Monday, May 4, 2015

The Couch Crusader - Looking Back at Batman '66 by Geena Phillips

Batman (1966) Season one, Episode 21 "The Penguin Goes Straight"

"A beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Gotham City." Hence, the gray skies and everyone bundled up against the cold.

Our story unfolds in the lobby of a local playhouse, where a production has begun its intermission. But what's this? Among the playgoers is none other than that capon of crime, the Penguin, discussing the drama so far with a fellow patron of the arts. Suddenly, an armed robbery is underway, carried out by a gunsel wearing a mask that looks suspiciously like the Great Hoodoo from Lidsville (a show that wouldn't be made for another five years; hey, I just report the news, people). To the rescue leaps an unexpected umbrella-toting vigilante, who shields himself from a volley of gunfire with the bulletproof bumbershoot, and quickly apprehends the ne'er-do-well by employing his penguin-like reflexes.

Upon hearing news of this strange turn of events, Commissioner Gordon is understandably gobsmacked. "You mean to tell me, now even the whack-job criminals in this pissant town are doing my department's job better than my own employees can? Christ, I need a drink."

Since the Penguin's committed no crime, and therefore his own cops can't beat the stew out of the guy (I guess the GCPD's numbers were a little high in that regard for the month), The Commissioner decides to call on that mysterious masked man with the godlike disregard for due process, Batman.

Oh, my stars and garters! My entreaties have finally been answered: they've developed some code-talk for Alfred to summon Bruce to the Batphone when Aunt Harriet is present.

And it is glorious, my friends:

"Telephone call for you, sir. It's a Mr. Rime; Mr. K. Rime."

Whew! I think I need a cigarette after that.

As they wheel their way toward police headquarters, the Dynamic Duo speculate about the genuine-ness of the Penguin's reform. They reckon that if the robbery the Penguin prevented was a ruse, the robber must be a confederate of some kind.

"Call the commissioner; have him give that crook a grilling. We'll be there in time for the kill." Whoa, Giuliani! Why don't you dial it back a little?

In a related note, I can scarcely think of anything more adorable and less menacing than being interrogated by Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara. Seriously, the chief has never more closely resembled the Maytag Man then he does in this scene. I really don't want to sully this interrogation scene by describing it too much, because it is a comedy fucking masterpiece.

Suffice it to say, the crook faints at the terrifying visage of the Bright Knight, thus depriving the forces of law and order of the answers they so desperately seek.

After learning the Penguin was seen at the exclusive Gotham Millionaires' Club, B&R speed to the scene, only to find that a kidnapping attempt has already been prevented by their erstwhile avian adversary.
Later, at the Penguin's newly-opened detective agency, he discusses his long grift with his henchmen, Dove and Eagle Eye. It's refreshing to see the henchmen's skepticism at their boss' braggadocio regarding his imminent success; as they sagely point out, Penguin has sung this same song before, and it's usually their skulls that receive a walloping when he's wrong (maybe it's time to go back to medical transcription school, fellas).

So, while Batman and Robin are presumably engaged in a game of slap-and-tickle, Alfred risks life and limb going undercover as an insurance photographer to get close to the Penguin and the heiress he is protecting. But we learn that Alfred has neglected part of his espionage assignment from the Caped Crusader! How do we learn this? Why, courtesy of extremely wordy and convoluted narration, of course! After his subterfuge is discovered, Alfred makes an awesome daring escape, of the sort never made by Batman and Robin.
As I understand it, Batman's brilliant plan to smoke out the Penguin's true intentions is to break into the heiress' safe, take her prized jewels, and replace them with fakes containing a tracking device. So, at what point in this plan are B&R NOT criminals?

And as it turns out, after engaging in fisticuffs with the Penguin's associates charged with protecting the jewels, The Dynamic Duo are labeled would-be thieves (quite correctly, it would seem). At news of this development, a contrite Commissioner Gordon rails against the media and an ungrateful public (in other words, he becomes your grandpa who always says something racist at the table at Thanksgiving).
The climax of the episode occurs at Gotham Amusement Pier, host to a gala event to raise funds for the Penguin's security service. As is tradition, the stock footage used to portray amusement park action is stupefyingly mismatched to the style of the rest of the episode.

And here's where the Penguin's plan veers into that inappropriate level of escalation that we've discussed before. After cold-cocking them with a cement-filled umbrella (stay with me here), The Penguin's men string Batman and Robin up behind the targets of the shooting gallery, where they've replaced the popguns with real ones. Why, Penguin? Thanks to your pretty-good-so-far plan, B&R are already on the lam from the law; a simple phone call to 9-1-1 would ensure that the cops'll show up and blow them away for you. Insisting on doing it yourself seems like unnecessary showboating.

While I'm certain this will all go south for the Penguin in a pretty big damn hurry, you'll still have to wait till next episode to find out for sure.

Batman (1966) Season One, Episode 22 – “Not Yet, He Ain't”

Well, for starters, the recap of the episode that aired LAST NIGHT is roughly two-thirds the length of said episode.

