I write this as I await the 9th episode of Gotham, the newest take on the Batman universe. A few weeks ago several websites declared it the worst thing to happen to the franchise since Joel Schumacher and I have finally decided to tell you why I believe they are so very wrong. Not exactly, I’m here to tell you what I feel about the series and why I love it.
You see, I get their problems with the show. It does not treat Batmans current (or some of his previous) cannon correctly. The choice of characters are weird. The storylines are campy and ridiculous. Of course what they see as problems I see as “wow, this series doesn’t give a fuck and I like it.’ You see, Batman, Gotham-it is a campy and ridiculous idea. Despite the crime and pulp backbone, Batman is a ludicrous concept. I do not care how grim and gritty or serious you make him, its a rich dude who dresses up as a bat beating up crazy people in costumes-or poor people. Thats Batman. Batman is camp. All superhero is camp in a way. Gotham is true to Batman because its the pulp/crime backbone that doesn’t pretend that things are not weird or strange. Gotham is a strange place where crazy people pop up to do crazy things and crime runs rampant in a way that makes real cities look safe and yet many people just don’t up and leave.
But Schumachers stuff was camp too? So whats the difference? The problem is those were all surface. It was like trying to make the Adam West/Burt Ward series into movies but failing miserably. That show was about the time, the look, played up to crazy levels. It may have been a sunny Gotham City but it felt like a city. The outside architecture was modern and the inside was comic. Those Schumacher movies were busy looking, inside and out. They felt unreal. Even Tim Burtons gothic, urban horror of a towering Gotham, felt more real. It felt like it fit the feel. The art deco of the Animated Series brought back the classic pulp of Batman. Then there were the performances. Having rewatched some of the classic Frank Gorshin Riddler episodes you can see just how badly Jim Carrey wants to be him. The Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger is like some weird amalgamation of that shows Mr. Freeze and the cartoons but lacking any true feeling. Clooney, Kilmer, all of those actors really just don’t perform in those movies memorably. The overall execution of the script? A bad script without going far enough to be redeemable. So why compare Gotham to this?
Gotham obviously is a prequel but removing that, lets look at why its superior. Gotham looks good. It utilizes the pulp and noir elements in its atmosphere with interesting interior designs and lay outs. It feels more real. Performances? The performances have been on point. Ben McKenzie has settled into his Jim Gordon. His exasperated expressions in response to the insanity around him paired with a growing craziness of his own. The Penguins Umbrella episode (ep. 7) gave McKenzie the room to show he has the goods to play the iconic cop. His chemistry with Donal Logues Bullock was always meant as a focal point but now they are hitting it out the park each time. Gordon’s pursuit of justice rubbing off on Bullock has been quick, but Logue’s work makes it seem natural. The humor he brings feels organic. Of course, there are the villains. Even critics were thumbs up on Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Fish Mooney and Robin Lord Taylors Penguin. They continue to impress with Smith perfectly walking the line of drama and overacting and Taylor just going all in. Playing Oswald Cobblepot in a new way thats already made him, for a number of people, the definitive Cobblepott actors. Think about that? A character played by Danny DeVito and Burgess Meredith-voiced incredibly by Paul Williams but this young upstart comes in and mixes a little dorkiness with an extreme psychotic attitude. These are talented actors on the show and it feels to me, most of them get what they are suppose to do and they do it well. Sean Pertwee as Alfred having a rough, more aggressiveness is offputting to some but its something new and enjoyable. Especially his interactions with David Mazouz’s young Bruce. This is really the first time we’re watching Alfred raise Bruce and I think it being not what people expected is a turn off but for me, and others, thats the appeal. Alfred is his father now and protector, having to raise an emotional child who lost his parents in an act of crime.
Of course, there is the stories. The Spirit of the Goat, office Fight Club, Balloon Man, Venom as a drug, and the mob battle. They shouldn’t work. Really they shouldn’t. I totally look at these episodes and think this should not work. Yet it does because it feels like they believe in it. Its an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude played straight. The execution works. Gotham works because it doesn’t really give a damn about being right about cannon. It gives a damn about being entertaining. About giving the audience something they don’t get in television or movies. A prequel that isn’t a slave to what is suppose to happen. A prequel that is its own universe. I get a thrill watching this show, more than anything else on TV at the moment. Since the second episode in, you can just feel it growing. From young Selina and scratching a kidnappers eyes out and Lily Taylor and Frank Whaley’s guest performances there. The craziness of the Balloonman concept in episode 3. In episode 4 you had Mooney making moves and a hitman tearing it up. Episode 5 jumping straight to the Venom drug and the way it was utilized creating hilarious and crazy episode with a cool conspiracy angle. The Spirit of the Goat given us Donal Logue’s best performance. Penguins Umbrella working like a season finale-ramping up the suspense for Gordon, Penguin, and the Mob. The last episode giving us the best Alfred and Bruce scenes with Alfred helping Bruce stand up for himself. I just can’t believe they are doing this and it astounds and grabs me.
So why say it was the best since the Adam West series? Because the Wests series was camp too but its a classic. I’m not saying Gotham will turn out to be a classic, but if I was to compare it a take on Batman that’s the one. The show feels like it was made by people who liked that show, but also people who appreciated Tim Burtons take. The series does make nods to those movies, for example Liza singing a Siouxsie and the Banshee song for audition for Fish Mooney (Siouxsie did face to Face for Batman Returns). I think a number of us fans also see young Selina Kyle looking like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. I grew up with those two takes on Batman-and maybe I’m seeing things but I feel those are part of the heart of the series. Its that heart, and that “fuck it, go for it” attitude I love so much. Gotham shouldn’t work but I can’t get enough of it.