What’s The Show? Gotham
What’s It All About, JG? Bat-boy. Basically this is Batman Before Batman. That means we get to spend a lot (and I mean a lot) of time with the freaks and weirdos of Gotham city who will go on to become Batman’s most feared adversaries – the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face, Scarecrow and many more are all present and correct. Plus we get R’as Al Ghul, played with appropriately sleazy charm by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Alexander Siddig, The League Of Assassins, and (for the first few seasons anyway) an original construct in the shape of Fish Mooney, also known as Jada Pinkett Smith. She’s a gift to the show – ridiculously camp, yet never quite screamingly over the top, and blessed with the ability to deliver utterly preposterous dialogue in the most disarmingly mannered and ostentatious fashion possible. She is glorious. On the good guys’ side, we have Bruce Wayne himself, a mere slip of a lad, Jim Gordon working his way up through the ranks of a corrupt Gotham PD, and Alfred, played with over-emphasised Englishness by Sean Pertwee. All these forces collide together to produce some that is both beholden to various different version of Batman (most obviously, Year One), yet never quite like any other version either.
Why Did You Give It A Go? Gotham promised to offer a rather different take on familiar – some might say over-familiar – Batman material. Divorced from the self-important grittiness of the Nolan films, less graphic-novel-defined than the Burton movies, and less flouncingly over-the-top than either the West or Schumacher efforts, I was hopeful that this show might be able to carve out a unique and different perspective for a live-action Batman-inspired outing.
Is It Any Good? That’s a weirdly complex question in this case. Technically? No, probably not. But that idea that it might carve out a unique perspective? Boy does it ever. The first season or two try a bit too hard to lean in to the gritty side of things – Jim Gordon is morally compromised from the first episode out – which never quite manages to take, since this isn’t a show where “grittiness” is an especially redeeming feature. And the Falcone family never really become an interesting threat, played instead at the level of cut-price Italian-American gangsters you can see just about anywhere. But the roots of what make Gotham interesting are there, and they are embodied in the utterly insane creation that is Fish Mooney. I just cannot express how key she is to finding what makes Gotham work, because her blend of camp, intensity and genuine threat is what makes the series sing in its latter seasons when it really learns to lean into its grotesquery. Apparently she was unpopular with fans and thus made her exit, but if that’s true then it’s a terrible shame. It did take the character a little time for the production team to work out what to do with her, but once they did she’s outright fabulous. Elsewhere, considerable praise needs to be given to Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin – arguably my favourite live-action version of the Penguin, even over Danny DiVito – and Cory Michael Smith’s turn as the Riddler is sublimely good. And, of course, all the praise to Cameron Monaghan as sort-of the Joker – neither Nicholson nor Ledger, he is his own version and quite, quite brilliant. Some characters take time to land, but that’s the blessing of a TV show – they have time to be able to find their feet. So Barbara Kean, for example, starts off fairly unremarkable before developing into something much more interesting, and there’s a pleasing emphasis on gender balance throughout the show. There’s a few flaws, character-wise, here and there – as Bruce, David Mazouz isn’t given a lot to work with beyond “brooding teen”, Sean Pertwee (great though he is) is sadly rather under-utilised, and Morena Baccarin fails to break her streak of being a punishingly unremarkable presence in anything she appears in. But for the most part, it’s the characters, rather than the Byzantine plotting, that make the show work – “good” might not be quite the right adjective, but “unusual” certainly is. There’s no show on television quite like Gotham.
How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All of them, and I’ll see it out to its finale (which is next season). Sucker for punishment, me.
Would You Recommend It? Depends on the audience. For Batman purists? Never in a million years. But if you go in with an open mind, skim the first season, and then get stuck in? Sure. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had here, but putting fanboy purity aside is the cost of admission. I haven’t even mentioned BD Wong’s near-indescribable turn as Hugo Strange, or Donal Logue as the appealing schlubby Bullock, Gordon’s number two, both excellently realised but unlikely to key you in if you’re expecting some Frank Miller dark epic. If you dislike camp, this show will never be for you. But if you embrace it with the same attitude that the Adam West series is now embraced (basically – just go with it), coupled with the idea of exploring the past in a different kind of way, then this can be a vastly pleasurable show.
Scores On The Doors? I want to say 7.5/10 but that feels just a fraction generous, so let’s go with 7/10. It’s good fun, this!