Gorshin were rough in season the second; hence, this obvious Riddler script was mutated for the Puzzler, a weird fop whose preoccupations with aviation and Shakespeare seem like more than enough characterization. And yet he insists on teasing authorities with puzzles. We get it, you were a Lit major. Puzzler’s plan is to bilk some billionaire out of his fancy aircraft; Sadly, we do not get the Batman skydiving scene we deserve. Skydiving may not have been invented yet, but gay subtext certainly had, as evidenced in Batman’s firm vocal desire to “cross swords” with Puzzler.
33. “The Sandman Cometh” / 34. “The Catwoman Goeth”
The program goes against type here, casting the emaciated and clean-shaven Michael Rennie as a version of the Sandman (a character I think we collectively agree is a rotund gent with facial hair in the style of Santa Claus). This is another where the crook’s objective is to steal money from a citizen of great wealth; here, it’s a frumpy pasta heiress named J. Pauline Spaghetti. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon attempts to calm a panicked O’Hara by rattling off weird farm colloquialisms (“Grain by grain, the hen fills her belly!”). Batman takes the subway in the second chapter, but that happens offscreen, so no shots of West awkwardly jostling for the best position in the train.
35. “The Contaminated Cowl” / 36. “The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul”
The Mad Hatter is back and he still wants Batman’s ugly-ass cowl. No one minces quite like David Wayne, especially when he’s posing as a foreign dignitary who uses radiation to turn the Caped Crusader’s hood bright pink. Events take a morbid turn when Mad Hatter convinces all of Gotham that he’s murdered Batman and Robin in cold hat-fueled blood. The Hatter is thwarted atop a water tower as stock footage from V-J Day represents the cheering, relieved citizens of Gotham. Shameless but beautiful.
37. “The Zodiac Crimes” / 38. “The Joker’s Hard Times” / 39. “The Penguin Declines”
This might be the apex of the entire fershluggin’ series. Joker and Penguin combine forces for a rollicking crime spree that follows the twelve astrological signs. Reigning in the outlandishness, the show’s writers provide our crooks with creative set-ups grounded in enough reality to convey Batman’s acute frustration as he struggles to thwart the gruesome twosome (and yet they still work giant man-eating clam into the narrative). Cesar Romero presents his greatest performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, a gleeful beacon of evil who almost comes across as metaphysical. He also rolls off one of the better Dynamic Duo insults, referring to them as “Caped Cabbage-heads.”
40. “That Darn Catwoman” / 41. “Scat! Darn Catwoman”
Catwoman poisons Robin with a drug that makes him horny for crime and her young protégé Leslie Gore. Welcome to more of the fresh hell that is Burt Ward’s uncomfortable interpretation of juvenile delinquent. Adam West isn’t much better when he’s under the influence of the drug—muttering things to “Catsy Baby” while slowly rolling his head around like a bowling ball—but perhaps that’s the point. Gore is delightful as Catwoman’s junior, instantly adding herself to the “why didn’t they ever bring this character back?” list. Guess there’s only room for one sexually-charged tabby in Gotham.
42. “Penguin Is A Girl’s Best Friend” / 43. “Penguin Sets A Trend” / 44. “Penguin’s Disastrous End”
We come so close to seeing a nude Carolyn Jones in these episodes it’s surprising more hasn’t been made of it over the years. People just aren’t buying what Jones is selling outside Morticia Addams, which is sad and wrong. At any rate, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds and Penguin collaborate to make a movie starring the Caped Crusaders. Penguin thinks he can control Batman and Robin if he’s directing them, but these guys only serve Lady Justice. There’s a long stretch where the boys are trapped in suits of armor, which is fun if you’ve ever fantasized about Adam West torturing you in the 14th Century.
45. “Batman’s Anniversary” / 46. “A Riddling Controversy”
Speaking of the Addams Family, here be the notorious engagement where John Astin dons the green question mark jumpsuit to replace a contractually unhappy Frank Gorshin. A goddamn thankless job but Astin proves himself worthy of super reprobate status with this one and only turn as el hombre de adivinanzas. Aiding him are some of the program’s most inventive set pieces, like a fight in an underwater bank vault and a giant birthday cake made of quicksand. Stupid enough to be fun, real enough to seem dangerous. That’s what we’re really after here, right? Believable scenarios for a man and a boy who fight crime adorned in multi-colored silk and spandex?
