It was the summer of 1991, and TV looked about ready to get one of its greatest crusaders back… only this time, instead of a cape he was wearing a sports coat.
With the death of the legendary Adam West this past weekend at age 88, so many fans fondly remembered him as their first favorite superhero from his starring role as TV’s Batman in the late 1960’s, as well as some of the great voice-over work he did toward the end of his career. However, one footnote often overlooked yet something of a cult fave is Lookwell!, the comeback of Adam West… which never really got that chance.
Lookwell! is a television pilot written and created by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel, while the two were still writing for Saturday Night Live and a full two years before Conan took over Late Night from David Letterman. The premise – a washed-up detective show star, still hung up on his former glory, constantly tries to insinuate himself with the local police to solve actual crimes along with the help of his drama class students – would have been funny enough. But with West in the title role, it becomes something else; his velvet voice and deadpan delivery are flawless, and there’s a brilliant meta quality to having him portray an actor best known for a character he played all those years ago. (At this point in his career, West’s roles had been few and far between. Leave it to a couple of canny fan boys like O’Brien and Smigel, who no doubt appreciated his gift for comic timing in the light-hearted camp of Batman, to write him the perfect love-letter.)
So why didn’t we get five amazing seasons of Lookwell!..?? At least this pilot saw the light of day, while many don’t; when it aired during July of 1991, even the then-president of NBC was rumored to be a fan. Yet, whatever else was on that night trashed it in the ratings – a case of bad luck, perhaps, or certainly a show that would have fared better nowadays with so many cable channels who know how to take a concept comedy and find its audience. The pilot is a little rough around the edges, but frequently hilarious and the potential is clear. At the very least, in the early 2000’s the now-defunct channel Trio aired it as part of their “Brilliant But Cancelled” festival, so now we have Ty Lookwell’s one and only return to glory to enjoy. Watch the pilot above, but remember that until the episode is over he’d prefer to be addressed as Buzz McCool…
EXTRA: If you want another dose of ol’ Bats to remember him by, here’s a bonkers song and dance number from the episode West hosted of the ABC variety show The Hollywood Palace in 1966. Take it away, Bruce… (And rest in peace to a hero.)