Batman: The Animated Series is my favorite cartoon of all time. Batman: TAS, more than any other show, game, or comic made me the superhero super-fan I am today. In this post, I'll identify my five favorite episodes of the show, along with several other episodes mentioned in less detail.
Batman: TAS (which technically continued on as The New Batman Adventures) had five or six irregularly-sized seasons, metrics aren't perfectly clear. I am considering all of the New Batman Adventures episodes, but I won't be counting any of the DCAU films. This list technically is five main entries and three honorable mentions, but I think the final tally of episodes will be closer to 18-20, as with each entry I give a few examples of other episodes that are quality for similar reasons. That's enough background; I don't feel like giving a personal story for this post. Let's begin listing.
Heart of Ice
Probably the most-acclaimed episode of Batman: TAS, Heart of Ice serves as an introduction to the classic Batman villain Mr. Freeze. The cartoon rewrote Mr. Freeze's character, having him as a tragic figure - a scientist attempting to use cryogenics to save his wife's life. Heart of Ice consists of Batman foiling Mr. Freeze's attempt at revenge against Ferris Boyle (who forced Freeze to stop his experiments) and discovering Freeze's motives. Heart of Ice is a good standalone episode, but is probably more important for rewriting Mr. Freeze's origin story, when in the past he had always been a villain prone to ice-themed puns. People like the new one better.
Similar episodes: If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? is a very cool introduction to The Riddler, but lacks the critical success or game-changing nature of Heart of Ice. I considered it and one or two other Riddler episodes for the back end of my list. Mad as a Hatter and Two-Face are also origin episodes well worth a watch, for Mad Hatter and Two-Face respectively (natch). Feat of Clay is the series' first really good two-parter, an introduction to Clayface. Clayface gets my vote as Batman's most powerful, dangerous foe (yes, over Joker or Bane; Clayface seems more like a Superman villain at times). Read My Lips takes one of Batman's lamest recurring villains (Ventriloquist) and re-imagines him as a really interesting crook. Hard to go wrong with Batman: TAS origin episodes.
A very unusual episode, in which a milquetoast middle-aged man named Charlie Collins (voiced by... Ed Begley Jr!) accidentally gets on Joker's bad side. Joker promises to leave Charlie and his family alone if he performs one favor for the clown prince of crime, and the anticipation makes Charlie nearly sick with dread - his character's arc and struggle reminds me of the funeral home owner in The Godfather. Joker's Favor doesn't have much Batman in it, but it's my overall favorite solo Joker episode and is truly unique in the series (it's also the first episode to have Harley Quinn present). Worth a viewing for a change of pace.
Similar episodes: The Man Who Killed Batman also stars an unlikely hero (an unlucky thug named Sid the Squid) and doesn't have much Batman in it, but is quite interesting - by accident, the hapless Sid manages to (allegedly) kill Batman, drawing the attention of Gotham's entire criminal underworld. By the end of it, you feel sorry for The Squid. If you want an offbeat Joker episode like this one, Joker's Millions, Joker's Wild, and Make 'Em Laugh are also highly recommended.
Over the Edge
One of the darker episodes in Batman: TAS, Over the Edge shows the death of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, followed by Jim Gordon totally losing his shit and trying to kill Batman. The whole episode spins out of control in impressive fashion, and also shows off the totally-fucking-SCARY redesign of Scarecrow for New Batman Adventures.
Similar episodes: I'd put Perchance to Dream in the same category as Over the Edge for the bizarre what-if scenario it presents (avoiding spoilers). I Am the Night is a similarly dark, death-speculating episode that heavily features Jim Gordon. Both of those are great episodes. So that's enough of the honorable mention section, let's get to the real deal.
5. Beware the Creeper
One of the goofiest episodes of the whole series, and my vote for second-funniest overall. Creeper is the new "superhero" alter-ego for Jack Ryder, a television personality that ingests drugs that give him superhuman strength and agility but also make him mentally unstable. Later an inspiration for Jim Carey vehicle The Mask as well as the Freakazoid! television series, Creeper is totally hilarious and crazy, beating up on Joker, a trio of Three Stooges-inspired henchmen, and even Batman himself while crushing on Harley Quinn. Beware the Creeper is one of the final episodes of New Batman Adventures, but you (for no good reason, really) see Creeper appear in one or two episodes of Justice League Unlimited.