47. “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / 48. “The Joker’s Epitaph”
The titles here suggest Joker buys the farm; it’s a fake out. Batman’s greatest foe survives this folly that finds him implanting androids as bank tellers while simultaneously tricking Bruce Wayne into making him VP of Gotham National. I don’t remember the exact joke Batman tells the one android to make it malfunction but I cannot agree with Robin’s assertion that it was “super funny.” Batman’s about as funny intentionally as Adam West is unintentionally. By this point they’ve given the Joker his own custom wheels, referred to as the Jokemobile. Like many novelty autos of the era it’s just a modified 1920s jalopy. In terms of cool it may be above the Porter from “My Mother The Car” but it’s definitely below the Monkeemobile.
49. “Catwoman Goes To College” / 50. “Batman Displays His Knowledge”
Our devious Catwoman loves Batman with all her feline heart, but could she ever give up a life of crime to win his love? Batman’s interested in exploring this but worries about Robin’s future. “I’ll have him killed!” the Cat cheerily suggests, bringing of the program’s biggest and most twisted laughs. These episodes introduce Captain Courageous, a police cop who’s new in town and knows nothing of the costumed weirdos who either perpetrate or fight crime. A strange diversion but again, always funny to see anyone giving Batman and Robin the business.
51. “A Piece Of The Action” / 52. “Batman’s Satisfaction”
Wherein Batman and Robin meet rival vigilantes the Green Hornet and Kato. Even in restraint Bruce Lee impresses during the fights; at last, a hero who actually looks like he could defeat an enemy with one or two blows. “Kung Fu is Kung Fu,” Lee shrugs, one of the few lines he can get in between the thick dialogue wicket flowing between his boss, the regulars of the Batman crew, guest villain Colonel Gumm (a boisterous Roger C. Carmel), and Gumm’s put upon lady Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBaine). Alex Rocco pops up as one of Gumm’s henchmen, proving he was never young.
53. “King Tut’s Coup” / 54. “Batman’s Waterloo”
Another stacked tale featuring Victor Buono’s Tut, “Star Trek’s” Grace Lee Whitney as female crony Neila, “77 Sunset Strip’s” Byron Keith as Mayor Linseed, Suzy Knickerbocker playing herself, and bride-against-her-will Lee Meriwether (who of course played Catwoman in the 1966 theatrical version of this show; Julie Newmar was unavailable). Buono begins to careen into a W.C. Fields impression with his characterization of the evil Egyptian king, but to be fair I can’t think of the last time I saw / heard anyone referencing the permanently drunk William Claude of Philadelph. Fields is fading into an obscurity populated by Charo, Wally Gator, and all the cave people who continue to reference them. Holy passage of time.
55. “Black Widow Strikes Again” / 56. “Caught In The Spider’s Den”
Tallulah Bankhead appears in her final role ever as the elegant and elegantly sassy Black Widow. It’s kind of difficult to make out what she’s saying half the time but you get the general idea—she’s into bank heists and wants the Dynamic Duds dead. There’s an unsettling scene toward the end where it appears a police officer is going to shoot Batman at point blank range (because Black Widow has tricked the world into believing Bats has gone bad) but what’s more frightening is the subplot about Aunt Harriet trying to buy a miniskirt. Apparently the sales person told her she doesn’t have the face for it. I’d like to see a seething Dick Grayson confront that evil doer.
57. “Pop Goes The Joker” / 58. “Flop Goes The Joker”
The Joker infiltrates the Gotham art world, holds some aspiring painters for ransom, and we all put up with his quasi-moll, one Baby Jane Towser (Diana Ivarson, whose acting is more blanching than any of the abstracts we see on display). The story culminates in a dumb but metaphorically appropriate bit where the Joker gets trapped going up and down the Bat poles.
59. “Ice Spy” / 60. “The Duo Defy”
Eli Wallach, the third and final Mr. Freeze, a fine heavy even if he insists on using an adorable little seal for most of his dirty work. Poor innocent seal. For some reason Elisha Cook’s Icelandic professor, an unwitting accomplice to Freeze in his quest for planetary domination, has absolutely no accent. An odd creative decision. Even odder: in these final episodes, Commissioner Gordon keeps mentioning his daughter Barbara but we never see her. It almost seems like they wanted to include Barb and her alter ego Batgirl but couldn’t find the right actress. Why else would Gord be yakking about his family? We never hear word one about O’Hara’s private life, and why would we want to? Do any of his kids turn out to be avenging super people?
