Culture Television

‘Gotham’ TV Series After Five Seasons

My thoughts after watching all five seasons of the gloomy noir TV show “Gotham”.

Photo: FOX

“It’s Gotham, baby. We’ve all got flair.” is a delightfully snazzy quote that aptly summarises the TV series “Gotham”. A drama set pre-DC Comics Batman, with the coming-of-age of Bruce Wayne and the inception, rise and fall and then rise again of the nefarious villains that inhabit the show’s titular city. A megalopolis wherein heroes exhibit strong signs of messiah complexes and delusions of grandeur. Meanwhile, the diabolical villains are psychopathic peacocks full of pizzazz. Indeed, the show is heavy on character development, and most of it towards the dark side.

It should be noted here that the following passages are probably spoiler-free (I think). Since I mostly reflect on the bigger picture, the five seasons as a whole. And I won’t be going into details about whose dating who and dumping who, or reveal who dies and who lives, because honestly, it’s a real mess. Thusly warned, please read on at your own convenience and insignificant peril.

The show’s main lead is James Gordon, a no-nonsense and incorruptible detective who works at the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). As a person, he is admittedly a bit of a dry cracker. Though this is balanced by his floppy (and sometimes inebriated) partner, Harvey Bullock, whom never fails to add a splash of comedic relief whenever Gordan’s signature expression that is a mixture of awe and discontent appears on his perfectly structured countenance.

Meanwhile, the young Bruce Wayne lives with his loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in Wayne Manor, whilst he copes stoically with the murders of his parents and obsesses over who did it. On the other side of the city, Selina Kyle (future Catwoman) is a belligerent teen on the streets with a “don’t need no one” attitude. Yet time and time again she shows capacity for caring and helping out her friends, one of whom is Bruce, albeit doing so while still maintaining an air of nonchalance and a lot of eye-rolling.

Then there are the criminals of Gotham’s underworld. Throughout the five seasons, many rose and many more fell. Though there was one constant, Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin). A master of survival and infamous for his bloody tantrums. Indeed, Penguin’s journey from an umbrella boy for Fish Mooney, a sassy “don’t you mess with mama” dominatrix, to King of Gotham, is an impressive feat of ruthless ambition and cold calculations.

Naturally, Penguin has many enemies. Arguably his most formidable foe (once friend) is the brilliantly unhinged Edward Nygma (the Riddler), whose mind-boggling puzzles can literally kill if left unsolved. Needless to say, Penguin’s interactions and repartee with Nygma are the highlights of the show. Their on-and-off friendship is a backstabbing bromance that is both amusing and heartbreaking to follow.

On the other hand, in terms of character development on this show, I must say I enjoyed Barbara Kean’s story arc the most. Her “good girl gone bad then good again (sort of)” routine was fun to follow. Yes, I’m a sucker for femme fatales. Another favourite to watch on screen was the thespian matricidal maniac, Jerome Valeska, whose piercing laugh made for a convincing young joker-esque figure.

Not all the crooks of Gotham slept in the bad parts of town however, it should be noted. Indeed, the families living in the posh, manicured avenue townhouses were just as capable of orchestrating great catastrophes; and arguably more sophisticated at managing loose ends. The Court of Owls was one such prominent clandestine group of elites. Unlike the theatric, blood soaked streets method favoured by the common miscreants, members of the Court wore owl masks and held conclaves in poorly lit mahogany meeting rooms, wherein they would coldly vote and execute (literally) the fate of Gotham City and its simpletons.

On a side meandering cross-comparative character analysis note, many of the personalities on “Gotham” remind me of the tenants in “Game of Thrones”. Indulge me if you will. For examples: James Gordon and Ned Stark (hard-headed heroes); Harvey Bullock and Robert Baratheon (perpetual drunks); Bruce Wayne and Bran Stark (important people); Selina Kyle and Arya Stark (badass fighters); Oswald Cobblepot and Joffrey Baratheon (tantrum experts); Edward Nygma and Petyr Baelish (sly creatures); Barbara Kean and Cersei Lannister (unstoppable dames); and last but not least, Jerome Valeska and Ramsay Bolton (mad showmen). So saying and in retrospect, now that I think about it, “Gotham” is also about a game of thrones; whereby the prize for winning is a (short-lived, mostly) ruling over Gotham City.

Given the menagerie of colourful characters on the show, it should come as no surprise that “Gotham” is big on shocking revelations. But when done on an episodic basis, one does tend to become inured to expect the unexpected. Add to this, and a big part of it actually, you have a character like Dr. Hugo Strange, a psychiatrist incapable of remorse conducting fringe, frankenstein-esque scientific research on human test subjects, while smugly musing, “Death is not an ending. Death is a new beginning.” So yeah, basically anything is possible.

Moving on to the production, like many well-funded TV shows these days, the sets, costumes, sounds and special effects are fantastic. The visuals are great; at times reminiscent of Tim Burton’s goth chic Batman movies. The explosions, gun fights and violence are all very cinematic. The GCPD was constantly destroyed in shooting sprees and then refurbished back to its original self by the next episode. Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane was appropriately creepy, but also seemingly easy to escape from. Wayne Manor is a palace, but like Arkham, is severely lacking in security. There is as many break-ins into Wayne Manor as there are break-outs from Arkham Asylum. Actually, coming back to the GCPD, here too experienced frequent intrusions by criminal gangs or solo villains with destructive intents. These add up to a high disregard for extreme safety measures, no? Regardless, the show successfully creates a believable city of crime and order.

All in all, “Gotham” is an entertaining prequel story to the Batman-era; much like the TV series “Smallville” was to Superman. Dramatic twists and (re)turns sometimes manifests into expected surprises. But the thrill of anticipations and built-up tensions keep us watching and rooting for our favourite heroes (and villains, why not) through all five seasons of Gotham. Overall, I positively enjoyed watching the show.

By Boripat Lebel

Boripat Lebel is a research coordinator at the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University. He authored the eBook “A Vomit of Diamonds.” Boripat can also be found on LinkedIn .