Batman 1.15 – The Joker Goes to School

It doesn’t take too much reading about Batman to run across a reference to it being “campy,” but the term is so often misapplied that you’re pretty likely to find references to comic books, generally, being campy. The first seven stories are certainly examples of pop art, but, perhaps as the producers were making them in a vacuum, without public reaction to their work, the tone is sometimes a little uneven, and the plots more varied.

By the time of “The Joker Goes to School,” which aired in March 1966, they were getting feedback and finding their feet, and the first evidence of really amazingly silly highwire comedy peeks out. Here, Adam West is playing cold fury at tiny moral outrages. He can’t arrest the Joker on school grounds because he hasn’t been proved to have done anything yet, and can’t even bust him for loitering, because, as the Joker reminds him, Gotham City’s statutes on loitering require the culprit to remain in the same spot for two full minutes. “You… you jailhouse lawyer,” he fumes, impotently.

The Joker’s plot, meanwhile, is built around tempting high school students into becoming truants and dropouts. He’s filled the milk machines and coffee dispensers in Woodrow Roosevelt High with silver dollars and quarters, instantaneously inspiring the entire student body, every one of whom has stayed after school, to low morale and despondency in a single afternoon, because who needs to study when you can live your life hoping for the next milk machine to give you twenty bucks for a dime? There’s bound to be another one out there somewhere!

Stay in school, kiddies! Batman says so!

H.R. Pufnstuf 1.8 – The Horse With the Golden Throat

This episode is absolutely hilarious! Daniel and I laughed up a storm during it.

So this time out, Jimmy absent-mindedly sets Freddie down on a stack of carrots that the Polka-Dotted Horse is eating. The horse swallows Freddie, wacky hijinks ensue. Except these really are funny. Highlights include the Peter Lorre Evil Tree finally telling the Bela Lugosi Evil Tree to knock off the poetry, already, and the ridiculous and wonderful resolution to the problem.

See, Dr. Blinky’s fireplace – that’s him in the back of the picture above, he talks like Edward G. Robinson – insists that he knows how to get Freddie out of the horse, but Blinky shushes him. Then Witchiepoo shows up, claiming that Seymour is deathly ill, leading Dr. Blinky outside, so the fireplace can explain his plan to Pufnstuf and Jimmy. It’s a simple plan: flood the house with smoke and make him cough it up.

Even expecting smoke, and for things to go somewhat askew, the volume of smoke that instantly fills the set is really freaking hilarious.

Some gags get repeated this week – Orson knocked out by a zapped lamp, Witchiepoo’s clothes being sneezed off by the house – but I’m pretty sure that any four year-old watching this didn’t mind one bit. What a little gem of a story.

Thunderbirds 1.7 – Vault of Death

The character above is Lillian, Lady Penelope’s cook. She’s one of exactly two amusing things about “Vault of Death,” and the other is the episode’s final scene, which is funny.

Last time out, I suggested that Lady Penelope should have had her own show. I withdraw the suggestion. This episode works exactly like a “backdoor pilot” for a Lady Penelope TV series and it’s so awful. It’s slow and it’s boring, and Daniel squirmed like a crazy person, restless for International Rescue to appear, which they finally do thirty minutes into the thing.

It’s perfectly easy to overlook logical fallacies or scientific inaccuracies when you’ve got entertaining characters doing amusing or engaging things, but Parker’s antics just annoyed me, making the plot holes impossible to ignore, and I’d really rather not waste time talking about them. I know that we’ll have some awful, awful episodes of Batman to suffer through before we’re finished, but so far this has been the worst thing we’ve watched.

Still, Daniel insisted that he enjoyed it, so it’s all good. He didn’t enjoy it as much as he did “Trapped in the Sky,” though!

