Tuesday, October 18, 2011

51 & 52: Hizzonner The Penguin/Dizzonner The Penguin

Season 2 Episodes 51 & 52
Original Air Dates: 11/2/66, 11/3/66
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
Guest stars: Joey Tata, Tony Epper
Written by: Stanford Sherman
Directed by: Oscar Rudolph

Synopsis: The Penguin is running for Mayor of Gotham City. The current mayor feels the only one who stands a chance to beat the newcomer is Batman himself. Batman reluctantly agrees, and the race is on!

PE: Haven't we seen this before? Penguin turns good and the Gotham zombies eat it up. Well, luckily this one's a little different...

JS: Did no one stop to think that at some point during the election, Batman's true identity would have to be divulged? I don't imagine he files Bat-taxes...

PE: I thought for sure that when he pauses in front of Gordon's office window to ponder the offer, he'd say just that very thing or that Penguin would demand his unmasking for the election and the cliffhanger would be... would he do it?

JS: Do you think the dynamic duo's double-takes when seeing Aunt Harriet's campaign contribution were in part the result of them seeing part of their inheritance frittered away?

PE: LOL! I had the same thought when Batman says "Too...generous." Read that as "Too,,,generous...with my money." But the old bird's obviously a bandwagon jumper as she doesn't even show up to Batman's campaign rally.

JS: Batman won't kiss kids, fine. But wouldn't parents be equally upset if he kissed their kids with a lit cigarette in his mouth at the time, a la Penguin?

PE: Forget it, John, it's Gothamtown.

JS: I have to wonder if Stafford Repp fell asleep during the take at Batman's rally, and then they decided to work it into the plot...

PE: Speaking of working their drawbacks into the plot. I thought Burt Ward was a lousy actor but Dick Grayson reciting Shakespeare was even worse. A quick check at IMDB reveals no Hamlet in Burt's C.V. post-Batman.

JS: I guess the Monkees weren't available, so Penguin had to bring in Paul Revere and the Raiders to pretend to play their instruments.  This sequence had me thinking of Tom Hanks' excellent That Thing You Do, where teen sensations The Wonders landed a guest spot in Cap'n Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters.

PE: Youngster, you didn't live in the sixties so don't diss The Raiders. Mark Lindsay and his boys did the best they could with what they had to work with. A pity they weren't allowed to perform "Kicks," one of the great garage songs of the 60s and a hit that summer of '66. And look on the bright side: it could have been Herman's Hermits.

JS: The same can't be said for the glorious talents of Little Egypt. There was definitely no faking there!

PE: The Penguin does a nice rap there during the campaign. It's not as catchy as the tune Cesar Romero sang in "The Joker Trumps an Ace," but it'll do in a pinch.

JS: It was quite a nice surprise to see Allen Ludden (The Password is...) as a roving reporter interviewing Batman and The Penguin as they fought off crooks.

PE: Is Batman looking at me or you when he says "I'm convinced the American electorate is too mature to be taken in by cheap vaudeville trickery. After all, if our national leaders were elected on the basis of tricky slogans, brass bands, and pretty girls, our nation would be in a terrible mess, wouldn't it?"

JS: You could see it almost break the heart of the Boy Wonder when he had to explain the 65% of the vote for The Pengun was a big margin.

PE: Best laugh of the episode: Chief O'Hara and Commissioner Gordon are watching the debate when a special bulletin comes on exclaiming that millions in jewels are being robbed at the Gotham convention center. Wouldn't the chief of police find this out before Walter Klondike and Chet Chumley?  Well, if your chief wasn't named O'Hara, perhaps.

JS: Batman claims the election was a good lesson in civics, but I have to inquire as to the Gotham City charter. Where else could an elected official step down after appointing their own replacement!

PE: Burgess Meredith does a spot-on impersonation of Richard Nixon at the debate (years before Nixon talked like a crook!). This episode was years ahead of its time with its political satire. Penguin manages to turn everything around (assuring Gotham that he's the better candidate because Batman hangs out with criminals and Penguin is always surrounded by cops) just as our real politicians do. Batman's naive attempt to run a clean campaign reminds one of recent  political careers that started out just as naively before sliding into the muck and smears. A very smart Bat-script by Stanford Sherman.

