Lookwell: an appreciation

James likes Adam West, and he's not afraid to say so. Except to Burt Ward.

I’ve been a big Adam West fan all my life. As a child, his lumpy, awkward Batman was the only live action Caped Crusader in the game. Thus, I loved him. When I was ten, Tim Burton’s Batman came out and pretty much obliterated every other piece of super hero media in existence. Michael Keaton’s subtle and intense take on the Dark Knight made West’s incarnation look even more ridiculous. Luckily, Adam’s stock as a kitschy has-been was on the rise, and it wouldn’t be long before he was celebrating his inherent goofiness along side the Horseshacks and Erik Estradas of the world. By 1995, saying you liked Adam West usually got you a high five instead of a sucker punch (unless you were talking to Burt Ward).

Forward-thinking comedians Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel realized Adam West’s kitsch potential much earlier than that. In 1991, they wrote and produced “Lookwell,” a television pilot for NBC. In the vein of “Police Squad!” and “Get Smart,” “Lookwell” was a half hour spoof that starred West as a washed-up TV detective who arrogantly believes he can lend a crime-solving hand to the real authorities in his city. Hindering Lookwell considerably in his endeavors is the fact he’s a complete idiot. His logic is always faulty, his methods generally involve overly elaborate costumes, and he often wastes precious hours talking to a statue of William Shakespeare. The former actor is generally regarded as a nuisance by all who encounter him, save the handful of dedicated students who attend the acting class he half-assedly teaches.

NBC was doing pretty well in the comedy department in 1991 (“Seinfeld,” “Fresh Prince,” Golden Girls”), and they decided they didn’t need Adam West’s clueless would-be detective character. “Lookwell” slipped into a dusty crack somewhere in Hollywood and probably would have been forgotten about completely had O’Brien not landed the coveted “Late Night” spot vacated by David Letterman two years later. I’m not entirely sure when I first heard about this incredible project, but I know I first saw it on YouTube a couple of years ago. It’s still up there, actually:

I remember not being terribly impressed by “Lookwell” the first time around. I must have been in a bad mood that day, because I took a look at it again a couple of nights ago and nearly pissed myself. The first five or ten minutes are just non-stop yuks. Things slow down a bit in the middle, but West pulls out all the stops in the grand finale when he attempts to disguise himself as a hobo. That sequence is one of the funniest things I ever have seen in my life and I am absolutely not exaggerating. West is gives a clueless tour de force. It’s almost breathtaking in its beauty.

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If you consider yourself a fan of comedy, do yourself a favor and watch this here “Lookwell” business. It’s one of entertainment’s great tragedies that more episodes weren’t made. Then again, maybe the lack of further Ty Lookwell adventures just serves to heighten the hilarity and worth of this single jaunt. As it stands, “Lookwell” is a delicious rarity, a neglected diamond tucked away in the dusty, misplaced jewelry box of television’s mildew and asbestos-ridden attic (how’s that for imagery, pops?).

Fun fact: on the commentary track for the episode of “The Ben Stiller Show” guest starring Adam West, I remember Stiller saying something to the effect that Adam West wasn’t doing the patented “Adam West” voice when they started shooting the “Information 411” skit. He was just talking like a normal guy, I guess, which isn’t really why you get Adam West to appear on anything. You want him sounding like a weirdo, because that’s the whole gag, right? The Stiller Show people didn’t know what to do until someone said, “Hey Adam, do your William Shatner impression!” Then, boom, West goes right into his famous perv voice. So I guess that means Adam West has been doing a prolonged William Shatner impression for the past forty years.