TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

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bat-rss
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TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

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We've finished season three (and the series), so it's time to examine the final year of Batman. It's not a task we relish; so much of season three is a disappointment, from the writing to the production values, the head-scratching cliffhanger-free episode tag scenes to the phoned-in acting.

And then there's the introduction of Batgirl. While Yvonne Craig was always a delight, the execution of introducing Barbara Gordon/Batgirl into a show that had just been cut back to once a week, and sometimes one-part stories, left a lot to be desired. Where did the show go wrong in its approach to Batgirl, and how could she have been better utilized?

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AndyFish
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

Post by AndyFish »

Batgirl is such a unique case-- she was a mistake but I still like the character-- and that's a great compliment to Yvonne-- had they done her as an Emma Peel type and taken the this whole season in a less campy direction I think the show could have gone out with a bang. As it was, I think everyone was ready to move on.
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

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Penguin said “Faugh!” a number of times throughput the series. Here’s how many times he said it in the movie alone: https://getyarn.io/yarn-find?text=Faugh
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gothosmansion
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

Post by gothosmansion »

I'm going to go with Andy, somewhat...while I wish Batgirl had been a little more heroic, I still enjoy her. Partly, because of my childhood crush on the character and in large part because of Yvonne Craig's performance. Craig does bring a confidence and a feistiness to the role that makes her fun to watch.

Considering how other women were portrayed on action shows at the time, Batgirl could have been worse. If you've ever seen The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. in most episodes, female U.N.C.L.E. agent April Dancer was nothing short of a blithering idiot. There was one episode where April was supposed to be a body guard for a man, and she hid under a table while he fought off the bad guys. There is another where she is captured after she screams at a mouse. The show makers also took every opportunity to get Stefanie Powers into sexy or skimpy outfits. I mentioned a while back the UFO episode which somehow found Powers in a harem outfit. While Batgirl and Catwoman's outfits were tight, I really don't remember too many occasions where Batman went out of its way to show Yvonne Craig's or Julie Newmar's skin. Just to keep my rep as the dirty old man of the audience, while Stefanie Powers certainly wasn't unattractive, I consider Newmar and Craig to be THE two most beautiful women on 60s TV.

Plus, I've seen more misogynistic portrayals of Batgirl/Barbara in the comics than on the TV show. Of course, there is the awfully overrated Killing Joke, but for me almost as bad was Barbara J. Randall's Batgirl Special. In Detective 491-492, Barbara considers giving up being Batgirl after General Scarr and an assassin named Cormorant kidnap a young girl to use against her, and she receives an injury. However, Barbara fights through her fears and injury and even rescues Batman on her way to capturing Scarr and Cormorant. In the special, Randall retconned the Detective two-parter, having Batgirl fail to capture Cormorant and live in fear of him. She debates on whether or not to pursue him, is rescued from him by another character and then quits being Batgirl. That story makes her a coward and a quitter, something the show never portrayed her as. She was brave and resourceful, if inexperienced. I can see the TV show Batgirl growing into a great crime fighter.

As for the third season itself, I can enjoy certain episodes and different episodes with different tones. I think it may be because my original first year or two of Batman featured such wildly varied portrayals. My first introduction to the character, in the fall of 1976, was reruns of the show. I was eager to learn to read so I could follow Batman's comics adventures. My first Batman issue was by the usually light-hearted David V. Reed and was a spy thriller. I wondered where Robin was. After that, I read Gorilla Boss of Gotham City, a story where Batman took part in a baseball game (?) and a Fox/Infantino Batman vs Blockbuster story reprinted in Batman Family. That Batman Family was also probably my introduction to Batgirl, because I don't think I had seen reruns of the show with her, yet. Anyway, before 1977 was over, I was exposed to O'Neil and Adams via The Night of the Reaper reprint in Best of DC Treasury and the Ra's Al Ghul treasury, Adams again in the Stacked Cards Power Record, Haney & Aparo's Brave and the Bold, and Englehart/Simonson/Rogers and Austin's Batman in Detective. With all these diverse early influences, I was more accepting of different takes on the character. Really, the take I take umbrage with and refuse to embrace didn't happen until Frank Miller's unlikable Batman in 1986 and the imitators that followed in its wake.

Whew...Sorry to be so long winded!
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

Post by BATWINGED HORNET »

Fascinating episode, guys.

