The fourth season of Gotham has just come to an end, and against all odds it’s the one superhero show that I’ve managed to keep up with. I’ve abandoned Agents of SHIELD, Supergirl, and all of the Marvel Netflix series, and for each one that I’ve given up on there are five that I never saw fit to pick up in the first place. But Gotham has remained on my viewing docket for quite some time, and I assure you that it’s not out of a sense of duty. I legitimately love Gotham, and now that it has been officially announced that the fifth season will be its swan song, I find myself feeling down. After Gotham goes away, all that’s going to be left is tv that makes me think (or at least wants to), and frankly, I’ve had too much of that sort of thing.
So why is it that Gotham, a show that I will openly admit is very, very dumb, is perhaps my favorite show on tv? Well, there are a lot of reasons.
1. It steadfastly refuses to adhere to any identity.
When the show first aired, critics immediately came at it with the understanding that, as a prequel, nothing could be brought to the table the doesn’t end in the same old Batman lore we’ve all seen a million times over. The show was routinely mocked and subsequently ignored because everyone figured it was going to falter in the way every prequel does: by building a needless foundation to an already sturdy product. Here’s the thing. While Gotham does indeed take place while Bruce Wayne is a young teen, the show only barely functions as a prequel. It doesn’t have an endgame. There’s no specific take on Batman that this property is expressly linked to. No single cinematic Commissioner Gordon could be retrofit to match this one, nor could any of the established rogues gallery of villains. If anything, the function of Gotham is to run for as long as the bills can be paid, and then end with Bruce deciding to become Batman (a decision he has half-made at least two times already within this particular timeline). They’ve even introduced a character who is basically The Joker, had him locked up, suggested that it’s not him as an individual, but rather his legacy which gives rise to a future Joker, busted him out a year or so later to suggest that he actually is The Joker, killed him, and then had his twin brother, who may or may not be a The Joker, take over for him. It’s insane. Sometimes it looks like the show is playing the prequel card, where it not-so-subtly hints that a certain character will grow up to be you-know-who, but usually these little Easter eggs grow into full on representations of the hinted at character, and are subsequently burned out within a 2-3 episode arc. By not committing to any sort of goal short of wheel spinning, Gotham sets itself apart from so much serialized television. I can barely remember what happens from week to week, and it’s a pure delight not to care.
2. It dips into the entirety of Batman’s rogues gallery.
Batman has ALWAYS had the best villains, and Gotham has seen fit to use every one of them. The main villains are The Penguin (who has already become mayor and is no longer mayor), The Riddler (who is the alternate personality of a mild mannered riddle fanatic), and Selina Kyle (who is a teenaged street tough). Also featured are multiple members of the Falcone family, Solomon Grundy, Red Hood, Victor Zsasz, Harvey Dent, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy (who has morphed from child to young adult super model, to almost middle aged woman, based entirely on how much sex appeal she’s supposed to evoke), Hugo Strange, Scarecrow, Professor Pyg, Firefly, The Ogre, The Mad Hatter, Ra’s al Ghul, and about a hundred more that I can’t possibly remember. The show is less about setting these villains up for future use against Batman, and more about letting them bounce off of one another in delightfully sitcomy ways. Heck, for a while there was tension between Riddler and Penguin based entirely around unrequited sexual attraction. Yes, in Gotham, Penguin is outwardly queer, and it’s awesome.
3. Alfred actually does stuff.
Every iteration of the Batman mythos makes mention of Alfred’s past as a member of the special forces, but Gotham is the only one in which his skills are called upon. This Alfred has beaten up and killed more people than I can count, but still manages to be that same old lovable softy that only wishes the best for Bruce Wayne. Sean Pertwee is the hardest Alfred we’ve ever had, and since this isn’t tied to any other Batman property, he’s allowed to be.
4. The actors all get it.
I have a (terrible) running joke with my one friend who has kept up with Gotham. Whenever we refer to the show, we call it “Got Ham?” Why? Because it’s extremely hammy, and every single performer gets it. Every last one of them is committed to the bit, through and through, and those who are tasked with playing extremely goofy characters all crank it up to eleven. There’s a scene where The Mad Hatter and Detective Gordon (not commissioner… yet) are engaged in a ridiculous rhyme-off, and both actors show the hell up. It’s one of those scenes that should make the viewer feel embarrassed on behalf of the actors, but that feeling never comes to pass because both Ben McKenzie (Gordon) and Benedict Samuel (Hatter) get it and go for it. And they’re not alone. There’s a bevy of excellent character actors on board, all
of whome bring their A game: Michael Chiklis, B.D. Wong, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Carol Kane, Paul Reubens, and plenty more. For a show that simply cannot commit to a tone, this sort of congruity should be impossible. Yet week after week, everyone is on board.
5. My dad watches it, and since I’m not a big sports watcher, it’s what we bond over.
That’s it. I love talking Gotham with my dad.
Do I recommend that you start Gotham from the very beginning? No. Not at all. It’s a pointless endeavor that doesn’t amount to anything of substance. What I do suggest is that you do what I do: watch any episode of it (or something like it) while you do dishes or some other menial task. Remember when TV was like this? Remember when you could dip in and out of a show and not have to worry about every little nuance of every word, every shot, every plot thread? It was such a nice way to live and until Gotham came along I had all but forgotten how to do it. As a comic book/nerd property fan, I’ve come to find the non-stop analytical consumption required to fully engage it all to be a bit stressful, which kind of defeats the purpose. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE digging deep into such things – but I also need to chillax sometimes, and Gotham chilaxes me like nothing else. It’s not too much. It’s not too little. It’s just enough. The reason why I love Gotham is simple: Someone saw fit to take one of my favorite sandboxes and make it relaxing to play in once again.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.