Fin. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this, the Berlin Alexanderplatz of Batman television seasons. And yet I did. What awaits in season three? Batgirl. Shorter narratives. Rudy Vallée. Milton Berle. That episode where the Joker and Batman enter a surfing contest. Marauding Cossacks. It’s gonna get weirder but not necessarily better.
Stay tuned. Same blog time, same blog channel.
Pow! Bam! Zok! An Unsolicited And Sadly Thorough Review Of “Batman ’66” Season One
They said it would never happen, not in a million years, but then late last year it did: the 1960s “Batman” tv series was freed from copyright quagmire and released for the first time ever on multiple home viewing formats. What an immense sigh of relief for crust-laden artifacts such as myself who grew up marveling at the reruns in a barren pre-Michael Keaton Bat world. Had to be 1984 when I first caught Adam West overacting in my living room. I was five. Milk cost $1.94. Orson Welles wasn’t dead yet. Anything seemed possible.
The last time I remember a channel airing “Batman” was fourteen years ago, on TV Land. I’m sure they’ve played somewhere since then, but who has time to watch television as it happens? I need Neil Hamilton and Stafford Repp on demand. For my on demand lifestyle.
Praise be to the corporate gods for packaging euphoric childhood memories and selling them to me at a reasonable price. For once, capitalism works.
Before the episode-by-episode breakdown, a few general comments:
I. The writers / producers of “Batman” really loved gassing their characters—that is to say, spraying plumes of brightly colored smoke into their faces to rob them of consciousness. It happens in practically every single episode. Was it that prevalent in the comics? Seems like it’d be easier (and cheaper) to just conk everybody on the head with a blackjack. “Batman” was aimed mostly at children, I suppose, so maybe they were trying to avoid inciting similar violence in American living rooms. Maybe it cost a lot of money to develop the colored smoke effect so they used it as much as they could. “Batman” definitely had a strict budget (they didn’t even paint the Joker’s exposed wrists to match his face).
II. Adam West and Burt Ward are so natural, so genuine, as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson you almost wish the series had dialed down the costumed hijinks and focused more on life above the Batcave. That Adam West I can see as James Bond, that Burt Ward I can see in The Graduate (which Ward reportedly turned down in favor of “Batman”). Perhaps this charm is why so many people close to them who ostensibly don’t know they’re Batman and Robin choose to ignore the insane coincidences. Wow, the guy who answers the Batphone sounds just like Bruce’s butler, that’s some funky shit. Oh, you guys gotta go do something inexplicable that you never mentioned until this moment after Alfred whispered in your ear? Hey, none of my business, man. By the way, Dick, you smell just like Robin.
III. Something I never noticed before in the opening cartoon is after Batman and Robin shake hands and Batman looks toward the camera (as he turns into the program logo) Robin continues to look at him, grinning from ear to ear. Like, Robin has such reverence for the Dark Knight, he can’t stop looking at him. It makes me uncomfortable.
IV. There’s a theory that, despite being filmed and airing in the late ’60s, “Batman” actually takes place in the early ’60s, before JFK’s assassination. There are little clues, like newspaper headlines and asides in the dialogue, none of which I can remember specifically. This theory is plausible if not a tad asinine. Were the producers afraid people would call Batman a draft dodger? This begs the question: if Batman were real, would the government make him go to Vietnam, or would it be his choice? What the hell could Batman even do in a war? He never uses guns. He doesn’t have a shield and/or super strength like Captain America. He’d just be some costumed detective standing on a rice patty.
V. “Batman” is an overwhelmingly white show, but when you do see people of color among the cast they always seem to be in authoritative positions (cops, reporters, store managers, etc). That’s progressive compared to the 1978 Superman movie, where the only person of color is the pimp who jumps up momentarily to compliment Superman on his “bad out-fit.”
VI. If we’re to believe the hand-painted signage outside the Batcave, Gotham City is fourteen miles from Wayne Manor. So Bruce Wayne does not actually live in Gotham. He lives in some tony suburb. Must be a tax thing.
VII. Two half hour episodes make up one complete story on “Batman” and originally ABC aired them over as many consecutive nights (Wed-Thurs). Not sure why they didn’t just make the program a full hour; “Batman” is usually presented in syndication as a 60 minute thing. The business is weird.
