Even Bruce Timm Can't Watch This Batman: The Animated Series Episode


Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's sixty-first installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week we have another suggestion from Gravity Falls Poland. Honestly, I was planning on pairing these comics/cartoon stories with similar concepts, thinking no one would ever think to suggest them. Gravity Falls Poland proved me wrong again! If you have any to give, all recommendations for future entries are welcome in the comments.

So, debuting on September 30, 1992 is one of the most infamous DC Animated Universe episodes. "I've Got Batman in My Basement" is the bland, kid-friendly Batman producer Bruce Timm fought against during the show's early development. Writers Sam Graham & Chris Hubbell only have this episode as their Batman credit. Which, well, isn't surprising.

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Laren Bright is credited as the story editor for the episode, a traditional animation writer who's open about appreciating "pro-social" values in kids' TV. The values-driven approach clashed against Timm's vision of a more serious Batman. Writer Randy Rogel spoke about this last year in Back Issue magazine:

Laren (Bright) and Sean (Derek) came on, [and] they were thinking of it more like it was a kiddies’ show. Brightly colored, and I don’t think Bruce and Eric (Radomski) were receptive to that. They said, “No, no, that’s not the show we’re thinking of."

Now, why does this episode stand out so badly? Alan Burnett is the producer credited with steering the show towards serious drama, not the kids stuff. "Basement" director Frank Paur once told fanzine Animato!, "I think that if we hadn't gotten Alan Burnett to come over, we would have had a lot more shows like this one."

Yet, a number of these mediocre (or just terrible) scripts were already in the drawer. And scripts were needed. Badly. That means scripts no one was that happy with had to go into production.

So, "Basement" marks Penguin's Animated Series debut. And it's not a promising indication of how he'll be treated on this series. (Other episodes treat him quite well. He never becomes a major figure on the show, however.) Essentially, he's no different here than you might expect on the old Filmation Batman cartoon. Yeah, he has that Tim Burton-inspired look, but his portrayal is as dull and generic as could be imagined. His thugs have stolen the Vonalster Fabergé Egg -- Get it? Because he's a penguin and he loves eggs -- and two pint-sized detectives have spotted the hand-off.

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Yes, who could forget Sherman Grant and his best friend Roberta? They're the quintessential "Fox Kids Club" kids from the pre-Batman era. Before Fox Kids forged an identity with smart material that also appealed to adults, it was indistinguishable from any other network programming. And Sherman and Roberta are the two precocious kid heroes you'll find in those shows. They have almost no personality, face no real danger, and outside of two harmless neighborhood bullies, lead charmed lives.

Penguin locates the kids, not long before Batman enters. After a gas pellet seriously wounds Batman, Sherman and Roberta sneak him into Sherman's basement. From there, it's a series of "cute" scenes that are nearly intolerable. Wacky fun with the Batmobile! Home Alone-style pranks against the villains! The neighborhood bullies teaming up with the squeaky-clean kids! Aww...

Naturally, the story ends with Batman recovering in time to stop the Penguin. The only real consequence comes in Sherman's mom discovering the mess inside her home. And the bullies are now Sherman's "employees" in a junior detective agency. Now, a story about a villain placing two kids in true danger, and Batman too sick to save the terrified children, is a solid idea. But this is utterly toothless. Here's Bruce Timm's comments to Animato!'s Summer 1993 issue:

I can't even watch that show. It's the epitome of what we don't want to do with Batman. Strangely enough kids like it. The script came in and it was terrible. Normally, I tell the director to do what he can to make it interesting, and nobody could figure out a way to make it interesting. The storyboard artists didn't care, and it shows.

It's amusing to have Timm being so blunt about this episode as early as 1993. "Basement" was still in rotation at the time!

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