Batman (1966) – Hi Diddle Riddle, and Smack in the Middle

I have never seen the original Batman television series. I did see the movie that was released between seasons at a Saturday matinee when I was a kid and it inspired hours of play, but I’d never dug into the 120 episodes that comprised the series.

I’m determined to fix that, so here we go chums!

Hi Diddle Riddle, which was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. launched the series on 12 January, 1966 with showrunner William Dozier pulling duty as the series’ narrator as well.

We are introduced to a colourful (colour TV was a new thing, and what better way to show off the colours?) iteration of Gotham City and the Gotham City World Fair, which features a surprise attack on the country of Moldavia, revealing a riddle which tells us who are first big villain of the series is… The Riddler!

The Riddler is brought to manic life by Frank Gorshin, and he’s brilliant, chewing scenery and that laugh is fantastic! He’s determined to expose Batman (Adam West) and learn who his alter-ego is, as well as that of the Boy Wonder, Robin (Burt Ward), but he’s going to do it in a roundabout way.

He leads the duo into a trap, slapping them with a riddle-filled lawsuit for slander and draws them to a discotheque (Robin is too young to enter) where Batman drinks drugged orange juice, the Batmobile is almost stolen, and we get the series first cliffhanger as Robin is kidnapped.

It’s laugh-out-loud funny, Batman and Robin are surprisingly clever, well-mannered and mindful of laws and public safety, and there are some wonderful gags.

And not only does Gorshin shine as The Riddler, but he’s joined by Jill St. John as Molly, the girlfriend of one of Riddler’s gang members. She may have a thing for bats, and she gets him to dance in the club.

It’s just a joy to watch, and I love how it ends with Robin in the Riddler’s clutches, Batman turning over his car keys to the police because he’s not well enough to drive, and the bat-signal flaring into the sky because Gotham needs its heroes.

What will happen next?!

Stuck in the Middle keeps the bat-gadgets coming as Riddler and Molly, disguised now as Robin prepare to take down Batman. Semple wrote this episode as well, and after a delightful opening narration and last time on Batman, viewers dove into the episode on 13 January, 1966.

In the bat-cave Batman confronts Molly but when her identity is revealed, instead of surrendering she attempts to run, and falls to her death in the cave’s nuclear reactor. But that’s not going to stop Batman from finding where Robin is hidden and rescuing him.

This may be just what Riddler wants to trap Batman again and strike against Gotham, and the still-visiting members of Moldavia. But will Batman and Robin outwit Riddler, and be prepared for his attack on the party?

It’s a fast-paced episode and has lots of laughs even as the series begins to define exactly what it will be.

Both West and Ward seem to slip into their roles easily, bringing the characters to life with an earnest… cheesiness?… that lets you know that they are in on the joke and that they are embodying the fun of a show that will walk the line between family program, and pop culture legend.

Two episodes in, and I am completely enchanted. I can’t wait to see what they do next and love how they leave the door open for villains to return, even as Bruce mourns the loss of Molly.

I love how the series is put together, that there are labels on everything in the bat-cave and bat-mobile, and it just seems so eager to have a good, clean time (though I understand there are a number of innuendos coming).

So I’ll see the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder again soon, same bat-time, same bat-channel!


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