In honor of today being Batman Day—the very fake sounding superhero holiday that is, apparently, real—HBO Max has dropped the first two episodes of Batman: The Audio Adventures, a podcast throwback to the radio serials of yore. Created by Saturday Night Live writer Dennis McNicholas, starring Jeffrey Wright as Batman, and narrated by Chris Parnell, this is HBO’s first big foray into the world of audio entertainment.
Media companies have been dipping their toes into the scripted audio entertainment pool with little luck over the course of the past few years—the biggest recent example is probably Audible’s Escape from Virtual Island, which starred Paul Rudd and, like Batman: The Audio Adventures, was written by an SNL alum. You’ve probably never heard of the show; it was painfully bad, with broad humor and a silly storyline that fell flat. But Batman: The Audio Adventures represents perhaps the most high-profile attempt at a scripted audio series.
With an SNL writer and starring a number of SNL cast members past and present—Fred Armisen, Hedi Gardner, Seth Meyers, Kenan Thompson, and Bobby Moynihan, among others—Batman: The Audio Adventures is meant to be a comedic take on the Batman mythos. Emphases on “meant to be.” It isn’t fun and campy like the Adam West Batman—nor, to its credit, is it campy like George Clooney’s Bat-film—and is oddly lacking in humor in general. Unlike Escape from Virtual Island, which was clearly trying (and failing) to be funny, two episodes in and Batman: The Audio Adventures has played out almost as a straightforward and slightly boring Batman adventure. What stabs at humor are made are, well, bad. Alfred (Alan Tudyk) and the Bat-Computer (just a series of beeps) getting snippy with each other just doesn’t land in the way McNicholas seems to have thought it would.
On the plus side, by not relying too heavily on humor, these awkward moments aren’t as frequent as in Escape from Virtual Island. While the storyline is a bit dull at the moment, with the cast assembled there’s enough promise to suggest that it might get better.
With his distinctive gravelly voice, Jeffrey Wright is well-cast as Batman. Disappointingly, we spend little time with his Dark Knight in the first two episodes of the show. While we’re told in the show description that the series is about Batman officially joining forces with the police, the show features a series of vignettes and fake in-universe commercials—including occasional announcements from Mayor Hamilton Hill, voiced by a delightful Jason Sudekis—that give us exposition but little of what most people will be tuning in for: Batman. The plot meanders along, though it is ably narrated by the always funny Parnell.
Another Batman audio show has been announced by DC, this one a drama, starring Winston Duke as the Caped Crusader. Such a premise sounds far more promising. It’s certainly possible to be funny with sound alone, though those trying to create audio shows seem yet to figure out how to do so.