The box office success of Deadpool proves there’s a market out there for superhero spoofs. Hollywood immediately took notice: Suicide Squad is rumored to be going through re-shoots to make it lighter and funnier (or not?). But there’s another superhero parody firmly entrenched in pop culture for almost half a century. We’re talking, of course, about the 1966 Batman TV show.
People often dismiss 1966 Batman as being too campy. However, as goofy as the show is, it is often genuinely entertaining precisely because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. These live-action adventures of Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) originally aired on ABC for three seasons and 120 episodes, proving that the superhero genre can succeed outside of children’s comic books. With the unrelenting grimness of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still lingering in our minds, it’s just the right time to cheer ourselves up with a list of 12 Reasons Why The Batman TV Show Is Still Fun.
12. Comic Book Look
On frequent explanation behind Batman‘s campy tone is that the show’s producer, William Dozier, hated the comic book and deliberately turned the TV show into a parody. This argument does a great disservice to the show’s writers who, especially in its first season, turned a number of Batman comic books into scripts. For better or worse, the Batman TV show is a fairly accurate reflection of the colorful 1960s version of the Batman comic books.
This adherence to the source material extends to the look of the show itself. Batman is all about primary colors: reds, greens, blues and yellows. Interior sets are often large yet eerily empty, making them appear like a comic book panel come to life. Gotham City itself never feels like anything more than a studio set. Many of these decisions were a result of a limited budget, but were turned into a deliberate aesthetic mimicking the style of the comic books. It was only in the later seasons, when Batman‘s ratings plummeted, that the show’s sets got really cheap and shoddy.
11. Labels, Labels Everywhere!
SECRET ENTRANCE TO CATLAIR WEST!
One of the many running gags of Batman are the numerous labels. Everything on the show is labeled: buildings, entrances, exits, gadgets, traps and henchmen. There’s an entire Twitter account solely devoted to the screenshots of various labels featured in the show.
As a result, Batman‘s sets look as if they were created by a deranged set designer with a compulsive need to label stage props. Not only are these labels everywhere, but they’re also hilariously precise: there are labels for things like “Surprise Attack Defense Panels,” “Sub-Zero Temperature Vaporizing Cabinets,” “Rare Old Books on the Treasures of the Inkas” and “Automatic Batalarm for Detecting Phone Detecting Equipment.” This gag fits nicely with the show’s silly tone as well as with its comic book-inspired visual style. It’s also goes hand in hand with a next item on our list which concerns…
10. Bat Gadgets
Robin: Where’d you get a live fish, Batman?
Batman: The true crimefighter always carries everything he needs in his utility belt, Robin.
Although Batman is ostensibly just an ordinary human (albeit a very rich one), we all know that his true super power is the ability to be ridiculously over-prepared for every eventuality. The TV show deliberately takes this to the extreme, providing The Caped Crusader with all kinds of gizmos and gadgets that are oddly specific, yet really handy, for whatever obstacle gets thrown by the plot at our heroes.
Bat Lab, Bat Computer, Bat Ladder and even Bat Ear-Plugs make at least some kind of sense. But what are we to make of the Three-Dimensional Bat Restorer, Home Dry Bat-Cleaning Plant or the four different kinds of fish repellant? Naturally, all of these are meticulously labeled, either by Batman himself or by his faithful butler Alfred (Alan Napier). And then there’s the Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service – a group of guys in a van whose sole job is to pick up dropped parachutes used by the Batmobile for quick turns.
9. Dynamic Duo
Robin: You can’t get away from Batman that easy!
Batman: Good grammar is essential, Robin.
Robin: Thank you.
Batman: You’re welcome.
In a show full of cartoonish villains, Adam West and Burt Ward faced a thankless task of playing plain old boring crime fighters. It is a testament to their comedic talent that they both rise to the occasion and manage to make both Batman and Robin entertaining in their own way.
West and Ward take the master/apprentice dynamic of Batman and Robin and turn it into a parody. West’s Batman/Bruce Wayne regularly chides Boy Wonder for minor infractions, stopping mid-chase to deliver an utterly deadpan lesson about an importance of good grammar. Ward takes an opposite approach and plays Robin/Dick Grayson as an earnest do-gooder. He does a great job of chewing the scenery all by himself whenever the show’s villains aren’t around. Robin’s catchphrase “Holy _______ (insert random word here)” has rightfully became a part of the Internet vocabulary.
8. This Public Service Announcement Brought to You by Batman
Batman: Better put 5 cents in the meter.
Robin: No policeman’s going to give the Batmobile a ticket.
Batman: This money goes to building better roads. We all must do our part.
Remember how seemingly every Saturday morning cartoon ended up with the heroes explaining how important it was to respect your parents, do your homework and eat plenty of vegetables? Even then it was quite obvious that these messages were placed there merely so that the producers can pretend like their cheaply-made cartoons are something more than a 20-minutes long toy ads.
Batman did the same thing decades earlier and much funnier. As we already mentioned, Dark Knight never misses an opportunity to pontificate to Robin on the virtues of hard work, classical education, knowledge, civic responsibility or dental hygiene. If it all makes Batman sound a bit like a pompous jerk, it’s quite possible what both the show’s writers and Adam West’s are going for. Once again, we cannot praise enough West’s deadpan delivery of even the silliest lines.
7. Ridiculous Riddles
Commissioner Gordon: What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?
Robin: A sparrow with a machine gun!
If Batman‘s set designer is obsessed with labels, villains of the show have similar compulsive need to drop cryptic clues and announce their overly-elaborate plans in riddles. Watching the show as a kid, you might have even been awed with the way the World’s Greatest Detective solved even the most befuddling riddle posed to him by the villain of the week.