Batman 1.14 – Batman Stands Pat

Well, Riddler, you have lost your crown as “most unnerving Bat-villain.” The Mad Hatter succeeded in freaking the almighty blazes out of our son tonight. Not content with dumping super-fast hardening plaster over Batman last time, he and his men had a big fight with our heroes in a room with a deathtrap machine on a conveyor belt and Daniel did not enjoy it at all.

This really struck me as unusual until I thought about it. See, the Batfight is always Daniel’s favorite part of the episode. He jumps and swings and laughs and enjoys them tremendously. But this time out, they really sold this machine as something full of spikes and blades and the Mad Hatter couldn’t wait to get Batman on it and… this gets really outre… stretch him and shrink him and turn him into a hat.

“He’s flipped his lid,” said one henchman to the other.

So now, with this silly machine firmly established as a really ugly threat, the Batfight in this room – which, incidentally, goes on forever – had Daniel on the edge of his seat, teeth clenched, security blanket in hand, and then Robin got knocked onto the darn thing and the world ended.

“I HATE the Mad Hatter! He’s worse than the Riddler!” Daniel bellowed. And he must be. The Riddler only made Daniel cry once in four episodes. The Hatter is two for two!

My daughter and I talked with Daniel about it and reminded him that Batman will always win, and always beat the bad guy, but I’ll tell you, friends, if they made a show in which Adam West and Burt Ward rescued kittens from trees, it would probably go over a little better. Thank heaven we’ve got Thunderbirds next…

Oh, and how did Batman get out of that plaster “shroud” in which he was encased last time? He held his breath until he was chipped free. Seriously.

Batman 1.13 – The Thirteenth Hat

Oh, dear! I’m afraid that Daniel was upset by the cliffhanger to this episode, the first appearance of one of Batman’s sillier foes, the Mad Hatter. Everything was going swell until the very end. Previous villains unnerved him simply by virtue of their laughs or appearance, but David Wayne’s very mannered and prissy antics didn’t frighten him.

I think he was charmed on the one hand by the Mad Hatter’s moxie – just stepping up behind people and snatching their hats from their heads, before zapping them with his mesmerizing zap-eyes in his own hat – and bored on the other, because his scheme involves taking revenge on the twelve jurors who last convicted him, and Batman, who was a witness for the prosecution, and he is four, and doesn’t know what a trial is. Nor has he seen or been read a version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland yet, so he asked “Why is he mad?” a couple of times.

It really got confusing for him when the Mad Hatter disguised himself as the sculptor Octave Marbot. He couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then he cheered and laughed when the fight started, and then everything fell apart. Mad Hatter tried to zap Batman, but our hero quickly raised a mirror to reflect the rays back. But the Mad Hatter ducked and the rays zapped Robin instead! Daniel bellowed “Oh, no!”

Distracted, Batman then got shoved against a wall and Mad Hatter yanked a chain, and Batman got drenched by super-quick hardening plaster. Daniel lost it. “NO! WHY DID HE DO THAT?!” And there were tears. It took a couple of readings of a Mo Willems book before a bath, and he got calmed down.

This episode’s lineage is a very strange one. Wikipedia notes that it’s a mash-up of three different comic book adventures, but unlike the episodes we’ve looked at so far, none of them were available as reprints for the producers to easily pick up in late 1965, and the first of them hadn’t been seen since its original appearance in 1949. I wonder where they got copies? Maybe somebody looked through DC/National’s archive after all?

On the acting front, David Wayne had been in dozens of films in the 1950s, the best known of which are probably Adam’s Rib and How to Marry a Millionaire, before spending about five years on the New York stage and making very sporadic TV and film appearances. This is kind of the career arc for many of the Bat-villains, as the major studios started deliberately scaling back the number of pictures they released each year in the sixties, and former leading men, now in their forties, found themselves less in demand and with lots of TV options available. His sidekick Lisa is played by Diane McBain, in the first of her two supporting roles as different characters in the show.

