Thursday, October 20, 2011

55 & 56: The Impractical Joker/The Joker's Provokers

Season 2 Episodes 55 & 56
Original Air Dates: 11/16/66, 11/17/66
Special Guest Villain: Cesar Romero as The Joker
Guest stars: Kathy Kersh, Louis Quinn
Written by: Jay Thompson and Charles Hoffman
Directed by: James B. Clark

Synopsis: The Joker is working on a device that will allow him to selectively control time. The dynamic duo has determined that the key to stopping the Joker is figuring out unnatural pursuit of keys in Gotham City.

PE: In one fell swoop, Commissioner Gordon goes from thinking the perpetrators of all these "key" krimes is a practical joker to being convinced it's actually the Joker! Huh? He sums it up sorta like so: "When it comes to books, records, and files, we won't call Batman, but when someone messes with the Keystone Building sign, we can't hold back! This is a job for Batman!"

JS: And yet it's Batman and Robin that get called "muttonheads". Of all the keys in the episode, my favorite is the first one we see—a nice skeleton key.

PE: Early product placement: Bruce ignores the crime in Gotham and turns on the boob tube to watch The Green Hornet. As we now know, The Green Hornet was a real person in the Bat-universe. Wasn't Bats jealous that The Hornet had his own TV show?

JS: He was clearly a big enough fan that The Joker knew that was the right time to pre-empt the broadcast.

PE: We delve deep into the Bat-Medicine Cabinet to find Counter-Hypnosis Bat Pellets.

JS: I'm curious if this is the same skintight suit that Linda Scott wore back in "Ring of Wax"...

PE: It's obvious now that Burt Ward didn't fall for real-life wife Kathy Kersh for her acting talents. A match made in heaven.

JS: And we're treated to two views of her in almost every scene. 

PE: Our celebrity voyeur this episode is Howard Duff, who was starring in the hit show Felony Squad on ABC at the time. Duff would return in the third season, with real-life wife Ida Lupino, as a guest villain.

JS: Did I hear this correctly? The Joker was a well known hypnotist when he was younger? I wish they provided more of these interesting tidbits along the way...

PE: If you watch closely enough in the Batcave scene, after Batman has thawed out Robin, Burt Ward puts the wrong glove on his hand, realizes his mistake and corrects it without missing a beat. And they say the kid couldn't act. (Just to confirm, the wax Robin was a prop—so Ward doesn't get credit for that fine performance. -JS)

JS: Question: If The Joker were in town, and someone matching The Joker's description was seen around the waterworks, don't you think that would be worth investigating... immediately?

PE: LOL-dialog for the episode:
Batman: What does the word O-Ho mean to you, Robin?
Robin: Well, it's a word composed of two Os and one H. (a thrusting finger punctuates the H). Holy hydraulics! H2O. The chemical symbol for water!
Batman: I... am... on... to something.
JS: Appropriate for this episode, when Robin was solving the Joker's riddle, er, joke, um, riddle... he was all keyed up. When Batman has Alfred give him the telephone directory, I couldn't tell if he actually fed the whole thing into the Bat-Computer, or just put it right in the Bat-Trash.

PE: Pretty pathetic when a millionaire playboy won't outfit his butler with more than a ten-speed for his Alf-cycle.

JS: How about the fact that while he's out moonlighting as an apprentice crime fighter, Aunt Harriet has to drive herself around. Napier was given some room to breathe in this episode. I particularly look forward to future details on Alfred's relationship with 'Tassels.'

PE: So far, the worst of the Joker episodes. Hardly a moment to get excited about (other than the startling Miss Ward).

JS: The worst Joker episode is still better than several others we've seen this season, and that's before you account for the contributions of Bat-Babe of the Week Kersh.

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

Next up... Marsha, Queen of Diamonds! Same Bat Time, Same Bat URL!


  1. Nothing, not even a double-dose of Alan Napier or a heaping helping of Kathy Kersh, can save this witless hour. It makes one yearn for the Studio One days of Ben Brady's "Cold Ham, Warm Shat."