Now, let’s tear into the adventure.
1. “Hi Diddle Riddle” / 2. “Smack In The Middle”
Strong opener, could be the best entries of the season. The Riddler hatches an ingenious plan: stage a crime, sue Batman for false arrest, unmask the Caped Crusader in a court of law. He pulls off the first two-thirds and makes Batman look like a Grade A chump. The scene that follows all that is one of the few times the Dynamic Duo actually seem defeated; as Bruce and Dick, they sit crestfallen in Wayne Manor, watching a Gotham newscaster explain their dilemma. Also, although they defeat the Riddler in the end, they don’t capture him, proving that this guy is top tier trouble for Gotham. Of course, you know that just from Frank Gorshin’s performance—he plays the Riddler as an unrepentant sadist. “You’re really scared, aren’t you?” he asks Robin at one point, beaming with satisfaction. Hell, I was.
3. “Fine Feathered Finks” / 4. “The Penguin’s A Jinx”
Penguin has never been any favorite of mine. On paper, “what if Franklin Roosevelt was a dick obsessed with fish?” sounds fun, but something just doesn’t connect for me. You know, I’m not a purple top hat kinda guy. The digital remastering also does nothing for the gloriously phony nose Burgess Meredith sports as Das Peng. At any rate, Burgy growls his way through a frame-up positing Batman as the real criminal, and at least with this baddie you can always count on a few solid groans over his punny civilian aliases (K.G. Bird, P.N. Quinn).
5. “The Joker Is Wild” / 6. “Batman Is Riled”
The Joker is Batman’s number one foe, but instead of giving him a fitting dramatic introduction “Batman ’66” opens on the non-threatening scenario of our Clown Prince playing softball in prison (looks just as weird as it sounds). You’ll never believe this but the Joker escapes and soon terrorizes Gotham with confetti, sneezing powder, and other party store gimmicks. Eventually Laughing Boy invades a televised performance of Pagliacci, during which he hopes to unmask Batman before an audience of however many people were watching televised performances of Pagliacci in 1966. I sorta wish they kept the Joker in the traditional harlequin outfit he wears during these scenes. Way more frightening. Any way he’s dressed, Cesar Romero manages to lend the Joker a strange sexuality, especially when he uses adjectives like “succulent” and draws out Batman’s name as if post-orgasm.
7. “Instant Freeze” / 8. “Rats Like Cheese”
George Sanders would make a great brooding heavy even without the Mr. Freeze character. Still, it’s nice to have that extra layer wherein Batman is responsible for turning this crook into an ice cube-sucking freak of nature. People tend to bag on Adam West’s physique not being all that resplendent in the Bat costume but the scene with multiple Batmen proves West filled the spandex better than most. Toward the end Freeze offers Bats a cordial but he declines, for this Dark Knight is a teetotaler. Do you think anybody could really be Batman without taking a drink? Seems like a stressful life. On the other hand, he’s got a kid to look out for, he can’t be getting sloshed if there’s a chance Robin might be kidnapped or injured or tied to a giant whatever.
9. “Zelda The Great” / 10. “A Death Worse Than Fate”
Renowned magician Zelda goes crooked, teaming up with everyone’s favorite “strange Albanian genius” Eivol Ekdol for a robbery / counterfeiting scheme. This eventually turns into a kidnapping caper when Zelda snatches Dick Grayson’s elderly Aunt Harriet, ties her up, and dangles the old biddy over a vat of boiling oil. Nabbing Dick himself would probably yield greater ransom but Aunt Harriet’s easier to burgle. What’s interesting about these episodes is Zelda is never totally convinced a life of crime is for her—she’s just struggling so much as a magician she has no other recourse. C’mon, Harry Blackstone, help a sister out. Fuckin’ magic cabal.
11. “A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away” / 12. “When The Rat’s Away The Mice Will Play”
King Boris, a dignitary from an unnamed and ill-defined European country, comes to Gotham and is almost immediately seized by the Riddler. Another fine Gorshin performance but the real entertainment comes when Batman and Robin are tied to enormous spinning wheels and it is hilariously clear in the wide shots that dummies are substituting for the actors. I remember that looking fake as hell even when I was a child. Whomever is responsible for those dummies should be ashamed, if they’re still alive. If they’re dead, I hope they carried that shame to their grave(s). Harsh words but it’s not that hard to make a dummy not look like a sack of loose potatoes.