It’s only when watching the show as a grown-up that you realize how nonsensical all of these riddles, puzzles and clues really are. But as with everything else in Batman, that’s the joke. There’s really no need for all of these riddles aside for characters like The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) whose whole shtick is asking annoying questions. But as a way of moving the plot forward, riddles were quite an efficient plot device, even if increasingly formulaic.
6. The Cliffhangers
Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!
You’re twelve and you’re watching Batman on TV. Evil Chandell (played by the famous pianist Liberace) has just captured Dynamic Duo and strapped them onto a giant paper punching machine that produces player piano music. How will our heroes escape their predicament? Well, tough luck, because the episode is over. Unfortunately, you miss the second episode and, with the Internet not being invented yet, you have no way of knowing how did Batman and Robin survive.
Over-the-top cliffhangers are the staple of the show. One episode ends with our heroes trapped within a giant hourglass. In other, Batman and Robin almost get turned into a pineapple-flavored frozen beverage. In yet another one, Joker (Cesar Romero) wants to feed them to a giant clam. Naturally, the Dynamic Duo always finds some utterly ridiculous way of escaping certain death. For example, in the episode with a paper punching machine, our heroes confuse it by singing the exact notes needed that make the machine punch holes around the outlines of their bodies. See? That totally makes sense!
5. The Batmobile
To the Batmobile!
There have been several Batmobiles over the last couple of decades. The one in Tim Burton’s Batman movies is all about style and Art Deco. The Tumbler from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy looks a bit like a bunker on wheels. The ones in Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies… Well, let’s not talk about those movies, shall we?
1966 version of Batmobile was originally developed in mid-1950s as a concept car called Lincoln Futura. The car was built manually in Italy at a cost of $250,000, which would, adjusted for inflation, be more than $2 million today. The car was bought four years later by auto customizer George Barris for a single dollar. In 1966 Barris customized Futura into a Batmobile. In the world of the Batman TV show, the Batmobile comes equipped with a Batscope, a Batphone, Bat Smoke and whole bunch of other gizmos with names that begin with “Bat.” One thing it does lack, however, is roof. Luckily, in Gotham City there is no rain.
4. The Music
Everyone and their grandma can recognize the opening credits of the Batman TV show. Its lyrics consist out of a single word: “Batman.” This earworm of a theme was originally made by the composer Neal Hefti using a chorus of eight singers, bass guitar, trumpets and percussion. Yet, as simple and silly as the Batman theme is, it proved itself insanely catchy. Throughout the decades, a number of artists sampled and spoofed Hefti’s theme including The Who, The Kinks, Prince, Snoop Dogg and R.E.M.
Batman itself has the swingiest, jazziest soundtrack this side of Peter Gunn. In the premiere episode, even the Caped Crusader can’t resist the allure of music and starts shaking his cape. A new dance was born: the Batusi. The most memorable appearance of the Batusi followed some thirty years later in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, in a dance scene featuring John Travolta and Uma Thurman.
3. Batman vs Bruce Lee
POW! BIF! BAM! SOK! BLAP!
The fight scenes in Batman are mostly remembered today because of the comic book sound effects that are fairly… shall we say, creative? They are utterly pointless on the TV show, yet they contribute to the show’s goofy sense of fun. Fights are frequent: each Batman episode features at least one scene in which our heroes fight, kick and punch the villain’s henchmen. If there is a chandelier in the scene, you know that, at some moment during the fight, someone is going to swing from it. If there is a buckle, you know it’s going to be swashed.
The success of Batman led to Green Hornet – another ABC TV show based on adventures of a popular crime fighter. And while Green Hornet is played by actor Van Williams, his sidekick Kato is played by the young Bruce Lee. In the second season cross-over episode The Batman’s Satisfaction, Dynamic Duo mistakes Green Hornet and Kato for criminals and gets into an epic fight with them. And although the fight ends in a draw, we all know that Bruce Lee could have easily wiped the floor with all of them.
2. Rogues Gallery
Today Gotham City – Tomorrow the World
It’s widely considered that Batman has one of the best rogues gallery of all the superheroes. It’s a credit to the Batman TV show that it recognizes that and uses it to its advantage. Joker is played by Cesar Romero, who infamously refused to shave his moustache for the role, hiding it instead under the make-up. But he is so good in his role that he even influenced Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in Tim Burton’s Batman. Frank Gorshin managed to get nominated for an Emmy with his manic performance as the villain Riddler. Burgess Meredith provides an iconic performance as The Penguin and appears in more than twenty episodes of the show.
There are other note-worthy performances as well. Julie Newmar is sizzling hot as Catwoman. After she left the show, her role was taken by the charismatic singer and actress Eartha Kitt. Throughout the show, three different performers play villainous Mr. Freeze: Academy Award-winning British actor George Sanders, Hollywood director Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach, best known for his role of Tuco in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the horror movie legend Vincent Price also appears on Batman, playing eccentric villain Egghead.
1. The Flash Gordon Connection
The Batman TV show was developed by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. A veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Semple worked on some of the finest political thrillers of the 1970s, like Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View and Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor. He also helped co-write the drama Papillon starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
Besides developing Batman, Semple is behind another camp classic: the 1980 movie adaptation of Flash Gordon. Batman and Flash Gordon share many similarities: they’re both tongue-in-cheek celebrations of the classic 1930s comic books they’re based on. Both of them feature cheesy special effects, scenery-chewing performances by great actors and an absolutely classic opening theme. With that in mind and knowing that there are numerous fans of Flash Gordon movie among the Screen Rant readers – Admit it! – you own it to yourself to at least try watching couple of episodes of the 1966 Batman TV show. Approach it with an open mind and an open heart and you too can experience its wonders.
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