First things first, let’s take a look at the key word in that title: enjoyable. I’m not going to sit here and make an argument that Gotham, a show quite possibly set in the Bizarro World portion of the DC Universe, is good. Instead, I want to discuss how this version of the extended Batman universe, despite how terribly constructed it is, can still provide a lot of fun moments for those of us willing to struggle through the muck.
I’ve watched this show since it started airing, and despite how bad it can be, I can’t help but keep watching, curious to see what element or character of the Batman mythos they’ll torturously twist and contort next. Amidst it all, there’s even the occasional solid moment, though each is inevitably outweighed by all the crazy. From over-the-top performances to an unending parade of future villains’ dads, these are the reasons I can’t quit Gotham.
Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin
Let’s start off with an element that even detractors of the show will often grant as awesome: Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald Cobblepot. Appearing in the very first episode, back when the show was still concerned with maintaining some level of cohesion with the source material, this version of the Penguin is a young man, holding barely any clout within the Falcone crime family and desperate to claw his way up the ranks.
As the show’s first season quickly descended into madness, Taylor’s performance was always an anchor of quality viewers could tether themselves to. He brought just the right balance of kookiness and ruthlessness to the character, from his early betrayals of Fish Mooney to his working as a valued informant for Sal Maroni. Episodes focused on the character just feel more exciting, with “Penguin’s Umbrella” still standing as one of the series’ best episodes. Even when Penguin’s story falls into wackier territory – such as his weird adoptive family arc – the character remains magnetic.
The Bizarre Ballad of Butch
In a show primarily featuring younger versions of famous Batman characters, the first season offered Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney as the main original creation. However, though Fish’s time on the show came to an end, her right-hand man and fellow new character Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell) has somehow carried on, managing to be promoted to a series regular for season two. And his journey has easily been the most whacked out in a show full of strange – and Hugo Strange – moments.
Starting off as a regular gangster with an undying loyalty to Fish, two seasons of storylines have seen him beaten, brainwashed, and dismembered in increasingly ludicrous fashion. Somehow, by the middle of season two, he managed to become the crime lord of Gotham, with a golden mallet in place of his hand and one of his former abusers as a lover. Though he spent the rest of the season mostly hanging around a mansion living in decadence, I remain fascinated and excited to see where the character inexplicably ends up next in season three.
Putting the ‘Ham’ in Gotham
Stylistically, Gotham has almost no consistent vision, with tonal elements integrated from almost every previous incarnation of the Dark Knight, from the original sixties show and The Animated Series to the Burton films and the Nolan trilogy. However, regardless of which version any particular actor chooses to emulate, there’s one thing you can count on across the board: hammy, over-the-top performances.
Every actor on this show dials their performance up to eleven, to varying degrees of success. Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Fish Mooney are so cartoonish, they’d fit in perfectly terrorizing Adam West’s Caped Crusader, while the show’s versions of James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) feel straight out of old detective serials. Even David Mazouz, who’s a surprisingly solid Bruce Wayne, is playing a child so freakishly determined and mature for his age that it borders on parody. Somehow, despite how scattershot and tonally dissimilar the performances are, they manage to congeal into a single hammy whole that remains must-see TV for those who love to see the scenery chewed.
The Genuinely Good Elements
I’ll admit that my past few entries have, to a degree, been decidedly tongue-in-cheek. However, it’s worth noting that Gotham has provided a few genuinely solid episodes and storylines along the way, and those glimmers of hope are as much a part of the appeal as anything. I mentioned “Penguin’s Umbrella” earlier, but the deep dive into Bullock’s past in “Spirit of the Goat” and the show’s take on urban legend with “Red Hood” are also enjoyable as strong standalone adventures.
Also, the show has managed the occasional satisfying arc, including the multi-part Ogre story at the end of season one and pretty much everything to do with Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong) this year. Admittedly, there are still flaws in all of these examples, but the good outweighs the bad in each, suggesting that Gotham could be a much better show than it typically is on a weekly basis.
What’ll They Think of Next?
At the end of the day, I’m legitimately excited for the third season of Gotham, and a lot of that comes down to the fact that this is a show that really does make it impossible to know what exactly they’re going to do next. This is a series that will turn its protagonist into a cold-blooded killer on a whim, try to roll back on that plot development for weeks, and then suddenly double down. It’s a show where a major character will rip out their own eyeball just to spite their captor, where the revolving door of death so familiar to comics fan is present and frequently spinning.
And yes, these plot elements are almost always train wrecks, but they’re glorious ones. That aptly describes the whole show, to be honest; Gotham is an astounding failure in so many regards, yet it somehow remains a show that you can’t look away from once you’ve been looking to long. To the casual observer, hearing that season three will feature an artificially aged and recast Poison Ivy and an evil doppelganger of young Bruce Wayne is reason to shake their head and continue watching literally any other comic book show on television. To the loyal viewer like myself, it’s just another reason to smile and wait to see what fresh madness they’ll throw our way next.