H.R. Pufnstuf 1.7 – The Birthday Party

This episode is gloriously, ridiculously silly. This time out, Witchiepoo knocks out most of the good guys with laughing gas, and leaves with Freddie, but also leaves Orson behind. He manages to gas himself and falls unconscious, face-first, into a plate of candy. Everybody else revives and finds Orson covered in candy spots and their latest rescue tactic is to convince the witch that there’s a dangerous outbreak of “redspotitis.”

So by now, we’ve pretty much got the H.R. Pufnstuf formula completely set: the witch contrives a ridiculous way to capture the flute, and the good guys contrive an even more ridiculous way to retrieve the flute. All that varies are the side jokes and occasional neat camerawork, like this one employing an uncharacteristic, high angle looking down on the party while all the good guys are dancing. Watching these in sequence, you don’t have too many surprises, but every once in a while, Hollingsworth Morse did something very unusual with his camera tricks.

And this one also has the great gag of two gargoyles in Witchiepoo’s castle so worried about “redspotitis” that they attempt to shake themselves free to run away. Their shaking brings the ceiling down on Witchiepoo and Orson.

Also of note: this is the first episode that didn’t spark any kind of frights in Daniel, even artificial ones. He grabbed his “bad guy cannon” once, to try and turn the baddies into ice, but otherwise, he stayed on the sofa and laughed and laughed.

Thunderbirds 1.6 – The Mighty Atom

Friends, I gotta tellya – I’ve heard more about the absence of Thunderbird 4 from this show than I’ve heard anything the last five weeks or so. This kid has wanted to see the yellow submersible craft so badly. Finally, he got his wish. And oddly, as I wrote in the last installment about this show, I’d reminded him of Lady Penelope and The Hood, and they all turned up in this one.

This episode’s not nearly as fun as the previous one. Everybody talks in exposition, with nuclear plant workers saying dangerous things like “nothing can possibly go wrong,” and Jeff Tracy saying to Lady Penelope about how he’s aware of what exciting adventures she’s been having. Of course, you have to buy a comic to read those; she didn’t get her own show, like she should have. The high point is Parker and Kyrano having a tug of war with the drinks tray, arguing who should serve the others.

The Hood is still unnamed in the show, because he never talks to anybody. The episode actually starts with what turns out to be a very, very lengthy prequel, set a year previously, in which The Hood, caught photographing a top secret nuclear plant in Australia, shoots his way out, and a random bullet starts a chain reaction that wipes out the place, and almost envelopes Melbourne in a radioactive cloud. So a year later, armed with a robot camera-mouse which is oddly named The Mighty Atom, with International Rescue up and running, he decides to blow up another nuclear plant, this time in Africa, knowing our heroes will be called to help, just so he can send a camera up the gangplank of Thunderbird 2 and shoot some pictures. Thanks to an incredibly convenient plot contrivance, all he gets are pictures of Lady Penelope’s face.

Bizarrely, the Tracys and Lady Penelope still have no idea this guy’s even out there. How odd!

Batman 1.12 – When the Rat’s Away, the Mice Will Play

First thing’s first: I love the Riddler’s jacket and tie suit. Love it. A decade ago, I paid someone a hundred and fifty bucks to make me one, and then we stopped speaking. It wasn’t the money, it’s that I didn’t get that suit.

There’s a fantastic bit of synchronicity in this episode. Daniel copes with the bad guys by blowing raspberries or similarly making noise. If he were older, I’d object to all the noise, but he’s only four, and I accept that it’s a coping strategy, but that’s not important. He boos the villains. In this episode, the Riddler and the River Rat Gang watch a live broadcast from the museum, in which King Boris is giving a ceremonial statue. The presenter shows off a pop art painting of Batman and Robin, and the bad guys, watching TV in their lair, boo the good guys.

