The BATMAN ’66 Top 13 Episode Countdown: #2

Riddle me this …

batmanweek1

UPDATED 4/4/17: Frank Gorshin would have been 84 today. Good time to re-present this look at his debut as the Riddler!

Every day until 1/12 — the 50th anniversary of Batman’s TV debut — we’re counting down our Top 13 episodes. For more info on our latest Batman ’66 celebration, click here.

And bring on those comments — either here or in whichever social-media thread you found this. We want to hear your thoughts!

In case you missed them:

LettercolBatman03

13. True or False Face/Holy Rat Race (click here!)

12. Green Ice/Deep Freeze (click here!)

11. The Wail of the Siren (click here!)

10. That Darn Catwoman/Scat! Darn Catwoman (click here!)

9. A Piece of the Action/Batman’s Satisfaction (click here!)

8. Surf’s Up, Joker’s Under (click here!)

7. The Contaminated Cowl/The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul (click here!)

6. Instant Freeze/Rats Like Cheese (click here!)

5. Pop Goes the Joker/Flop Goes the Joker (click here!)

4. Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin’s a Jinx (click here!)

3. The Joker Goes to School/He Meets His Match, the Grisly Ghoul (click here!)

And now, No. 2…

Batman_(1966)_1x01_006

Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle. Riddle me this: Why is this the first and only Riddler episode in this countdown? Answer: Because Frank Gorshin is greater than the sum of his parts.

This isn’t an insult. Frank Gorshin was brilliant as the Riddler by any measure. His kinetic performances in the first season and the 1966 movie were charged with manic menace and gleeful danger. He was utterly, absolutely, categorically superb.

Batman111

So why not more episodes on this list? Why more Joker episodes than anyone else, when the Joker isn’t even my favorite villain on the show? Well, it’s a matter of judging an episode in its totality, not what a performer did at other times. By that criteria alone, there were many other episodes that in my mind surpassed, say, The Ring of Wax or Death in Slow Motion.

Plus, there’s something to be said for variety. It would be very easy to say the Top 13 episodes were all (or mostly) in the first season, which is widely recognized as the show’s most consistent period. But this show is so much more than just its initial go-around.

So then why isn’t this episode #1 overall, which it usually is on lists like this? I call it the Sgt. Pepper’s Effect. In the same way that Beatles fans reflexively pick Sgt. Pepper’s as the Fab Four’s best album, so often do Batman ’66 fans select this one. But only in recent years have musicologists begun thinking that Revolver was the superior album. (I still stick with Abbey Road, by the way, or at least the second side.)

Sgt-Pepper

So there is an episode, which I’ll get to tomorrow, that surpasses this one.

Now that I’ve written six paragraphs of pre-emptive defense, I’ll get to the matter at hand, which is that Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle is an exercise in camp magnificence.

Frank Gorshin is at the height of his Riddler powers right out of the gate. He’s still the only Batman ’66 villain who was so unhinged and no version of this venal villain before or since has been better. I’m actually disappointed in how the Riddler’s been portrayed over the last, oh, I don’t know, 30 years or so. It’s just not close.

snapshot-2014-11-17-at-05_20_04-pm-1886557322

It’s interesting that with only minor adjustment, the basic formula for the show was immediately set — and featured a scene that would come to define Adam West’s Batman for decades to come: the Batusi.

batusi00

George Barris’ Batmobile drove its way into consciousness with an exciting flourish of bells and fireworks, and even the underrated Burt Ward gives one of his best performances, when he takes over the role of “Molly” in the second half. Sure, that’s Burt Ward mincing, but you do forget it’s not Jill St. John in disguise.

Batman063

For her part, Jill St. John makes a great moll/henchwoman (pick your term). Her demise is still noteworthy because it’s a reminder of the direction in which the show could have gone: Slightly more adventurous, slightly less campy.

Then again, even her death was played for twisted laughs: “What a way to go-go.”

tumblr_nf8ovxdalX1s2wio8o1_500

This is an episode with just about everything — Bat-climb included — even if it has one of the series’ most low-fi deathtraps (which turned out to be a feint).

Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle — written by Bat-king of Bat-camp Lorenzo Semple Jr. — is inventive and exciting and set every one of us down the Day-Glo highway we’ve been driving on in our imaginary Batmobiles for the last five decades.

NEXT: The Purr-fect finish …

batcave_set

Author: Dan Greenfield

Share This Post On

2 Comments

  1. Again, have highly enjoyed this offering of yours. Totally agree on everything you’ve said on every bit of this episode. Dont’ know what you’re number one is going ot be, but THIS is my all time, absolute favorite! I have thought many times, as much as I love the show, – – but what it would have been had it gone a little bit more the way this first show did. A little more serious and yet fun. I am however, fascinated with and a lover of the ‘what could have been/what might have been’.

    Gorshin was the man! His villain was the best! He was scary and fun at the same time. Just looking at that picture you’ve posted above of Gorshin maniacally laughing in Batman’s face. He was so scary. So great! So great!

    And I will say this again,…as I’ve stated in several other forums – – but this still bothers me….Gorshin turned a D list, back of the bin comic book villain into something forever lasting; one of THE top four villains of the series! And number one in my book. Andit’s been odd to me his name and likeness is not featured as much as some of the other villains in the release of the series. Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman all get their pictures on packaging and disks. Gorshin is just on the back of the package. I mean, he was the show’s first villain.

    Also makes me irritated that we didn’t get any behind the scenes commentary from him. I’ve been saying, aside from them dragging their feet for years on this release, it was lack of vision and leadership on a lot of people’s parts for not getting some interviews from the likes of Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Malachi Throne and others while they were still with us. I was delighted, I’ll say, to see 8.5 seconds of Frank from some old interview on the extras (and 11.6 seconds of Ceasar Romero – yes I timed them both) Not a whole lot, and they really didn’t say too much.

    Ah well, looking forward to number 1 tomorrow.

    Post a Reply
  2. Sweet!! This was my guess for #1. So my next guesses are either “The Penguin Goes Straight/Not Yet He Ain’t” or “The Purr-fact Crime/Better Luck Next Time”

    Post a Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The BATMAN ’66 Top 13 Episode Countdown | 13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture - […] 2. Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: