5 Reasons the '60s Batman TV Show Is Better Than You Think

More so than with any other superhero, fans are very protective of their favorite version of Batman. Just going on more than one website will reveal that your personal pick for preferred interpretation of the Caped Crusader is, at best, a thought crime and, at worst, something worth posting a meme about. Stating that one of the best portrayals of the character is Adam West's is like going to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 and announcing that you can float.

The '60s Batman series is constantly deemed the worst superhero show ever, usually by people who have watched a very limited amount of it. Viewing more than just two-minute videos of Batman dancing on YouTube will lead you to discover that the show is savagely awesome, with a lot of facets that are commonly ignored. So let me take you on a journey past the realm of POW and WHAM and show you the true beauty of a misunderstood classic. I'm your Bat-suit-wearing Jesus, friends.

#5. It's All Tongue-in-Cheek

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution

In the 1980s, comic writer and celebrated maker of frowny faces at hippies Frank Miller decided that Bruce Wayne needed to be a sociopathic, militant genius, who'd made it his mission to recruit multiple children in a suicidal run toward a lower crime rate. Since then, the idea of a dark and gritty Batman has been shoved down our throats at every opportunity. It's had its high points, like Batman: The Animated Series and The Dark Knight, but it's also had numerous downsides, like ceaseless jokes about nipples on the Batman costume.

Warner Bros.
Like this one. *Play for full effect*

Batman & Robin is a terrible movie and should be ashamed of itself. But, if we weren't so fixated on having Batman be as depressingly cynical as possible, we wouldn't have to hear the same joke about rubber tits every time someone says, "You won't put me in the cooler!" with the accent of a drunk Austrian man doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. Batman & Robin could've silently died, and we all could've been spared hundreds of reminders of just how hilarious and goofy it is that someone saw Batman's chest and decided, "Hey. That should look more like a chest."

Because of our preconceived Bat-notions, people watch a clip of '60s Batman and assume that it's some television experiment gone horribly wrong. It was nominated for an Emmy for best comedy in 1966, but history has revised it as people with the best intentions of creating a serious Batman show slipping up somehow and producing the exact opposite thing. God, people in 1966 were idiots! Didn't they know that making everything colorful isn't the way to go about delivering a moody billionaire's fight against evil? How widespread was fetal alcohol syndrome among the writers of '60s superhero television?

In the first episode of Batman, Batman goes into a club in full costume, dances with The Riddler's hot henchwoman, has his orange juice drugged, and then stumbles back out to his car. Or, he experiences, as David Hasselhoff would call it, Monday morning:

Police find Batman draped over his steering wheel and take his keys away. Batman, recognizing that it isn't safe to drive your nitro car when you're this sloshed and bearing a ceaseless hard-on for upholding the law, gives his keys away without a fight:


"Your B.A.C. says you're at twice the legal limit!"
"My B.A.T. says I need some fuckin' HASH. BROWNS."

Also, the main plot of this episode deals with The Riddler suing Batman over false arrests. Everything about those last few sentences reads "Hey, guys. Let's make a funny show about Batman!" and not "We tried to make a dramatic superhero show, but we were just toooooo stupid. And could you show me that cool use-a-fork-to-eat trick again?" To look at that and decide that it's a vain attempt at creating an entirely different kind of TV show is being willfully ignorant of the principles of logic.

#4. The Performances Are Awesome

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The comedy in live-action Batman stuff has always been a mixed bag. Tim Burton's Batman features newspaper reporter Alexander Knox, whose comic timing can best be described as "For fuck's sake, Knox." Batman Returns has Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken to pick up the slack. I wouldn't wish Batman Forever on anyone, and Batman & Robin is funny because its dialogue is pure, made-for-a-drinking-game, train-wreck perfection. Christopher Nolan is a talented director, but he delivers humor in the same way that I fix household appliances. He doesn't really get HOW, but that's certainly not going to stop him from putting "Now this is REALLY not good!" into the mouths of every cop with a paunch. Also, my microwave is almost ludicrously broken. Someone, send help. Kicking it hasn't worked once.

On the other end of the quip spectrum is '60s Batman, which excels at being self-aware and is often hilarious. It's got good writing, but coming from the lips of anyone else, it would be a parade of nonsense and a declaration of war against giggling. Add to this the show's numerous guest stars -- including Vincent Price as Egghead, a role he was born for, as he seems to literally taste every line he utters -- and you have a group that usually slumps only when it's the fault of a non-actor. This is especially evident in the third season, when the budget for the show was cut, and the opening to every scene in the script reads "INT: SAME CLAUSTROPHOBIC ROOM AS EARLIER."

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution
They had to use a bald cap because they couldn't afford razors to shave him every day.

Somehow, there managed to be a shining beacon in this sea of goddamn delight, and it was Frank Gorshin's Emmy-nominated performance as The Riddler. Gorshin is constantly moving and twitching in his loving tribute to kinetic energy, and he seems to be constantly daring the camera and the unlucky people cast as his henchman to keep up with him. The show's biggest plot twist is that -- and I hate to spoil it for you -- they can't.

