Oh Gotham, we hardly knew ye.
A bit late perhaps for someone to wrap up thoughts on a show that left the zeitgeist on April 25th, but who are we kidding… Gotham left the fans a few episodes into the first season and never looked back.
I myself have slogged through all 100 episodes (exactly! Who knew…) of the life and times of the denizens of one of pop cultures most well-known fictitious cities. Gotham itself was a 5-season experiment in schizophrenia. At times, it was a mostly realistic mafioso crime drama. At other times it was a CW tinged drama of angsty romantic desires. In the best of times, it was self-effacing dramedy with marvelous production designs and a few decent ideas. And in the worst of times, it was a supernaturally-charged proto-action cop drama / espionage / military / comic book nightmare of plot holes, character reimaginings, and dialogue that had to have been written by autocomplete set to mellowdrama.
In the truncated final season, Gotham attempted to cram in every storyline it could crib/ruin from the comics before delivering a final swansong so apathetic I had to down a Red Bull to write my byline. But put a pin in that point, poindexters. In 12 short episodes, we got No Man’s Land, the creation of Bane, the introduction of Nyssa Al Ghul, the chemical leavening of the Joker (err… Jerome or Jeremiah Valeska…), the birth of Barbara Gordon (not Barbara Kean, duh), the paralyzing and then magically repairing by way of possible-but-never-explained-again cat powers of Selina Kyle, the 88th iteration of Poison Ivy, and of course… the birth of the Batman.
Don’t get me wrong… as bad as the show was, Gotham was always a downright pleasure to watch. The equivalent of leaping into a puddle without rainboots. Fun while you’re miring in the muck… less so when you get back home, wet and cold. When the show leapt the shark? It leapt it in a manner so obtuse, one couldn’t do anything but applaud. I mean, for Ra’s sake, they turned a two-bit mobster throwaway character into Solomon Grundy just for the hell of it. They literally killed the Riddler and Penguin at least twice on the show, and had them resurrect themselves essentially out of pure will. They were also kinda gay for one another. Which was genuinely adorable. They dabbled with the Order of St. Dumas. They gave us Hugo Strange almost creating the monster men. And by the end of the series? Bruce Wayne himself almost felt like a three-dimensional character worthy of … whatever the lesser form of praise might be. A lot lesser. Like, the absolute least one can afford to something you no longer hate. That.
And therein lies the biggest issue with the entire series itself. Whether it is to fall on the shallow shoulders of David Mazouz, or more likely the revolving door writers room (IMDB says about 20 or so), Gotham ultimately never delivered because of it’s flawed would-be hero-in-waiting. While the show itself was heaved on the back of Ben McKenzie and his flawless smile-but-grimacing-because-you-know-drama face, it was Mazouz’s Bruce Wayne that ultimately dragged the show to a screeching halt every single time his sad eyes adorned the screen. Batman’s origin is so deeply set in the lexicon of pop culture, that a show dare to dive deep in to the years between the murder of the Waynes and Brucie’s ninja-world-tour was itself a neat idea. Until you realize that you now get to enjoy the journey of a whiny child forced to grow up during his angsty teen years and actually have a reason to be a moody bitch. Then surround that bitch with weird goth wannabes who obsess over lil’ Wayne at the end of each season and poof! Unwatchable dreck!
But let me stop the hate for a spell, while I ring the bells for those things that made Gotham actually worthy of DCR viewing (after, of course, literally everything else was consumed that week, natch). The aforementioned Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon was a stalwart rock who every now and again channeled some ruthless aggression. Better than he, though, was Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock. Somehow manifesting a performance that emitted the scent of plastic jug whiskey through the TV screen, this iteration of Bullock was never without a one-liner that stole each episode he was allowed. Minus a few overly dramatic backstory turns, Logue played his second fiddle like a first chair soloist. Beyond him, of course, were the series villains. And while I likely could spend an entire week dissecting the good and bad of the lot? We need only speak of the Penguin and Riddler — who honestly the show could have followed exclusively and we’d have just signed them to another 4 seasons right now.
Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot was a powder-keg of a performance from pilot to final bow. His Oswald climbed the ranks from lowly umbrella-boy to self-proclaimed ruler of the titular city he loved so well. Given a soft spot for his mother, and a murderous edge when backed into wall gave us a Penguin that removed any kitsch gadgetry or aviary affection, and replaced it with a capitalistic avarice that fit the character within the over-the-top world Gotham boasted. Paired with Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma only sweetened the pot. Smith’s Riddler had a far bumpier ride — taking him from put-upon nerdlinger straight through to mentally unbalanced psychopath — which never quite settled into it’s groove based solely on the writing. But eventually the plots demanded we accept the Riddler was the Riddler, and once we did? The question-mark-clad intellectual was always a joy when filling the frame.
But all of this revelry amassed to a series finale that felt like a wet fart of fan service no one actually wanted. Mazouz was never going to convince a soul he had the chutpah to don the cape and cowl effectively. The TV Magic of the final season suddenly allowing him to hold his own in street fights bended credibility way past my personal breaking point; even with Sean Pertwee’s pitch perfect Alfred Pennyworth lending 17 boxing montages and crying monologues over his would-be-son’s flying fisticuffs. The last episode flashed us forward 10 years, allowing us to see how little truly changed to Gotham both in the show itself and the fictional world it built.
The city is once again beset by the corrupt. Commission Gordon, after 10 years on the job, is ready to quit. The Penguin (now fat, by way of a costume that literally looks like they stuffed a pillow into his shirt) rejoins the Riddler (still insane, for literally no reason… but still fashionable as ever!) for some tomfoolery. Selina Kyle, not allowed to look like herself, gets the Poison Ivy Bigger Boobies Replacement Smoothie, so we can half squint at the screen and lie to ourselves Gotham pulled off the update. And all of this to allow us to enjoy one final laugh at Gotham’s awful attempt at a Joker. Our acid-skinned wheezy Valeska cackles for a few beats — having kidnapped Babs Gordon — before taking a newly minted Batarang through his hand. Impossible camera sweep to a lithe MazouzMan (heavy on the pout), and roll credits. Sad-trombone.
And with it, goes 100 episodes of television soon to be buried deep on several recurring streaming sites to be consumed by those not scared off yet. Peace be with them, I suppose.
Forget it, nerds. It’s just Gotham.