DCAU #93: Baby-Doll

IN THIS ONE... A former child star tries to recreate her old sitcom and take revenge on her fellow actors.

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: I hate to be down on one of the show's original creations, but despite being a fan of the camp classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? on which the villain's concept seems to be inspired (of course, Betty Davis is much more terrifying), Baby-Doll is, to me, more than a little annoying. Like her sitcom, her cutesy baby shtick is crazed and unfunny, just trying too hard. The premise is sound enough - an ever more bitter woman trapped in a small child's body, trying to relive former glories at gun point (and as guns go, the doll gun is a mad triumph) - but the execution is all wacky slapstick and irritating baby voices. And the episode's themes don't really cohere, with sitcom/childish/fairgrounds motifs vying for attention all at the same time.

But if I find the episode mostly tedious, things take an upward turn in the third act, starting at about the point fat rocker Cousin Spunky saves himself from a dynamited birthday cake and reveals himself to be Robin in disguise. From there, we get some cool action beats, none cooler than those involving Miriam, Baby Dahl's henchwoman/governess, a badass martial artist who seems to be having fun playing that role. Wonderful bits of fight choreography involving her flying kicks and Batman's bat wire too.

And then Batman is off chasing Baby in a working(!) fair, which seems plugged into the story only to provide a hall of mirrors where Baby can see herself as a full-grown adult. Contrived, but Dini plays his usual humanizing tricks here and makes us feel for this woman. There's something deeply affecting about her extreme body image problem and the way she deals with it. And in the end, her catch phrase, "I didn't mean to", spoken in a fully realized adult voice, becomes poignant, as is Batman's simple, understated gesture of kindness, letting her hug him. The ending makes the episode, no doubt about it.

IN THE COMICS: Though the character of Baby-Doll is new to the animated series, she does seem modeled after the Infinity Inc. villain Baby Boom from the Helix team. The truth is probably that both characters are based on the same cartoon little girl. She would later appear as a background character in the L'il Gotham digital-first comics series.

SOUNDS LIKE: Baby-Doll is voiced by Alison La Placa, whose biggest TV role was as Catherine Merrick in the John Larroquette Show. Amusingly, Brian Daly, one of the actors from Baby's show, is played by Robbie Rist who was Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch; the phenomenon that drummed Baby out of her show was named after that very character. Jason Marsden who plays the actual Cousin Oliver in the story (i.e. Spunky), will go on to play many, many roles across the DCAU, including Young Clark Kent and Snapper Carr. Tammy Vance is Judy Strangis, the second half of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Another actor, Ted Baker, is voiced by Alan Young who was also Scrooge McDuck. And Miriam the henchwoman's role goes to Tasia Valenza, whose voice work is all over your video games (including the Arkham ones).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - While on the whole somewhat tedious, the poignant ending makes up for it.


American Hawkman said...

I thought I was the only one who remembered Baby Boom from Helix! Now I kinda want to see Baby Doll have a punk rock phase too.

Siskoid said...

You know very well I have Who's Who hard-coded in my bones.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Definitely agree with your take on this one; it has a few promising ideas, but the execution doesn't quite work (save perhaps the ending). The Cousin Olvier casting connection is really the most clever and interesting thing about the episode. :-)

LiamKav said...

I wonder if there's a bit of meta-humour in Baby-Doll's design... she looks very much like a Tiny Toons character (a show a lot of the production worked on), moved into the more "realistic" DCAU. I also wonder if it's deliberate Robin liking the character added to a show to boost ratings at the orders of higher-ups, since that's his role at the moment. (He also has another slightly poor show, when he mistakes Bullock for a slim woman holding a baby. Harvey's understated reaction is funny, though.)

Also, hey, Summer Gleason gets a scene! The show seems to have forgotten her original role of "person giving exposition on TV" in favour of Batman just getting the info direct from Gordon, so it's nice when she gets to do something.


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