JS: This story clearly had to be one of the inspirations for Batman Returns, and frankly I'm hard pressed to decide which handled it better.

PE: I'd agree with your assessment, Johnny. I loved this episode and I loved that Tim Burton flick. Both handled well the satire and the implausibility of waddling men with big noses that capture the love of a city and the guy dressed like a bat who inevitably brings him down.

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

Next up... Mister Freeze! Same Bat Time, Same Bat URL!


  1. My favorite episode of all, for the reasons you found and more. The satire is much more sharp and direct than usual, and the script's take on both politicians and the electorate is hilarious and depressing all at once. The rallies and the debate are highlights, emphasizing not just the political satire but the character humor of how square Batman really is. On the other hand, he runs for office fully intending to step down and let his running mate hold the office, which is extremely devious and undemocratic, so even Batman has his flaws.

    The cliffhanger is not only memorable and iconic in itself, but Burgess Meredith's sarcastic lead-in to it is delightful. His other great moment here is when he privately tells Batman and Robin that he loves politics because all his slurpiest, slimiest tricks are now legal.

    It is no accident that clips from this episode, particularly the debate, we're all over television and the Internet during the 2008 Obama/McCain campaign. Yes, there were some resemblances, but the satire was just still relevant.

    (By the way, I know we all love Lorenzo Semple and Robert Butler, but this show was written by Stanford Sherman and directed by Oscar Rudolph. Also I don't recall Jill St. John appearing.)

  2. LJS-

    Whoops, you caught us! As a result of too many midnight viewings of Batman episodes, we managed to let one slip. Thanks for the nudge.

  3. I confess to going back and forth on this one. Yes, the premise is identical to that of "The Penguin Goes Straight," though this time the execution is better. Yes, it's a hoot to have Batman running for public office, but in '60s TV Land everyone from Rob Petrie to Donna Reed was doing the same thing. There's some surprisingly sharp satire in this one, with dead-on criticism of the stupidity of American voters, but BM is hardly the most effectively delivery system for political satire: by this time we're not taking anything in the show the least bit seriously anyway. Burgess Meredith is his usual delightful self, and I have a lot of nostalgic affection for the cameos of Alan Ludden,Don Wilson, Jack Bailey, etc., but they are all window dressing. This one I'd call somewhere in the middle: maybe 60 watts in the old Batbeam. Truly what we need to spice up the currently biweekly GOP debates is men in tights.

  4. "I guess the Monkees weren't available, so Penguin had to bring in Paul Revere and the Raiders to pretend to play their instruments." This from the Goblins fan. Apparently, John, you are unaware that PR&TR are "America's #1 Party Rock Band." Pengy knew what he was doing. I'm voting for him. Bring on the champagne!

    This was a brilliantly written episode. I loved it! Satire's my favorite. How unfortunate that it's still so relevant. The three smiley Gallus pollsters were fantastic. Burgess Meredith was also in fine form. I love how his cigarette droops when getting the bad news from Gallus after Batman had entered the race. Another Season Two gem.

  5. Nostalgia movements get so lopsided that it seems like almost every ' 60s one has mysteriously left out Paul Revere and the Raiders, or given them very little attention. So it's no wonder so many people don't know them. But as Christine says, they were a huge deal.

  6. One of the three pollsters was Woodrow Parfrey, who was one of the great character actors on TV by this time and uncharacteristically played a role that required him to homogenize his performance with two other actors rather than make a distinct impression of his own. But this was day-playing and you took what you could get.

    The hierarchy of TV villainy is very apparent on "Batman," which was cast like a theatrical film. Someone like Parfrey could be the featured villain on "Man from U.N.C.L.E." or "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" but had to blend into the background on "Batman."

    I always thought that this hierarchy was particularly noteworthy here: Parfrey had made his name in a small but important role in the early 60's in the Broadway play "Advise and Consent," but when it came time to make the film, the role went to...Burgess Meredith.