As i've pointed out several times on this board, by 1967, TV heroines had come so far that Batgirl appeared to be an annoying cultural dinosaur on arrival. From Honey West (ABC, 1965-66), and both Cathy Gale and Emma Peel on The Avengers, TV producers and writers had to be aware of self-sufficient, physically dangerous females in major roles. It was no longer random women in a guest spot on TV, in a Bond or war film, but main characters broadcast to millions in their homes.

There was no excuse to make Batgirl a prancing, sassy, giggling pirouette doll with not an ounce of fight training, not to mention her lack of detective skills. Such a bad character forced on an ailing series quite obviously gave audiences more reasons to abandon it, since it was pretty clear season one's quality was less than a faint image in the rear view mirror. In older threads, the topic of Batgirl diminishing Robin's role had been covered, but its worth repeating that the dynamic between the "Dynamic Duo" had changed to noticeable degrees once Batgirl was shoehorned in, with Robin no longer showing his detective skills often used in the previous two seasons.

The would-be ratings bait / novelty of adding another costumed character was not necessarily incorrect, but Dozier would have been better off asking DC if Greenway could use one of their B or C-list characters, one with a following, but not impossible to pull off on the tight budget (in other words, no Superman, the Atom of Green Lantern), but no flat-out parody versions like Dozier's Wonder Woman.

Having such a character appear every three or four episodes--usually if a storyline demanded help with a greater threat (so bye-bye Lola, Minerva, Louie, season three's brain-damaged Shame, et al.) could have been the kind of thing kids looked forward to. According to friends who were kids in the 60s, that kind of anticipation for a guest character certainly worked on Filmation's The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure cartoon (CBS, 1967-68), where week after week, you never knew if the guest would be Green Lantern, the Teen Titans, Hawkman...you get the picture. Only in Batman's case, it would be limited to one--but exciting--DC guest star kids considered as impressive and dangerous (in other words, believable) as the duo.

Well, that did not happen, so we're left with one TV's worst final seasons. With the exception of a couple of episodes, I never watch the blu-rays of season three; there's just no motivation to sit through a show that was less than a shell of itself.

So, you guys are tackling Legends of the Superheroes? Yikes. But in a way, if one considers the season three downslide / tone change lasting into a fourth or fifth season, something along the lines of Legends might have been the result.
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

Post by High C »

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I felt it was necessary to explain all the nuances of the points I'm attempting to make.

I guess the best way to explain what I think of season 3 is with an ancient, apocryphal football story. To set it up, let's say Tech is trailing State 42-7 with 5 minutes left in the game when the Tech coach takes out his starting quarterback so as to not risk injury to him. And the backup QB says, 'So, Coach, do you want me to win it or just tie it up?'

That's kind of where Batman was in September 1967. Theoretically, it at least should have been possible to regain enough ratings momentum to avoid cancellation. But ABC's conflicting directives (2 more characters, 30 minutes fewer time) were going to be a hard mountain to climb from the start. Throw in a tired (in more ways than one) creative team and you get what we got.

Tim, you said in the text for the episode that 'Yvonne Craig was always a delight.' I must admit that I disagree with that, at least the word 'always.' Now don't get me wrong, I don't think the failure of season 3 was all Yvonne's fault, or even a majority of Yvonne's fault. As I just alluded to, I think the all-male writing/producing staff dealt her a terrible hand. However, I don't think Yvonne played it all that well.

Let's start at the beginning. As Tim noted, Dozier's raison d'etre in the spring of 1967 was to build up enough episodes for syndication. Introducing Batgirl was a means to an end--it bought Dozier a season 3. As for Yvonne, as I indicated, I want to choose my words very carefully. I know from all my years as a member of the various incarnations of this board how much she means to people, how wonderful a person she was, and what an icon she always will be.

With that said, casting Batgirl/Barbara Gordon was a tricky hire, because it was based partly on acting ability, and partly on athleticism and dancing talent. Once again, it is not Yvonne's fault that she was not allowed to throw punches or use martial arts. Even Stanley Ralph Ross had BG using a karate chop in his original outline of 'Wail of The Siren,' probably before he knew of the Dozier/Horwitz 'no martial arts' edict.

It was imperative that Greenway signed an actress who could handle the physical demands of the role, i.e., the fight scenes. Yvonne, once a very promising ballet dancer, more than fit that bill. She also had approximately 70 TV and movie credits by the time she did the Batgirl presentation reel, so she was a more than competent actress who had been working fairly steadily for several years.

