Okay, so there was a “Save Gotham” petition about when all the fans were in a tizzy about whether it’d be cancelled or renewed, and I wrote a thing for it that turned out rather long. As SOON AS I WAS DONE, like I’m talking about 3 minutes later, the word came out that it was renewed for one final season.
I was a mix of emotions from the news that translated as, well, blankness. Awesome, new season, boo, last season (and possible only 13 episodes according to rumour). Also really quite irritating that I’d just written this big piece that now was pointless..
So I’m posting it here. It’s about why Gotham deserves a future, me trying to express just why it means so much to me and others and why it’s, essentially, a great, unique show. Maybe I can still make use of the piece when Season 5 comes to an end, or maybe that’ll just be it for Gotham.
Hope you enjoy the read, despite it already being somewhat irrelevant.
“You take the thing that is the worst thing that could have happened to you, the worst challenge in your life, and you turn it into fuel. You don’t give up. And that’s what Gotham is about.”
– Scott Snyder
Gotham is a show unlike any other that is, or has been on television.
Gotham is a great many things, things great and absurd, and I want you to help save it. I’m about to explain why, at length, and I hope that my passion for the show might prove at least a little infectious.
I was very much looking forward to Gotham when I first saw it promoted, and took eagerly to Season 1. I was invested throughout, especially appreciative of the superlative and novel Penguin performance of Robin Lord Taylor, which has throughout the show redefined and deepened the stalwart 1941 character like no other interpretation before, or likely since.
I read up about Season 2 and became more engaged at the talk of all the major changes they would make for the better (such as turning from villain of the week to a more serialised format). It was around the back half of Season 2 that my great enjoyment of the show turned into love. That was about the point that some viewers may have felt Gotham jumped the shark; I understood the criticism, but I see it instead as Gotham throwing off its shackles and truly embracing the craziness of its source material, as well as fully committing to being its own madcap thing.
To those whose appreciation of Batman might have only extended to the Nolan films, and expected a more grounded approach than what Gotham ended up, I can see how this could have been off-putting. Likewise, the grounded, mature and procedural state of Season 1 might have put off those seeking more of the varied insanity of the comics.
Gotham has since straddled the line (sometimes jumping over to dance about madly), and I think I speak for many people when I say no other show comes closer to delivering the look, feel and performances of a live-action comicbook.
The fact Gotham is not canon, but its own universe, an “Elseworld”, might also have put people off – but every adaptation ever has been Elseworlds. The beloved Nolan and Burton movies were Elseworlds. The Arkham games, even the classic Animated Series. To be beholden to some ambiguous notion of “canon” (what about reboots, retcons, comicbook Ages, different timelines, different Earths, hell, even different writers?) would have only held the show back. It is to the show’s credit that it allowed itself to be its own thing. It enabled it to draw from nearly 80 years of Batman history, clear inspirations and more subtle touches evident throughout the show’s episodes, whilst also constantly surprising and exciting us with its own unique take.
In taking on such a grand smorgasbord of influences, influences spread across multiple mediums and multiple generations, Gotham became a great many things, Gotham is dark and gritty. Gotham is high camp in blacked-out windows. Gotham is bloody and twisted. Gotham is loud and ugly. Gotham is quiet and beautiful. Gotham is fantastical. Gotham is an emotional drama. Gotham is a comedy. Gotham is science fiction. Gotham is a police procedural. Gotham is magic. Gotham is a character study. Gotham is sullen and brooding. Gotham is madcap exploits. Gotham is blockbuster entertainment on the small screen. Gotham is twirling dresses and 50’s hairdos one day, black leather and PVC the next.
The quality most immediately evident upon watching an episode of Gotham is the cinematography. If a criticism could be made against the Nolan moves in comparison to other adaptations, it would be the lack of vibrancy and colour of the city. People wonder why anybody would want to live in Gotham, given all its crime (forgetting a number of real world examples of crime-ridden but consistently highly-populated cities; after all, these are still people’s homes). But Gotham, in its element, is a gorgeous, exciting city, full of colour and life, zany and strange to the point that just picturing yourself standing amongst those grand neon signs shrouded in darkness, looking up at those monolithic Art Deco buildings like black cathedrals of some foreboding yet superheroic New Age, would be enough to make you tremble in awe (and a little fear).
Gotham is a world that stands at the forefront of real life, looking out over the edge at the landscape of fantasy and science fiction. It is just enough to feel like it could be something real, somewhere we could live, while enticing of us of things new and incredible, a city of tremendous contrast, a city of endless pictures in the mind.
