On January 12, 1966, the world was changed forever. No, a war didn’t occur, a president wasn’t brought into office or anything like that; on that date came the first episode of the Adam West and Burt Ward TV series… Batman.
Now, no matter who you are, you’ve heard of this series in one way or the other. Perhaps you watched it when it was on the air or you recognize some of the classic themes and lines for the series. For the newest generation, you might recognize that there is a comic book called Batman ’66, which continues the adventures that this TV series started. Regardless of how you know it, this series is an all-time classic.
But why is it an all-time classic? Because a LOT of things it did were either so funny, so unbelievable, and yes, sometimes so epic, that it has stood the test of time. If you don’t believe that, just look at the picture above. Which is the cover of the entire series collection. A multitude of fans have been BEGGING for this show to be released in its entirety on DVD/Blu-Ray, and now it has. And after rewatching all 120 episodes, I’m happy to sit here and review it. So…to the Batpoles!
Ok, I want to start off with the bad first, I know this might seem strange, but it’s because I feel it’s best to get it out of the way so that we can get to the fun stuff later!
First off, yes, this show is as campy as you remember. It features numerous winks, nods, fourth wall breaking (mainly by Commissioner Gordon), overt moral lessons (fasten your seatbelts, kids!) and more. Is this bad? No, not really, but it will make the younger generation wonder how this series lasted for 120 episodes. For those who enjoyed this series the first time, and want to relive this glorious series, you can laugh along with it.
The real bad parts of the Batman ’66 TV series is really in how it hasn’t aged well. I don’t mean by looks, I mean by how certain characters are portrayed, and how a gender is more or less abused. Let’s start off with the former. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara are pretty much incompetent. I mean that of course in the best way possible…
But seriously, no matter what the crime, or the villain, it always seems like they call Batman and Robin, and they freak out if they can’t reach them. In one episode for example, Batman and Robin are away on social matters (aka Bruce and Dick are out with friends) and thus can’t help them prevent a robbery. To their horror they have to deal with it themselves! What follows is easily the biggest overblown scene in the entire series, featuring cops in trenches (inside a building), fingerprint checks, and lots and lots of machine guns. Gordon and O’Hara repeatedly make reference to how they would be doomed without Batman and Robin. And yet, people keep referring to the “greatness and efficiency” of the Gotham City Police Department…when did that become a thing?
Furthermore, the series makes some major faux pas in what we now call “political correctness”. In one episode, there is a Native American named Chief Screaming Chicken (I kid you not), who is referred to by many inappropriate names (Redskin, etc.) and is made to sound like an idiot. You could not do that nowadays. Then there’s how the women are portrayed in the series. Almost every gang has a female on the crew. For the first two seasons, 9/10 of all of them fall for Batman. In fact, many of them defect because they fall for Batman’s “good looks”. What does that say?
Truly though, the most demeaning episode in regards to women in the series is in season 3 when a woman (through trickery) becomes Police Commissioner. She then fires all the male officers, and hires females in their stead. Nothing wrong with that, right? Exactly… until you see how the women are portrayed as officers. Instead of doing their job, they’re shown talking about clothes, gossiping, and other things you know are stereotypes of women. Then for the topper, they refuse to do their jobs for one reason or another, and they all feint with mice appears. Yep.
To be clear though, not ALL the women are this helpless. Catwoman, Batgirl, Marsha Queen of Diamonds are all competent. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
Finally, the third season honestly is lacking in comparison to the other two. The show was losing ratings at the time, so they tried to change up the formula by running once a week, having more self-contained episodes, and adding Batgirl. While some of these changes were nice, others weren’t, and you could feel as if something was truly missing from the series. Fans no doubt noticed, as the show was cancelled after season 3.
Holy Sadness Batman!
Ok, now that I got that out of my system…let’s get on to the good! Trust me, there’s a lot of good here.
Despite everything I said above, this series is indeed a blast to watch. The first two seasons alone are worth the price. Season 3 has its moments, but the first two are truly the best.
It’s almost hard to explain why this series is so fun. Maybe it’s because it’s a complete contrast to what we see now in regards to Batman. If you say, “tell me about Batman”, you’ll probably see someone do the Christian Bale voice, talk about how “he is vengeance, he is the night!”, how he’s this dark, brooding character, etc. Yet when you watch Batman ’66, you see something totally different.