13. “The Thirteenth Hat” / 14. “Batman Stands Pat”
Perhaps intimidated by David Wayne’s flamboyantly fussy performance as the Mad Hatter, these entries find Adam West dialing up his hamminess to radioactive levels. West shouts and gesticulates like an angry grandpa at the Elks Lodge and subsequently flushes away all vestiges of Bat being a cool, collected character. Naturally Mad Hatter is consumed with owning Batman’s cowl and goes to great lengths in attempting to obtain it. This certifies him for the loony bin in my eyes because this cowl is so weird-looking compared to the cowl of the comics (and later film properties). Granted, it’s the cowl that most resembles the true look of a bat (stout, wide), but you get my drift. By the way, what’s the penalty for cowl theft? Like $50 and time served? I think that would even be laughed out of “Night Court.”
15. “The Joker Goes To School” / 16. “He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul”
A landmark story only because it confirms that Gotham City and New York are two separate and co-existing entities. In the next pair of episodes it is revealed that Gotham is also on the BMT transit line; this prompted me to look up the exact location of Gotham in the comic universe and it turns out the bustling urban hive is situation in north east New Jersey. Anyway, the Joker’s crimes in these eps are pretty inconsequential. Rigging vending machines in some hair-brained attempt to corrupt teenagers. On the plus side, he fires off a pretty funny dead dog joke and manages to get Batman and Robin in electric chairs. This arc also presents a painful scene where Burt Ward has to pretend to be a happenin’ street though. Hey Kookie, lend me your knife so I can stab this kid.
17. “True Or False-Face” / 18. “Holy Rat Race”
False-Face is a text book example of a character who is very comic book but not cartoonish. I attribute this to the fact you can’t see Malachi Throne’s face contorting behind the mostly opaque False-Face mask (by the way, the name Malachi Throne has an amazing ring to it, they should have worked it into the script somehow). The Dutch angles feel a little out of control here but maybe that’s intentional, maybe that’s supposed to underscore how topsy-turvy this adventure is (Batman v. the Unknown). False-Face proves so tough that the Dynamic Duo have to fall back on Alfred to escape the harrowing climax; I like to believe the underground gossip in Gotham points to a third shadowy figure in the Batman equation, one alleged to be of advanced age (hence his seclusion) but who never fails as a nuclear option.
19. “The Purr-fect Crime” / 20. “Better Luck Next Time”
Consider the family dynamic that exists between Julie Newmar’s powerful feline-obsessed antagonist and the Dynamic Duo: Catwoman is the bored mother figure seeking a liberating and lawless independence; Batman, the lovelorn father too aloof to know what to do; Robin, the eager son who just wants Mommy and Daddy to love each other again. Wait ’til you catch the horror on Boy Wonder’s face when it appears Catwoman (who spends her story trying to locate the lost treasure of some made up pirate) dies at the end of the second episode. Poor Dick. Catwoman, fyi, has one of the best accompanying leitmotifs of Nelson Riddle’s scoring—eerie, hypnotic, fun.
21. “The Penguin Goes Straight” / 22. “Not Yet, He Ain’t”
In which the Caped Crusaders appear to be dead for a small chunk of time, saddening Gotham but exciting that ever fiendish Penguin…who, as it turns out, is trying to trick the world into believing he’s become a do-gooder. Tim Burton famously cribbed Penguin’s theft of the Batmobile in this adventure for 1992’s Batman Returns. Who knows why a covert crime-fighting team would insist on tooling around in a convertible. Seems like an open invitation. The Penguin carjack allows for introduction of the Batcycle, which is a far more bad-ass means of conveyance (even with the side car). Ghost Rider would be a complete joke if he was riding out of Hell in a Sedan.
23. “The Ring Of Wax” / 24. “Give ‘Em The Axe”
Usually the requisite bad girl or “moll” amongst a gang of male villains in “Batman” is just that, a wayward youth blinded by power. Here, however, the lady by Riddler’s side (as he tries to uncover some weird Incan treasure) is a cape-wearing figure called the Moth—a budding mastermind in her own right, we may assume. It’s a shame they didn’t give her more to do (or even her own episode later on). A tremendous scene pops up about midway wherein Batman asks a librarian, voice absent of irony, “Have you seen any unusual looking people around here?” The librarian says she has not and somehow avoids comment on the two guys in front of her dressed as winged forest creatures.