If it sounds like I’m talking about it as though it’s a place that I’ve actually been to, that’s because I have. On Mondays, and then on Thursdays I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. And like its other millions of passionate, crazy (in the best way) fans, I want to keep on visiting.
We are living in a Golden Age of television, there’s no denying it. Fantastic shows with production qualities previously unheard of are reaching us, show by show by show, too many to keep track of. You might wonder how Gotham could compare to these, how I can still call it special.
By the time season 3 of Gotham had come to its close, with its fantastic finisher, I had accepted to myself that, no matter how many superb quality shows I’d watched (and it was a lot), Gotham was my favourite. In fact, I realised that, despite loving many shows, Gotham was my first favourite. Nothing before had touched me quite how Gotham did. I had not known what it was like to have a favourite show before Gotham showed me. No other show have I been so entirely invested in, spoiling things for myself, reading all the rumours between (and during) seasons about what might happen, about what character might appear. Joining communities and talking to fellow fans, discussing the show’s episodes and all our thoughts of what might come next.
You might think this silly, considering all the shows that have come before, that I have only become this energised and impassioned (not to mention social) from Gotham. You might even point to flaws within the show, and ask how could I possibly rank it first? I tell you that I am fully aware of its flaws; in fact I think only clear-headed fans who come to it from a position of love can do the most effective job of criticising its missteps. But nonetheless, even if another show might have more consistent writing, Gotham still wins hands down.
Why, you ask? Because Gotham is Gotham. There is nothing else out there to match it. It is hard to explain to someone who may not be a huge fan, but I will try to sum up a few things about what there is to love about the show, before touching on a more general note:
The casting. Robin Lord Taylor, Cory Michael Smith, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz, Cameron Monaghan, Camren Bicondova, Donal Logue, Ben McKenzie. . . I must stop before I feel conscious of leaving any out. The casting has been superb, each playing their roles excellently: David as a brooding teenage Bruce, showing acting chops from the very beginning that promise a bright future ahead of him (or a very Dark one). . . Camren like a young Catwoman from Batman Returns. . . Robin Lord Taylor of course, whose every single facial movement and incredulous exultation is like sheer eye-candy – never before have I been so unwilling to even blink when a character is on screen.
The acting. Effortlessly mixing quiet emotional beats, loud and dramatic emotional beats, tragedy and comedy, action-orientated moments, pathos and playfulness, the acting range on display across the board is a perfect fit for the show. Ever since the years when EVERY! LINE! WAS! EXCLAIMED! FOR! EMPHASIS! the comicbook world has always had its silly, bombastic and hyperreal side, whether consciously referenced or not, and it is to Gotham’s absolute credit that it fully indulges in this, giving us the campy dramatic dialogue while at the same time never making you feel like it is cheesy or substandard acting. It takes a lot of skill to convey multiple moods at once, both dark and light, dangerous and whimsical, and the line between high camp and cheesy is a thin one, but Gotham always stays quite expertly on the right side, while still more than able to commit to heartbreaking moments of tragedy and sorrow, or sadistic moments of pure villainy.
The tone. What may seem jarring to some critics, is only a natural reflection of the world of comics. Shifting frequently between tones both dark and light (and somewhere in-between) is not a criticism, but a testament to the show to deliver on its extensive source material in all its different tones and styles. As good writers, directors and actors know, comedy, pathos, horror, drama and action are all great bedfellows, and including humour in even a show’s darkest moments encourages only ever greater investment in both the situation and its characters. Gotham is a dark tragicomedy, because that is what the world of superheroes and supervillains is.
The villains. Everyone loves a good villain, and Gotham has them in spades. While other shows and movies could be faulted for their lack of depth to their villains, Gotham exists in entirely the opposite field. Gotham’s villains are its highlight, its central nervous system; rarely in television or movies have villains (who grow up to be super awful people) been so humanised, so easy to empathise with. Villains are always better when you can connect with them on some level, when you can understand them. And by showing us the slow burn evolution of characters like Penguin and the Riddler into the supervillains they will one day be, by giving them just as much attention and care as given to our heroes (perhaps even more), we have seen a level of commitment to “villainous” characters like never before, thus giving the viewer the perfect battle within themselves as to who they truly want to come out on top, seeing as they are now, as suits this manner of show perfectly, invested in characters on all sides.