Honestly, this is the weakest of the first six stories, and perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the first one that apparently was not adapted from a comic book adventure. The Riddler’s scheme doesn’t rise above basic baddieisms, and there’s a huge missed opportunity with all his riddles. Batman has written them all down, in sequence, on a blackboard, and it looks for a minute like he’s about to draw a connection between each of the clues, in order, that we’d all missed, like the Riddler was playing one giant game of misdirection and he was aiming for something that had nothing to do with King Boris and the queen of freedom, but I fear that working on multiple levels like that was a little above the production’s abilities at this stage.

He even sends Commissioner Gordon a perfectly straightforward extortion note, without a riddle at all. What’s up with that?!

There is a really nice bit of continuity when the Riddler, who’s been at large since episode two, acknowledges that the Penguin, the Joker, and Mr. Freeze all tried, but it’s he who is the king of crime in this town. The story is disappointingly weak, but Frank Gorshin rises above the material. At least he’s really fun to watch in this one.

Batman 1.11 – A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away

Let’s get one thing out of the way to begin, shall we? Frank Gorshin is just plain bugnuts as the Riddler. He genuinely seems completely unhinged and incredibly dangerous. No wonder he worries Daniel so much.

Knowing that Daniel’s most hated foe would be returning in this story, I made a special trip to the neighborhood Dairy Queen and got him a green slushie drink, and told him that would be his reward for making it through the story. He balled up his fists when Gordon and O’Hara started talking about the Riddler, and climbed in Mommy’s lap and blew raspberries pretty much the entire time that Gorshin was on screen.

From what we could make out over Daniel’s sound effects, this is a heck of a good story, with the Riddler playing insanely high stakes – kidnapping a visiting king! – just to get Batman and Robin in a trap. I don’t think that they ever really played much with the chess theme beyond this episode, but Batman and Riddler are playing chess, with King Boris demoted to a pawn, via a great line: “The better the bait, the shorter the wait.”

The end of part one features the very first planned “deathtrap” in the series: Batman and Robin strapped to giant wheels in an obsolete power plant, about to be spun to death as the turbines build speed. This obviously had a huge effect on me: I spent years strapping my Mego superhero dolls with rubber bands to whatever great big wheels I could find.

H.R. Pufnstuf 1.6 – The Golden Key

“The Golden Key” is the first appearance of a regular Krofft trope: the hero, trying to escape, is given every opportunity to do so, but gets delayed by a plot complication and the villain, solves the problem, and then gives up on that opportunity. This is really weird. The first episode of Lidsville has exactly the same construction, and so do a couple of other Krofft shows, and all the lousy 1970s cartoons from Hanna-Barbera and the like that riffed on Krofft plots did the same thing.

This time, Ludicrous Lion sells them a map off the island for ten buttons. The map leads them to three parts of a key, which act as a compass to a golden door. But they stop using the key when they find a sign that Witchiepoo has altered to point to her dungeon delivery door instead. After escaping and leaving Witchiepoo and the “gruesome twosome” locked in her own dungeon, they all go back to town, the episode finished, and this way off the island forgotten.

This is the first episode that attempts to give some scale to Living Island’s enormous size, and try as they might, they just can’t pull it off. All of the costumes and the sets for interior places simply ate up all the budget, so all of the Living Island exteriors are simply the same “bright outside floor” dressed with different two-dimensional cut-out trees and plants, and different little dumps of moss or something.

Earlier episodes established that the witch’s patch of the island is lit more darkly, but the Evil Trees and the talking mushrooms always seem to be in the same place. For suspension of disbelief, I’m willing to pretend that the same slightly redressed “sunny day” floor is intended to be lots of different areas, but come on, there’s only so many times you can interact with a cigar-chomping mushroom who cannot actually move around and who speaks with a Jimmy Cagney voice before you say “I’m in the same place, the witch’s castle is a hundred feet from here.”

Speaking of the witch, Daniel is firmly no longer frightened or unnerved by Witchiepoo, and looks forward to seeing how she gets her comeuppance each time. Whew! I never thought she was going to scare him in the first place!