As with any old series under the “cult TV” umbrella, Batman has a handful of episodes that are well-remembered, a whole pile that all sort of run together, and a handful known by fans as absolute stinkers. Think “Spock’s Brain,” or “The Great Vegetable Rebellion,” or “The Rules of Luton.” This two-parter is remembered as one of those kind of turkeys.
One teeny scene won’t redeem it, but I do want to note that the luncheon held in Batman’s honor has one of the all-time funniest moments in the whole show. Byron Keith is back in his recurring role as Mayor Linseed, and he’s roasting the Caped Crusader with a testimonial about how much the Dark Knight Detective means to the city. Keith is completely stealing the show from everybody with his over-the-top delivery of this mawkish script, and Adam West just steals it right back. With just two teeny little gestures, his hand on his heart and a barely-perceptible bow of his head, he just takes the scene completely away from Keith, and makes it look absolutely effortless. It’s the funniest thing ever.
If you don’t mind the personal gripe, I had some aggravating news from our insurance company today and I really, really needed that laugh.
Okay, to be fair, you can kind of turn the TV off after watching that and come back for part two – I hope I remember that it’s worth it – because the rest of part one is about as bad as its reputation.
See, here’s the problem. John Astin is a tremendously good actor, one of the all-time greats. Between Gomez Addams and Professor Wickwire in Brisco County Jr., he was often pretty reliably entertaining, but here, he’s just remarkably, oddly, bizarrely weak. He’s not even doing a passable impression of Frank Gorshin, but he’s asked to act as unhinged and as unrestrained as Gorshin made the Riddler, and he just doesn’t do it. The script is calling for Gorshin’s dialed-to-twelve performance, and Astin seems far too self-conscious to get there.
The script also calls for an underwater Batfight, which means the actors brawl in slow motion pretending to be underwater while walking around a stage and the action is shot with a fish tank between the camera and the actors. It goes on forever.
Well, you know, it’s great that Astin got some work – after Carolyn Jones and Ted Cassidy, he was the last Addams Family regular to appear in the show – and it’s always nice to have Deanna Lund to look at, even though her character does absolutely nothing in this episode, but they probably should have stuck some more Shakespeare in the script and asked Maurice Evans to come back as the Puzzler. However, I remember that part two is actually lots better. At least I hope so…