So at long last I have finished watching every episode of the vaunted Batman television series, the series which simultaneously saved the character if not the industry and condemned it to decades of derision. Adam West and Burt Ward are joined in the third and final season by Yvonne Craig .
The addition of Batgirl to the show was at once an admission the show needed an injection of some kind to keep itself fresh and a way to draw yet more attention to a show which had enjoyed an unprecedented amount of scrutiny.
The third season was a letdown for me. I knew that the standard two-episode format had been largely abandoned since the show itself had been reduced to a single showing each week. There were still stories that continued but they more or less meandered from episode to episode rather than being tautly tied by the imminent demise of one or both of the heroes.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Frank Gorshin return as the Riddler, but it was disappointing that he only put in one final appearance. Burgess Meredith's Penguin gets four more shows and Caesar Romero's Joker gets three. Eartha Kitt shows up to play Catwoman in three shows, replacing Julie Newmar and doing a fantastic job. Vincent Price gets three appearances as Egghead though each seemed a repeat of the other as he's teamed with Anne Baxter's one-joke Olga of the Cossacks every time. Joan Collins as Siren is beautiful as I must say is Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva. Surprisingly entertaining to me were Cliff Robertson as Shame and Dina Merrill as his cowgirl Calamity Jan. Rudy Vallee as Lord Pfogg and Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac were okay, but their stories were pretty weak.
Generally the writing was weaker overall. The presence of Batgirl and the need to interpolate elements of Barbara Gordon's life really seem to weigh the show down. Long stretches of action were set at her rather modest and dull apartment (despite its spinning wall) and Batman and Robin seemed rarely to talk to one another save to ponder Batgirl's identity. Later she became more a regular thing and the trio worked better together.
The comedy seemed also to be broader. That may be my imagination, but the show had always had a satirical and absurdist edge on top of legit adventures which while often dumb projected real menace at some level. The plots in the third season seemed often poorly motivated, if at all, and the actors seemed to project more of an awareness of the weirdness of it all.
On Batgirl in particular let me say that I'd forgotten many things about her. I either never knew or forgot that her Batcycle had lace and such frills on it. Regrettable bit of sexism there for a character who though under the thumb of the male society around her did indeed strike back. Her fighting too seemed to really louse up the choreography of the wonderful brawls as her dancing moves were singularly unconvincing in fights which already hovered on the edge of obviously faked. But she was pretty for sure.
The double entendres were rich in this season though for certain as women and their place in society was often a source of satire. The Nora Clavicle episode was a strain for sure with women reduced to idiotic parodies of themselves with little redemption offered by the creators. They seemed quite content with the minimized status of women and gave them less respect as a protest movement than say the hippies got, who were there and made fun of but not utterly condemned.
Overall the show's final season was a letdown, though I note that it improved mightily as it headed to its end. The Shame two-parter was a lot of fun and the Joker-Flying Saucer episode was something right of the sharper earlier seasons. But it's clear why the show ended, it was running out of ideas and the audience was appropriately growing bored.
On a somewhat different note, after this last live-action season Batman and Robin joined Superman and Aquaman and other DC heroes in the animated world. I've long resisted getting these adventures, but recently got hold of both the 1968 cartoons as well as the later 1977 series which featured the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward. These are not exactly like finding lost episodes of the famous live-action series, but these cartoons are delightful wayback machines for an era when superheroes were "kid-stuff".
It took me over a year to watch all of the live action stuff and I don't know when I'll get around to the cartoons, but it's nice to know they are at my fingertips at least.