This is 500 words about a Batman episode. This is the BATMAN 500.
Establishing that the Joker is Batman’s archenemy is a little harder to do in cartoons than it is in movies or comics. In movies, you can give the two characters extended dialogues that tell viewers why and how they hate each other in a “Make out while no one’s watching” kind of way. In comics, where you have a bit more creative freedom and history, you can say that the Joker is the primary antagonist because of the acts that he’s committed. Until another guy tries to break the Kill/Cripple Batman’s Sidekicks record that Joker holds, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to take his place. But in cartoons, where you have to fit a whole caper into twenty minutes with executives breathing down your neck to add more Bat parkour, you end up having Joker become Batman’s main nemesis because he shows up more often than the other nemeses. He gets the spot because he’s in more credits sequences.
That’s kind of how it feels with “Christmas With The Joker.” Despite Mark Hamill’s best efforts, if you go into this episode hoping to find the legendary Joker portrayal that DC has built over twenty years of stories around, you’ll probably be disappointed. So much has been said about how Batman: The Animated Series is a cartoon that kids and adults can enjoy in equal measure, and after the first episode leaves you with a “Huzzah! This Batman show IS great on a mature level!” feeling, the second episode punches you in the gut with “No, it isn’t. Batman hit a toy plane with a bat, and Robin said ‘They don’t call you BATman for nothing!’ It’s for children and you’re a child for watching this. Good luck with sex.”
Robin doesn’t show up a lot in these first few episodes, so whether or not his presence is a good thing yet is up for grabs. I don’t prescribe to the notion that Robin somehow removes Batman’s Cool Factor like a few people seem to think, because some of these episodes definitely benefit from having Batman/Robin teamwork. But, like the Joker, this episode is not the best showcase for Dick Grayson, especially with the aforementioned “bat” pun. As soon as they developed Robin from being just Batman’s younger, dumber friend into being Batman’s younger, rasher, more empathetic partner, he’d become bearable.
Again, the legacy of Mark Hamill’s Joker is so huge that anything less than the best thing that’s ever happened is going to be a disappointment. But that’s okay. After a few stumbles with the Joker, Batman: The Animated Series suddenly switches gears with him, and instead of getting a villain that has more appearances than other villains, you get a villain that you hope will show up no matter what. An episode about Two Face? Yeah, that’s cool and all, but if Joker could show up just to mischievously wink at the camera, it would go from A to Ultra A+. Just trust me on this one, guys.