But needless to say, she wasn't a bonafide TV star or she would not have been available. Yvonne also wasn't someone who usually was a focal-point guest star, someone who could come in and carry an episode as an outsider, kind of the way, honestly, a Bat-villain would. Call it what you like, gravitas, presence, Yvonne could summon it sometimes, but not as consistently as say, Adam. Of course, the writers did not help her cause by too often depicting Batgirl as someone who regarded crimefighting as a lark, as something fun to do, as opposed to serious business.

Then again, Yvonne sometimes seemed to lean into that interpretation when she would primp herself in the mirror after changing into Batgirl. Of course, I wonder was that something Oscar Rudolph asked her to do or if it was in the stage directions. She also had a distracting habit of putting her hands on her hips at inopportune moments--see the interminable Eggy/Olga arc immediately after Gordon is kidnapped. She does that signature move for no apparent reason. She does not know, at that moment, anything is amiss. It's really awkward.

Then again, it was the fault of the writers, and of the half-hour format, that there was no time to show Batgirl (or The Duo, for that matter) figuring out the clues and then proceeding in a logical manner. Instead, many of season 3's plots seemed driven by Batgirl charging in with no backup to the villain's lair and getting captured immediately. That led to another problem forced upon Craig, all of the arcs in which Batgirl is gassed, bound and/or immobilized, with all three sometimes occurring. Beginning with the Londinium arc, filmed in mid-August, 8 of the next 10 filmed arcs in the production order feature at least one of those things happening to Batgirl. Holy pandering, Dozier!

I think the potential solution, if there was one, was what Tim suggested. I've always thought it was a mistake that Batgirl dressed like and named herself after Bats in an apparent homage, yet seemed more interested in one-upping him, such as when she pocketed the evidence in the Catwoman/Joker teamup. As Tim noted, her being the eager student to Batman's mentor solves many problems, especially the duplication of detective work by BG and The Duo.

I also think from an acting standpoint, it would have allowed Yvonne to play more to her sweet, upbeat side as she did in her scenes with Neil Hamilton and Alan Napier, as opposed to the sassy BG 'anything you can do, I can do better' persona that the writing tended to steer her into.

That's my .02. I do not think the show could have succeeded in the ratings no matter what. But I think better choices with the Batgirl character would have enabled Yvonne to do a better job. And that's on the men in the Greenway offices, not Yvonne Craig.
'I thought Siren was perfect for Joan.'--Stanley Ralph Ross, writer of 'The Wail of the Siren'

My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.

'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17
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High C
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Re: TO THE BATPOLES #126 Season Three Wrapup: The Problem with Batgirl

Post by High C »

Paul--Thanks as always for the Siren shoutout. I actually liked Stanley Ralph Ross' repetition of Siren torturing her henchmen, if only because it hearkened back to season 1, when villains lorded over their henchmen, as opposed to tolerating their ineptitude as they did in season 2, when Julie Newmar was made to do numerous Dick York-style slow burns (thank you Ken Holtzhouser).

And whatever one thinks of Wail of The Siren, it is not a sitcom. (Although there is the painting of the safe. It still does not make sense that it isn't in Ross' script, because they had to commission the painting, just as they had to commission the paintings of the historical and literary figures in Siren's lair that resembled Joan Collins. Those were in Ross' stage directions, but the safe painting was not.)

Anyway, back to season 3 as a whole. To start at the very beginning, as Paul noted, the episode with the henchmen with 'HENCHMAN' on their shirts, the season opener, showed how it now was intentional camp. I would add it also denoted laziness. I mean, that was the one in which Penguin wanted to marry Miss Gordon, how about 'Carnation,' 'Cummerbund, 'Best Man,' etc.

I think the biggest problem with Hoffman was he was bad at plotting. That's why he dug plot holes that required SO many Bat-gadgets, many of which, with the timing of the actual arc, meant that Batman would've had zero time to make the doohickey (Ffogg, Cassandra). It also explained why the Bat-computer became a sentient being in S3 and a food dispenser in S2 (spaghetti, alphabet soup, both penned or rewritten by Hoffman). I also think Oscar Rudolph elicited a lot of mustache twirling-performances, even by women (Rush, Baxter).

I also should say I don't think it was a 'mistake' that Batgirl is absent for most of Surf's Up, because it allowed Yvonne to be clad in a swimsuit for most of the running time. Holy Dirty Old Man Market!

Tim made a good point. It did seem they were toying with a Barbara/Bruce or Batgirl/Bats flirtation but it never went anywhere. Yvonne even suggested that possibility in some interviews she did at the time.
'I thought Siren was perfect for Joan.'--Stanley Ralph Ross, writer of 'The Wail of the Siren'

My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.

'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17
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