  2. Not the series' finest hour. The increased reliance on Alan Napier's Alfred, however, is the one improvement of the late episodes and in many stories coming up in the third season, he is the one bright spot.

    Not to be unkind, but I don't think it is coincidental that the worst Joker story thus far is the first credited to Charles Hoffman. I have happily joined in the praise for Lorenzo Semple, defended the underappreciated Stanley Ralph Ross, and lauded the elusive Stanford Sherman in these comments, but I am almost always disappointed by the Hoffman shows. I did like his first Mad Hatter script a lot, but after that, they are all of pretty poor quality. It is rarely a question of having pushed the comedy too far in Hoffman scripts; they just aren't funny in the first place. He is also the most guilty of ignoring story logic and continuity. I'm amazed that, besides Semple, he was the only staff writer the show ever hired. Can Mr. Eisner provide any background or explanation? Did Dozier and Horwitz really think he was the best writer they had? Was he simply a great rewriter of other people's scripts? (There are several television writers who do seem to excel that way.)

  3. Hoffman was the story editor for the series. He was supposed to edit the scripts and hire the writers. It was cheaper for him to write the scripts since he was already on salary. I never got to speak with Hoffman, as he died of skin cancer years before I wrote the Batbook. No one had a bad word to say about him but nobody really had anything to say about him either.

  4. Just looking over the series as a whole, Hoffman wrote the worst Penguin story, the worst Riddler story, the three worst Joker stories, and a number of the weakest individual villain stories. All of the regular writers had scripts that missed, but it just seems to me that Hoffman has the worst overall record by far. His scripts seem the most like those of a children's show (a la Saturday morning Superfriends) in that they rarely manage to be suspenseful adventures or witty spoofs, to say nothing of a successful combination of the two.

  5. And here I thought "The Key to Time" was a DOCTOR WHO saga...

  6. This episode was not great, but not horrible either. It was entertaining to see Alan Napier extend his acting chops. Too bad Alfred never got his own spinoff show. It would have been interesting to find out the "Tassels" backstory. I imagine him as some sort of "Number 6" secret agent type character who chose to retire in anonymity as the Wayne butler, which is why he's always itching to get involved in crime fighting adventures. Though I can't help but think of the furry alien whenever I hear "Alf-cycle."

  7. I've noticed over the years that Hoffman's scripts were lousy. "Funny" can forgive a lot of sins, but his scripts WEREN'T "funny"-- just "stupid".

    Ever since I read that Dozier hated comics and held them in contempt, and felt that "only" way BATMAN could work would be to "play it as stupid as possible", I wondered if getting the BATMAN assignment shoved on him by William Self wasn't something he really DEEPLY RESENTED but would never admit it.

    BATMAN had the worst preview audience rating ever-- yet, due to ABC's desperation, it got on the air and quickly became the #1 show. Following the above logic, I would suspect this bugged Dozier. He'd done his worst to sabotage the show, but now he had to keep doing it.

    This is why, I can picture in my head, that when Lorenzo Seple Jr. left as story editor, Dozier may have thought to himself, "This DAMMED thing's STILL TOO GOOD. Well... I'll FIX that!" And what did he do? Promote his WORST writer to be in charge of everybody' else's scripts.

    You wanna know WHY the 2nd season is so dumb? THAT's why. I really don't see this as some "clever" game-plan to create a "brilliant" parody. I see it as a cynical exercise in what you get when the guy IN CHARGE hates what he's doing, but refuses to admit it.

    This show had SO many highly-talented people on it, in front of and behind the cameras, it became as good as it was DESPITE the efforts of the guy IN CHARGE-- not because of them. But no matter how much you try, if the guy IN CHARGE is hell-bent on creating lousy product, there's only so much anyone can do.

    I think BATMAN could have lasted a lot longer, and been MUCH better than it was, if Dozer had stepped down after the 1st season, and if William Self had found someone else to run it.

  8. Chemistry wasn't my favorite subject in high school... but am I right in thinking Robin completely got it wrong with the "O-HO" thing? H2O means two H's and one O. You'd think Batman's star student would know basic chemistry.