25. “The Joker Trumps An Ace” / 26. “Batman Sets The Pace”
A visiting Maharajah! The Batmobile cruising over a golf course! Someone writing Batman a check and misspelling his name! Definitely not the most exciting outing…they meander around a fairly eye-rolling money laundering plot, stretching out the flimsy premise / final reveal, but I’m forever grateful we get to hear Cesar Romero shout, “Egads, I’ve been deflated!” Again, so unnecessarily sexual.
27. “The Curse Of Tut” / 28. “The Pharaoh’s In A Rut”
The blustery charm of Victor Buono as King Tut makes up for lackluster action. The bulk of episode one is Gotham trying to figure out what to do about a giant statue of a cat that suddenly appears in a park and begins making strange pronouncements. Seems like a noise complaint, but the authorities call Batman anyway. Later, for the umpteenth time this season, a woman comments upon Batman’s handsome looks, which is nuts because 80% of his face is covered at all times. King Tut’s backstory is interesting because it’s the only time “Batman” references the social unrest of the ’60s: Tut was a Yale prof cracked on the head during a student riot; he woke up believing he was the famed Egyptian. Never mind the fact King Tut died at around 18 and this guy is 40. Brain injuries are no laughing matter.
29. “The Bookworm Turns” / 30. “While Gotham City Burns”
Are you ready for the darkness? This one opens with Commissioner Gordon getting shot in the back and falling off a bridge. Later, Batman goes into a Manson-esque trance while attempting to figure out his enemy’s next move, spooking Chief O’Hara and every viewer at home. Though Roddy McDowell gives the nefarious Bookworm a frightful edge anytime he saunters onscreen the character’s trump card is real corny: he traps the Caped Crusaders in a giant cook book, choking them with noxious soup fumes. It all pays off in the end when a defeated Bookworm meets Bruce Wayne; after some banter, the Bookworm dismisses Bruce, exclaiming, “This guy’s almost as annoying as Batman!”
31. “Death In Slow Motion” / 32. “The Riddler’s False Notion”
The Riddler sets up a bunch of robberies he also films so he can sell the resulting movie to Gotham’s biggest silent film buff (some people want to meet the Dynamic Duo, this guy just wants to watch them run around at twice their normal speed in black and white). Somehow the Riddler also finds time to spike the lemonade at a temperance party; tensions are stirred and while blitzed on the drank Commissioner Gordon angrily dismisses Chief O’Hara’s assertion that Maury Wills is “50 times better” than Honus Wagner. You think this will be the best part of the episode until Robin, tied up and thrown off the ledge of a high rise, staves death by catching the Batarang in his fucking teeth. Batman of course uses this as a teaching moment re: dental hygiene. Yeah, it’s okay for a minor to fight crime without a bullet proof vest, but heaven forbid you stop flossing.
33. “Fine Finny Fiends” / 34. “Batman Makes The Scenes”
This time Alfred is kidnapped, by the Penguin, a.k.a. Knott A. Fish. The Peng is trying to uncover the location of some secret millionaire’s dinner being held by Bruce Wayne. This is one of those plots that wouldn’t happen in the 21st Century. No millionaire dinner is secret from the expanse of the Internet. The most fascinating part here is the Penguin’s henchman, Shark and Octopus; Shark looks suspiciously like Clint Howard and Octopus is wearing a very obvious bald cap (or he’s actually bald and has some insane skin condition at the base of his neck). “Batman” hench work is good stuff if you could get it. Joe E. Tata did it a handful of times.
And there you have it. “Batman ’66” Season One. Still plenty weird, still plenty fun. Satiating for a fan of über-insanity such as myself but who knows how the uninitiated would feel at this point (to wit: I can’t stand a goddamn second of “Sigmund & The Sea Monsters” any time I’m trapped in front of it). Glancing at the Season Two lineup I see things kick off with Art Carney as the Archer. Somehow I am not fatigued from the previous 34 chapters of lunacy. I’m ready to dive in. Holy crippling addiction.
P.S. Did I forget to mention that in the very first episode Batman goes to a nightclub and go-go dances with Jill St. John? What, like you’re not gonna go-go dance with Jill St. John? I think we can forgive the Bat for actin’ a fool there. And he’s got better moves than Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man.