This Batman has bright colors, he openly works with the GCPD (in contrast to other shows and movies where it’s more secretive), in fact they make mention numerous times that Batman and Robin are duly deputized citizens of the law. Which is why their arrests are allowed to stick. And though he is a crimefighter, he doesn’t wish to do unnecessary harm onto villains unless the situation arises. He really does believe people, even if they don’t deserve it.
In fact, one thing I truly realized about this series is just how good a Batman Adam West is. It’s a sad fact that he has been type-cast since this series aired. For a long time (to this day, even), all people saw when they looked at Adam West was Batman. This actually hurt him, as he wanted to be seen as more than that. Though I certainly sympathize with what happened to him, I can certainly understand why they remember him as Batman; he was awesome!
Smart, diverse in his skills, able to deduce clues near instantly, near perfect memory, numerous fighting styles and more! Adam West’s Batman had it all. You’ll be amazed by what this Batman can do, and what he knows. Yes, technically this is all due to scripts and good writing, fine, but Adam West sells it oh so well.
Furthermore, unlike other Batman series, Bruce Wayne gets ample screen time as well. This, I think, is overlooked because it’s Batman, but Bruce Wayne has numerous great moments here. Including the fact that this version of Bruce Wayne is easily the most charitable, kind, and friendly version I think I’ve ever seen of the character. Not only does he give back to Gotham City, he’s constantly trying to improve it. More than that, through his adventures in crimefighting, he’s constantly trying to reform criminals. Including one time electing to be Catwoman’s parole officer, and sending a wayward student to a reform school so they didn’t have to go to prison. It’s the little things like this that makes shows like Batman ’66 so memorable.
Let’s not forget about Robin though! True, he’s never been more of a sidekick than in Batman ’66, he is not incompetent at all. Spry, spunky, quick with the one-liners (as proven above), but also intelligent and eager to give justice where it’s needed, Robin really helps make this show. In fact, one of the very cool things in my opinion is the mentor-pupil relationship between Bruce and Dick. You can truly see that Bruce is training Dick to be the next Batman, and it shows, as numerous skills are rubbed off on him, including being able to deduce what Batman can’t at times.
An unexpected joy in this series is Alfred. While he simply starts out as the butler who answers the phone “I’ll summon him, sir”, he soon becomes an invaluable part of the team. He constantly puts his life on the line to help Batman and Robin, and he even becomes a sidekick of sorts to Batgirl in Season 3. Alfred is always trying to do his best to help Batman and Robin, and it ends up leading to some very funny and epic moments.
But what’s a show without villains, right? Many may be surprised as they revisit Batman ’66 to see just how many villains were on the show, and how many of them were played by famous actors/actresses. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, Milton Berle, they even got Ethel Murman and Leberace! Going back a few, they got the master of horror Vincent Price to play Egghead! Easily one of the most ridiculous villains in the Batman arsenal. But you want to know a fun fact? He LOVED the role! He even started an egg fight on set one time because he was having so much fun!
That’s the true fun of these villains, just about every single one of them is played masterfully by the actors/actresses under the outfit. Burgess Meredith was a fantastic Penguin, Julie Newmar was AMAZING as Catwoman, as was Earth Kitt in Season 3! True, not all the villains were successes, but the majority were, and they always had a cool story to do with them. Some of the time, I even marveled at how brilliant some of their schemes were; they were amazing!
I feel like I’m forgetting something…ah yes! The classic moments! From the opening, to the “Holy *insert word or words here* Batman”, and more, Batman ’66 is easily remembered most for its fight scenes. Most of the time they’re open room brawls that were both unique and hilarious. Especially when after a hit was landed you would see a “BAM!”, “POW!”, “SPLAT!”, etc show up on screen.
Some actually criticized this when it first happened, but as true fans note, this is almost exactly what happens in the comics when a superhero lands a punch or kick. It’s good stuff. What’s really fun is that, though every fight scene looks the same in some aspects, they do get really clever in some of the take-downs. Furthermore, Batman and Robin don’t win every round, further cementing the “realism” of it all.
As I wrap up, I want to note the joy I’ve had in making this review. This series was amazing to rewatch, and I’m glad I got to (for the record, I got this as a gift for Christmas, and I didn’t even ask for it!). As a life-long Batman fan, this was pure joy and I’m to have been able to experience it again.
Is it cheesy? Sure. Is it campy? Yes! But is it a true testament to what old-school TV was like? Absolutely! Will Batman fans enjoy this? I don’t see why not! So come on, take a trip down memory lane, enjoy some pure fun and watch Batman ’66. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.