Through my adolescence, I was dead-set against the 1960s Batman TV series. I liked my Batman dark and serious, thank you very much, and I had absolutely no sense of humor about it.
Something else I was lacking was perspective (in many things, but we'll stick to Batman for now). For several of those teenage years (the pre-Batman & Robin days), the Batman I was championing over Adam West's tongue-in-cheek interpretation was Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. My youth and relative stupidity kept me from seeing that, while Keaton did a good job as Bruce Wayne and made a decent enough Batman, he was playing the role in films that were vapid and pointless and anything but serious.
"Vapid and pointless and anything but serious" might describe many of the episodes of the old television series, too, but it had something else crucial that the Burton/Schumacher movies painfully lacked: wit. Some of those episodes are pretty funny. And watching it now, I realize that Adam West's take was exactly right for the show. When you, as a fan of comic books about brightly costumed super-powered crime-fighters, drop your silly insistence that it's all very, very serious, West's performance starts to look kind of brilliant.
I still think Batman works best when played straight and sincere instead of cock-eyed and ironic, but there's also something to be said for acknowledging the latent silliness of the whole thing. I'm grateful The Dark Knight wasn't full of too-clever asides, but I've also grown to appreciate the campy TV Batman of the '60s. I'd even say that the 1966 movie was the best live action Batman flick until this year. As a brooding, self-righteous teenager I couldn't stand how lightly they took the complex and fascinating character of Batman. Then I grew up and got over it.
For a demonstration of just how perfect Adam West was, check out these videos of the original screentests for the Batman series. First is the familiar duo of West as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward (still going by "Burton Gervis" at this point) as Dick Grayson/Robin:
Then, as a point of comparison, check out this test done with Lyle Waggoner as Bats and Peter Deyell as the Boy Wonder:
Waggoner and Deyell were apparently the early favorites, but after the screentests West and Ward won the roles hands down. Watching both, I think it's pretty clear that Adam West knew how to tell the joke, and Lyle Waggoner didn't.
These videos were posted to YouTube by ukbatmania
, and you can also watch them and other cool clips on the Bat Scope at The Bat Pages
, an excellent site about the '60s series.