This is one K.G. Bird …
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:
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!)
Now, No. 4 …
Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin’s a Jinx. A common case of a guest villain’s first episode being his best. Burgess Meredith was a Batman MVP, but he attacks the role with particular relish in his initial outing, based on a comic-book story — which frequently made for the show’s best episodes.
I just wrote recently (click here), that I didn’t really recognize Meredith’s greatness as the Penguin until I was an adult, and it makes sense in retrospect that he was the de facto leader of the United Underworld in the 1966 movie.
Here, in what was essentially the series’ second episode, he takes over the role so fully that all versions in all media since are a reflection, even the Tim Burton/Danny DeVito cracked-mirror take, which was a reaction to Meredith’s ownership of the character. The story’s been told many times over that the show’s producers so appreciated Meredith that they always had a script on stand-by for him, to be there whenever he became available.
Interestingly, though, his best scenes in this one are reactive, when he listens in on Batman and Robin inadvertently planning his crimes for him. His expressions and body language are so convincing that he sells the role with more subtlety than the show typically projects.
Beyond Meredith, though, the two-parter also features one of the series’ most memorable death traps — a netted Bruce Wayne tied to a conveyer belt that’s set to dump him in a furnace. It’s a pretty low-fi scenario, but its made more dangerous by having Batman out of costume.
There’s also one of the series’ best props — the gigantic umbrella that stops Gotham City traffic (wonderfully mimicking a scene from Batman #169).
Nevertheless, my regard for this episode really comes down to Burgess Meredith sinking his bill into one of the two most famous roles of his career.
The Penguin gets even better with age and it started here.