Episode Number: 2
Original Air Date: November 13, 1992
Directed By: Kent Butterworth
Written By: Eddie Gorodetsky
First Appearance(s): Robin, Joker, Summer Gleason, Arkham Asylum
An interesting choice for a second episode of a series. It’s a Christmas episode, which feels kind of inline with Batman thanks to Batman Returns. It’s also the debut of The Joker, and introducing him through a Christmas themed episode also feels odd. Naturally, since the show premiered in September this episode was held back to be more topical when it did eventually air, though its original air date still came before Thanksgiving which still feels off.
In this episode, we are immediately introduced to The Joker, who with other inmates at the famed Arkham Asylum, is decorating a Christmas tree and singing “Jingle Bells.” In a moment that would probably now be described as “metta,” Joker adds in the “Batman smells,” variation which probably delighted 8 year old me at the time while he improbably blasts away on a rocket-powered Christmas tree just as he arrives at the “and The Joker got away,” part of the song. Right away, we see this episode isn’t going to care much for realism as Joker is going to quickly establish lots of unique traps and engineer a few kidnappings in a short amount of time with zero explanation on how he accomplished any of that. And unlike many of the villains who will follow, this is not a depiction of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker. It’s pretty clear that the two have a relationship that predates the events of this show and have been at this game for years, assumedly, just as this isn’t Robin’s first foray into crime-fighting even though it’s his first appearance in the show (we’ll get to see his origin later).
Batman is naturally unnerved by The Joker’s Christmas break-out, while Robin (Loren Lester) thinks even villains prefer to spend the holidays with family. Batman is quick to remind him that The Joker has no family. Naturally, Batman is right and when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson sit down to watch a television broadcast of It’s A Wonderful Life they soon find the airwaves taken over by The Joker. Joker has kidnapped three pretty important figures in Gotham: Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and television news reporter Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). Joker, lacking a family to spend the holidays with, has dubbed this trio the Awful Lawful Family and given them personalities of Mommy, Daddy, and Baby (Bullock gets to wear the adorable bonnet). They’re hog-tied, and presumably in danger, as are other citizens of Gotham.
Joker lays some traps, including taking out a railroad bridge and arming an observatory with a giant cannon, all while tormenting his captors in a mostly PG sort of way on television. His use of a discontinued toy is what clues Batman in on the fact that The Joker must be housed in an abandoned toy factory and he and Robin race to the rescue. They have a mostly slapstick encounter with The Joker and his toy-themed gadgets, and Robin even gets to make a pretty terrible bat pun when Batman makes use of a baseball bat. The ultimate goal of The Joker’s crime is to get Batman to open a Christmas present from him, and it’s genuinely amusing and makes The Joker look like a psycho, albeit a G-rated one, and I kind of appreciated that fact.
“Christmas With The Joker” is a middling episode of this series that’s neither great nor bad. It’s hamstrung somewhat by the Christmas theme and just feels inappropriate as the debut for The Joker. Of course, if I were going in broadcast order it wouldn’t be The Joker’s debut, and those of us watching at the time were introduced to the character in a better fashion. As the debut of The Joker though, it still is a fine reception for Mark Hamill in his second most famous role. His Joker is often regarded as the best voice for the character. It’s mostly goofy and fun, especially in this episode, but when he needs to get a little more malevolent he can slip into a darker tone with ease. And his laugh is brilliant.
As a Christmas episode, I will give this one props for not being an adaptation of a more popular Christmas story. At first, I was afraid it would go in a It’s A Wonderful Life direction (a non-Christmas episode kind of will much later this season) when Robin name-dropped the film, but it thankfully did not. I do hate how Gordon and Bullock are just assumed kidnapped, and the episode is too eager to “yada yada” over such details. It’s the only episode written by Eddie Gorodetsky, and if he could do better it’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to show it. For a show that does a good job of elevating what children’s entertainment could be, this one feels too close to the cartoons of the 80s which treated its audience as imbeciles. It’s not as bad as those old shows, but definitely lacking when compared to future episodes. I’m probably being a little too hard on it, as even this mostly serious show is entitled to just have fun now and then. It’s still a worthwhile episode to toss into your Christmas viewing experience though.