Before the guys dressed in a matching color scheme have the time to utter, "Yeah, boss," Gorshin has already done three full laps around the set. Each of his appearances are hidden calisthenics lessons, and every line of Gorshin's dialogue has the cadence of a man who's just learned that the fate of his job rests on the next word that he says. What is always tired, yet always pleased? Holy ignited loins, Batman! It's Frank Gorshin's wife! His Riddler is one of the top performances in superhero history, but it's rarely mentioned anymore because, you know, haha, the screen says "CRACK!" when a guy falls down.

As Bruce Wayne, Adam West's main facial expression is "Yeah, I'm secretly Batman. How cool is that? I know. I know. But you DON'T know." As Batman, he anchors the entire show, and he's the perfect example of how to be the straight man without sacrificing the audience's interest in you.

It would've been easy to hire a Batman that was simply content with letting Cesar Romero's Joker laugh in his face while he spoke random generalizations about justice. But those generalizations become effortlessly quotable when spoken by West, with his smugly cool way of letting the mentally unstable know that they'll be spending the night in the Gotham Penitentiary, and with his whiskey-smooth voice. Unless they're pesky Aunt Harriet, the show makes a habit of letting you know that the ladies of Gotham have a Top 2 list for whom they'd like to bang, and it's: 1) Batman, and 2) Bruce Wayne, but if he's not available, then Batman. Adam West's pheromones have not yet been properly researched, but that's because no scientist can be in the same building as him without asking if he's seeing anyone.

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution
No comedy writer either ...

#3. Every Episode Is Purely Satisfying

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Most of Batman's plots follow this structure: a villain does something that pisses everyone off. Commissioner Gordon and the poor, constantly overwhelmed Chief O'Hara decide that they are out of their depth when it comes to handling the umbrella or cat-themed crime wave that's currently plaguing Gotham. This is especially true for O'Hara, whose immediate response to all crime is instant flaccidity. Also, the actor who plays him can do an Irish accent with grating regularity, so he adds a little bit of ethnic diversity.

Then, using a red Bat-phone, Gordon calls up Batman and Robin. Dick Grayson is usually seen attempting to learn some new skill, like a foreign language or the piano. And, if you've never read a Batman comic, this may come as a surprise, but Dick Grayson fucking hates learning. He tries out new things, just so he has an excuse to complain about it two seconds later. Bruce then feeds him a line about how much good he's doing for the world by mastering that skill, and Dick realizes that he needs to stop being such an impatient moron and actually practice for once.

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution
"Stop acting like your name, dear."

Bruce and Dick hear that crime is afoot from Alfred (played by Alan Napier, who towers, god-like, over a world that consists solely of 5-foot-10 men), so they change into their costumes and attempt to stop it. The first two or three attempts hardly ever work, as Batman rarely hits his stride until Plan D or E, which leads to the cliffhanger that always ends the first episode of the story. In the next episode, Batman and Robin are able to finally stop the villain of the week, with the moral always being "Don't be stupid and full of crime. Be perfect and attractive to everyone, like Bruce Wayne."

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution
I- I'm sorry; where was I?

One would think that you'd easily tire of this format. This is every episode? What about the ones with melancholy endings where Batman is forced to face his own mortality or question his tactics? Where is the ending where Bruce wonders about whether or not he's living up to the legacy of his parents? The surprising thing about Batman is that it doesn't need to be changed, because the show's creators have worked out a very clear system for keeping every episode captivating. They take the story skeleton that I just described, and fill it with as many jokes, character moments, and action set-pieces as possible.

20th Century Fox Television/Warner Bros. Television Distribution
And end with all three at the same time.

There's no denying that it's a formulaic approach, but it isn't a lazy one. You never feel like the producers of the show are sitting above you, laughing at how stupid you are for falling into their trap of watching the same damn thing, week after week. You know exactly what to expect, but the fun comes from how it's all put together. And it never needs a jarring shift into "And this episode is about the uncontrollable misery that permeates all layers of existence!" territory.

The narrative structure of Batman sucks only if you're the type of person who adheres to that shitty "Everything has been done before!" frame of thinking. It's that theory that has given us hundreds of unsatisfying plots and thousands of movies that deny their viewers even the most basic feelings of excitement. Shows have emotional arcs for a reason, with highs and lows that manipulate the audience into getting invested more heavily in the plights of characters. But no, please, keep trying to do something "better" than the "overdone" stories that have been extremely successful for as long as works of fiction have had Point A's and Point B's. And when Breaking Bad is remade as a movie in 2030, Walter White can die of cancer and Jesse can stay trapped in abused servitude for the rest of eternity, all for the sake of the "If the storytelling isn't radical, vague, and pointless, it isn't worth doing" mantra.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

Daniel Dockery

  • Rss

More by Daniel Dockery:

See More
To turn on reply notifications, click here

674 Comments

The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!