When last we left the Dynamic Duo, they faced certain death at the hands of a lethal carnival shooting gallery.
However will they escape? Well, by lifting themselves up out of the line of fire, which almost anyone not suffering from a debilitating handicap could do. After quickly freeing themselves from the loosely-tied ropes binding their wrists, B&R beat a hasty retreat, rather than wait for the Penguin to show up and gloat. You may wonder why our heroes don't simply wait around a mo, so they can immediately beat the tar out of Penguin and his henchman. In answer, I would say: Well, that wouldn't be much of an episode, now would it? Stop asking stupid questions!

Back at the BatCave, Robin expresses his misgivings about having slunk away in a fashion most cowardly, rather than stay to give the Penguin the thrashing he most assuredly deserves.

"On what charge?" asks Batman, apparently oblivious to the customs of the last 200 years of U.S. law enforcement.

At police headquarters, Penguin demands the GCPD take the Caped Crusaders' status as fugitives from justice seriously, going so far as to accuse Commissioner Gordon of harboring them. This clearly gets Chief O'Hara's (cheesy) Irish (accent) up. Penguin decides to double down and prank-call Batman on the commissioner's hotline, prompting the Bright Knight to promise an appearance at Penguin's "protective agency" offices (but first, he has Robin give the commish a phone call with Special Instructions).
The Dynamic Duo decide to pretend they've snapped and want to take the Penguin down, regardless of the consequences. West and Ward's portrayal of "snapped" is nothing short of delightful.

When the cops arrive, Batman and Robin cheese it, only to be chased-, and eventually gunned-down by John Law (who apparently see no problem with firing automatic weapons on a busy city street in broad daylight; but that's neither here nor there).

As the Penguin and his men take off in the stolen Batmobile, Chief O'Hara and his men cover the lifeless bodies of the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder.

Later, on the TV, Commissioner Gordon announces that, in spite of their later misdeeds, the Dynamic Duo will be buried with full honors. Hmm. I'm beginning to think something's fishy here (I mean, there are 98 more episodes of this show). If this IS a ruse, then it's kind of a Dick Move on Batman's part, especially given Alfred's extreme state of upset at news of his employer's death.

O, frabjous day! Chief O'Hara asks Commissioner Gordon to sign the requisition for 297 rounds of blank ammunition. I knew they were faking it!

Courtesy of the hidden camera in the Batmobile (which appears to be mounted on a "selfie stick" protruding about two feet to the right of the passenger's door), B&R observe, with increasing vexation, the Penguin joy-riding Batman's whip around town to impress Sophia Starr.

It seems to work, as Sophia agrees to marry the Penguin. In the subsequent scene, Penguin's henchmen (now dressed in fancy wedding suits) do an accounting of the extravagant gifts being lavished on the soon-to-be-newlyweds. Penguin arrives, to make sure the bomb has been successfully planted in the Starr house's plumbing (I am seriously in the weeds as far as understanding the Capon of Crime's plan here, folks).
Once the bomb goes off, the ceiling begins leaking, requiring the wedding guests to avail themselves of the provided umbrellas (UPDATE: I still have no idea what the Penguin's plotting here, except that, by the most convoluted means possible, he's brought it around to some dippy umbrella-related nonsense. Again).

Oh, what a surprise. The umbrellas are rigged up to disorient the guests with showers of confetti and low-grade explosions. In the confusion, the wedding gifts (which technically belong to the Penguin anyway) are spirited away (another UPDATE: Still not sure what the Penguin's up to).

Oh, NOW I get it; I guess I didn't reckon it would be this stupid a plot.

Unluckily for the Penguin, having purloined the Batmobile is no guarantee of a smooth getaway. Hot on his tail, astride the Batcycle, the Caped Crusaders first eject the henchmen (or unconvincing dummies thereof) by remote control. Then, Batman decides to screw around with the Penguin a little bit, first by remote control opening the doors on the Batmobile, then by taking over the steering (his childlike glee at the thought of the Penguin's distress is possibly a little unseemly).

But before caging the big bird, B&R stop for a little light fisticuffs with the Penguin's henchmen (the prelude to which highlights Robin's clearly superhuman sense of hearing). Having made short work of those two middle-aged plug uglies, the Dynamic Duo give the Penguin his comeuppance (FIGHT NOTE: there seems to be an unusual amount of bullet-dodging in this particular episode; just struck me odd, is all), and tie all three crooks to the hood of the Batmobile like big game for the drive back to town (the calamitous effects on Batman's driving visibility notwithstanding).

In the epilogue scene, at GCPD headquarters, the Penguin's erstwhile bride-to-be wonders if her love and affection might be enough to make her felonious fiancé learn to walk the straight-and-narrow. Trust me, honey: the only possible outcome of that particular path is Keith Morrison narrating your sad, tragic story on an episode of Dateline. Fortunately, Commissioner Gordon wisely breaks her bubble by having the Penguin brought in, so she can see his self-absorbed avarice for herself. Even then, it is only the Penguin's insistence that he be dragged off to prison rather than surrender his bachelorhood that puts the kibosh on her deluded plans of fixer-upper-ness. FUN FACT: this is the first Dickless (and Bruce-less) ending to an episode of the show.


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