Batman (1966) Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Batman
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 34 (half-hour episodes)
  • Discs: 5 
  • Network: ABC (US)
  • Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Alan Napier, Madge Blake, Neil Hamilton
  • Format: Standard, Technicolor, DVD, NTSC

Batman – in Color, and boy is it! The 1966 television series is filmed in Technicolor, and the colors are extremely bright – almost cartoonish. Oddly enough, this wasn’t part of the “camp” nature of the Batman television show – it was a result of the Technicolor process – which produced strong jewel-tone colors, especially in the bright California sun of Hollywood back lots, or under extremely bright studio lights. Everything about Batman is bright: the sets, the costumes, the occasional locations – it’s all very storybook, and the same you would see in other early Technicolor films (such as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, or Singin’ in the Rain) and early American color television (everything from I Dream of Jeannie to The Wild Wild West, even Classic Star Trek). Once you realize that at the time that the show was made everything looked like that – the colors are a bit less garish.  However, it’s still jarring and takes awhile to get used to if you’ve been watching any modern television recently.

The first season of Batman actually is very, very formulaic. Most episodes start with a crime committed by a supervillain such as the Riddler, the Joker, the Penguin, or in this season one time villains (some of which would return in subsequent seasons), Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara discuss the villain and the crime (mostly stating that the case is too difficult for the police) and they then use the red hot line phone to call Batman. The phone is answered by Alfred, who alerts Bruce Wayne, who makes an excuse to Aunt Harriet. Bruce, in his Batman voice, answers the phone and he and Dick rush to the Bat Poles, then to the Batmobile and the Commissioner’s office. They get an update, and start to investigate clues (either provided by the villain himself or going to the scene of the crime etc.). There’s almost always a fist fight between Batman and the villain and his goons, but the villain himself gets away. Part 1 ends with the caped crusader and the boy wonder in a elaborate death trap. Sometimes Robin only is taken by the villain and is in a death trap by himself. Part II – opens by resolving the cliffhanger, additional crimes and clues, a huge fist fight with the villain and his lackies, and Batman defeating everyone and having the villain taken to jail by the police. Many episodes had the villain have a female underling used as a distraction – and the coda of the episode would show her getting help to reform from the Wayne Foundation.

In nearly every episode, Batman would also deliver some sort of positive civics lesson, or safety message, or even encouragement in education to Dick Grayson (and the show’s audience). So if Dick were to complain that he couldn’t learn Latin or Italian, Batman (or Bruce Wayne) would answer how important it was to learn other languages to understand different people and other cultures. Other lessons were on rarer occasions taught more practically, such as Batman using geometry to triangulate the position of a radio signal. Or Batman figuring out a clue by his knowledge of French, Spanish, Italian, Spanish, etc.

However, the only time we see a gag that later became famous, a famous person sticking there head out the window as Batman and Robin climb the wall is in a episode towards the end of the season. The celebrity is Jerry Lewis – but that is the only time the gag is used in the entire season.

One story I did find interesting and a bit different (though it followed the format described above) was, “The Joker Goes to School”/”He Meets His Match, the Grisly Ghoul”. Joker buys a vending machine and novelty company, and places the machines in Dick’s high school. But the machines are rigged – put in a dime for milk, get a fistful of silver dollars (like a slot machine paying off). The Joker’s female assistant is the high school head cheerleader, and his plan is to lure the high schoolers into dropping out of school and living the “easy high life” from the machines. Yes, it makes no sense. But we also get to both see Dick at high school, and see him try to go undercover to find out more about the high school gang. Dick in his black leather jacket, calling the girls “babe” and even attempting to smoke a cigarette is both fun and a little outside the norm for this show (we rarely see either Dick or Bruce undercover, though Bruce uses his position as a “famous millionaire” to occasional pick up information or set traps for the villain.

The Batmobile is stolen by a villain four times in this series. You’d think Batman would learn – though he always gets it back, and stealing the Batmobile is a pretty good way to get caught. This series also features as regulars: Commissioner Gordon, Chief O’Hara (played with a very offensive “Leprechaun” Irish accent), Alfred, and Aunt Harriet (apparently she’s Dick’s Aunt – and this being a 60s show, she’s there to cook and clean for Bruce and Dick. Poor Alfred, meanwhile, seems to only be there to answer the Batphone – though he does occasionally get involved in Batman’s work.) Bruce Wayne (Not Batman) is kidnapped once, with the villain demanding Batman deliver the ransom. Bruce cleverly rescues himself. Dick’s kidnapped once, and as mentioned above, Robin is kidnapped often.

Overall, though, even though it’s much different than the more serious Batman adventures we are used to now (even Batman: The Animated Series for the most part takes the character much more seriously than this series). West and Ward actually play their roles pretty straight. And it’s got a 60s vibe that brings to mind other series from the roughly same time period: The Avengers (the British series with Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg – no relation to Marvel Comics), The Prisoner, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West. Overall, I enjoyed it and will probably at some point purchase the next two seasons.

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