The cinematography. As already mentioned, Gotham has an ability to make you feel like you are living in the gloriously technicolour pages of a comicbook. The look of the show is perfect. It perhaps exceeds the style even of the movies, both in its deliberately timeless design (incorporating aspects of eras from the 1930s all the way to 2010s, that remain without jarring anachronism due to their creative blend), and its use of evocative colour juxtaposed against darkness; the sky is always overcast, the night lights up with colour, dark interiors are filled with glowing greens and reds and purples. Every shot is beautiful, as though lavishly crafted with a movie in mind – but without the constant distracting and weightless green-screens that pepper most modern blockbusters.
I will stop before this becomes even more of a huge essay, even though I have still not mentioned the heroes, the music, the interpersonal relationships between characters, the costume design (Penguin’s frankly gorgeous suits, however, deserve a special shoutout – and indeed have highly influenced my own clothing!), the set design, the storylines, the action scenes. . .
If I could tell you why Gotham means so much in one word, it is atmosphere. Even if we separate ourselves from the script and the plotlines, Gotham has a feel about it that I do not believe is reflected in any other show. A large part of this is due to the cinematography, but truthfully it is all its elements coming together into a cohesive whole.
Unlike other shows that might concentrate entirely on characters and the immediate plot, Gotham allows itself to exist as a place; it becomes something, somewhere real, where characters continue to live out their lives while we are not watching, a place self-evidently lived-in, where bystanders, innocents and common crooks can come in and out of the show naturally, before going back to their lives (unless they wind up dead, of course). The ongoing status of the show is the ongoing status of Gotham as a city. When the show ends, the city ends. Suddenly, these people have nowhere to go, nowhere to exist; the places disappear: the bars, the side-streets, the Narrows, Arkham Asylum, the GCPD, the Wayne Manor are lost.
I will not sit here and write to you that Gotham has ever been a perfect show. I think a lot of it has been to do with the fear of cancellation, and thus the need to rush things for ratings. There are things I, and I’m sure many other fans, would have preferred handled differently.
No, Gotham is a flawed show based on a flawed state of network television. But Gotham is our show. It is ours. The fans now, by the end of Season 4, are as loyal and committed as they are passionate, and they will not go quiet into the night. They too know that Gotham must continue. Not by any means necessary, not if it means sacrificing what makes Gotham great, but by the means it needs. The means it deserves.
Gotham needs a future, and not an uncertain one, where it can continue to disturb its own natural storytelling in a desperation to not be cancelled because of an outdated ratings system that does not reflect the many ways we consume our media nowadays, but a steadfast future, committed to by a network or streaming service dedicated to understanding why Gotham must continue.
Gotham is a show that takes risks, a show in which the sheer love for its characters and its world jumps out at us from every scene. Gotham is a show that gives us live-action pre-Batman characters that we have never ever seen before. It reaches across countless comicbook arcs and adaptations to time and time again enthral us with new and fascinating renditions of characters great and small. A-listers command our attention, but so do D-list rogues pulled to new heights, villains we could never have expected to see now reinvented and put on our screen to co-exist with all these others, in a grand and bizarre and scary and hilarious carnival of freaks and monsters, friendly sociopaths and jaw-gritting antiheroes.
We want only the best for these characters, these places, this world. This is no show that has been-and-done-it, that has come to its natural conclusion or run out of stories to tell. This is a show with endless possibilities, a show of crazy vision and ambition, a show filled with passion and desire for more, more, more. And that more is not the banal retreads of other shows, the predictability, the tired and rote drama. Gotham only ever reinvents, surprises us, excites us, gives us what we’ve never seen before. Gotham looks to the future.
But more than that, Gotham wants to tell us stories. And there is SO much left to tell.
Do what you can, reach out to whoever we can who can do Gotham justice. FOX, other networks, Netflix, DC Universe – whoever feels impassioned enough about the project to give Gotham a future. You can read words all over the internet from people for whom Gotham has been their hope in the darkness, their light, their answer to mundanity and apathy, disillusionment and depression and the common struggles and anxieties of life. For Gotham is a bright, brilliant candle, burning all the lucid and acidic colours of the rainbow.
And it’s not ready to go out.
Thank you for reading.
A Gotham Citizen
“Whatever you do, remember that. You’re going to make a difference. A lot of times it won’t be huge, it won’t be visible even. But it will matter just the same. Don’t do it for praise or money, that’s what I want to tell you. Do it because it needs to be done. Do it to make your world better.”
— Ed Brubaker (Gotham Central, Book One: In the Line of Duty)