Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Burt Ward as Robin
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (season 3)
Alan Napier as Alfred
Madge Blake as Harriet Cooper
Neil Hamilton as Commisioner Gordon
Stafford Repp as Chief O’Hara
I’m not sure how relevant this review is. Although it was quite the success back in the day, the Batman franchise has long since reverted to the dark version that existed before the 1950s and has never looked back. Actually, the fact that this character ever lightened up at all is really a product of the Comics Code Authority that forced darkness out of the comic books based on fears that they were ruining the youth. So the direction this show took is kind of a fluke of history.
But legend has it that this show actually saved the brand. Believe it or not, Batman’s popularity was at a very low swing for much of the 1960s and DC Comics was thinking of cancelling all his books. When the TV series became a hit, though, the sales of the comics surged to a level not seen in a very long time. So without Adam West and Burt Ward, it’s possible that Tim Burton’s Batman never gets made, there’s no Animated Series, forget about The Dark Knight trilogy, and don’t even think there would be the upcoming crossover with Superman.
In short, the history of superheroes on TV and the big screen would look a Hell of a lot different.
Every episode’s plot is basically the same. Some villain is causing trouble so Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara call Batman and Robin on the Batphone. The Caped Crusaders then spring into action.
The performances add humor. Adam West and Burt Ward (the former of which now plays the crazy, senile, Mayor West to perfection on Family Guy) are delightfully over the top, particularly Ward’s “Holy ____.” Whoever the villain of the week is usually also plays well. This is particularly true of The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and Riddler. Each of these frequent villains had a little fun fact.
Joker: Cesar Romero refused to shave off his mustache. They had to tape it flat before the face paint went on. That couldn’t have been comfortable.
Penguin: Burgess Meredith’s “wak-wak-wak” squawking wasn’t just another gag. No, he was a non-smoker playing a smoker, so the squawking was in case he needed to cover up coughing.
Catwoman: Julie Newmar took off during the third season, to be replaced by the black Eartha Kitt. Not only that, Kitt was a lot shorter and since interracial relationships couldn’t sell so soon after Jim Crow ended, the romantic tension built up between Bats and Cats over the first two seasons was gone. I guess we just had to tell ourselves that this was the same character. Kitt did add great cat-like voices and purring sounds to the role, though.
Riddler: Frank Gorshin was busy. Busy enough that he had to bail on four episodes. John Astin subbed for two of these. They made up a new villain, The Puzzler, for the other two.
There are two more things to talk about that are easily the most recognizable features of this show.
The first is, of course, the fights. It’s Batman, Robin, and when she turns up, Batgirl beating up bad guys with huge letters spelling out “BAM,” “POW,” “BIFF,” or “ZAP” (how do even get “zap out of a punch or kick). Christ, that sounds horrible, but it’s executed well. You really have to see it to know how funny it was.
The other is the bat-trap cliffhangers followed by hysterical expositions by narrator William Dozier. Even in the third season, which mostly switched to a one-part format, they squeezed quite a few in. These are really exciting parts with the peril our heroes are in. Of course, after I had been burned by putting Batman and Robin in death machines once, I’d have just done a quick kill.
Yes, Batman is essentially a parody that bears no resemblance to any version of the character for almost thirty years, but even today it’s fun to watch. Just don’t expect it be serious like the Batman we’ve come to expect.
Overall: 8 out of 10