Similar episodes: well, it's hard to identify anything similar, because I've covered several of the other candidates in other entries. Trust me on this one - Beware the Creeper is so weird that it almost doesn't seem to fit. But it's a really good episode.
Of all the new villains created for the Batman: TAS cartoon, the two standouts are Harley Quinn (one of the most lastingly popular Batman villains from the past twenty years) and Baby-Doll (who I thought was underused and underrated). Mary "Baby-Doll" Dahl is a woman in her early 30s who stopped physically aging at five years old. Her consistent look made her a sitcom star several years earlier, but when her former cast moved on with their careers, Baby-Doll lost it and sought revenge. Batman foils Baby-Doll's plans, of course, but her character arc is interesting and tragic - by the end of the episode you feel sorry for the poor girl. Standout episode.
Similar episodes: Mean Seasons is an episode of a similar framework: a new villain created for the cartoon (Calendar Girl) with an interesting, surprisingly poignant background and a somewhat tragic ending to the episode. I liked Calendar Girl so much that I wished she had stuck around longer, but her ep was near the end of The New Batman Adventures' run. Baby-Doll makes a return later, teaming up with Killer Croc in Love is a Croc. It's not a bad episode, either; the two make an extremely odd sort of odd couple.
3. Growing Pains
The best Robin episode, with Tim Drake falling in love with an angelic young girl with an abusive father. Growing Pains has some appropriate teen angst, lots of good dialog with Tim, Bruce, and Alfred, and a WTF twist ending that creeped me out almost as much as Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (a subject for another day). Growing Pains will make you hate a certain villain a LOT by episode's end.
Similar episodes: Robin's Reckoning is a big two-parter that deals with the original of Dick Grayson as Robin. It's one of two Batman TAS episodes to win an Emmy Award (along with Heart of Ice) and it's both true to the comics and fitting in perfectly with TAS.
2. Mad Love
One of the best, most acclaimed episodes according to pretty much every Batman: TAS list similar to this one, Mad Love is a late-in-coming intro and backstory for Harley Quinn, Joker's girlfriend and accomplice. Composed of a mix of flashbacks and current action, we see how Harley fell in love with the clown prince of crime, how the (bizarre) dynamic of their relationship works, and Harley doing quite well as a solo crime act. Extremely strong episode overall and well-deserving of its praise.
Similar episodes: Harley and Ivy and Girls Night Out are two signature Harley episodes, and most of the aforementioned Joker episode (i.e. Beware the Creeper, Joker's Millions) are good material for Harley fans.
1. Almost Got 'Im
My favorite episode of Batman: TAS delivers tremendous variety, frequent laughs, dramatic moments, and multiple surprise twists, all in 22 minutes. Taking place mostly in a seedy bar, Batman villains Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Penguin, and Killer Croc (plus cameos from Harley Quinn and Catwoman) each recount of their least-unsuccessful attempt at taking down Batman (the one where he or she "almost got 'im"). Taking place mostly in flashbacks, Almost Got 'Im's four vignettes and connecting story are executed superbly, blending superhero action with comedy brilliantly. One of my favorite episodes of any television show, ever.
Similar episode: Trial is the other great "villain ensemble" episode of Batman: TAS, in which around nine or ten members of the ol' rogues gallery plus dozens of unnamed convicts place Batman on trial for having "inspired" their criminal natures. Batman is defended by an anti-Batman lawyer who is one of the best one-episode civilians in the whole series. Great dialog from a bunch of different villains, and a fantastic end-of-episode showdown with Joker. Trial almost made it onto this list in the #4 or #5 spot.
I've been wanting to make a list similar to this one for over a year and only now got around to rewriting / finishing it. Consider it a list of recommendations. If you're interested in Batman: TAS but don't want to watch all 100+ episodes, cherrypicking from the best ones is a great way to do it.