I Want to Move to “Gotham”

Watching Gotham tonight forced me to a dark and shocking realization: This is better than Batman! It's richer, better written, and more compelling. Of how many prequels can we say that?

Okay, I’m taking time off from binge-watching the latest season of Gotham on Netflix to tell you people why.

First of all, it’s amazing to look at. Not just beautiful actresses and lurid, steampunk costumes. No, this film recalls the very first Batman, re-envisioning New York as if Art Deco had never died. The vast, cavernous interiors, the artworks hidden in shadow … it helps you imagine a world where Bauhaus never came to our house. It’s the New York that should have been.

Yes, there’s a bit of crime. Okay, there’s deep, systemic corruption, which permeates an oligarchy whose tentacles reach from the sewers up to the skies. But these are quibbles. Gotham makes me homesick for a city that never was.

Then there’s the writing, which is consistently more intelligent and adult than most TV drama. The characters have a depth and consistency that we don’t see on most of television. And guess what? They are literate! It’s as if the promise of comic book action and occasional preternatural activity freed up the writers to use their full vocabularies, even tap literary allusions. I’m reminded of movies from the 1930s, which were written by men who’d read books, or from the 1950s, which were scripted by men who’d watched plays. What a surprise to see that the best writing now comes from men who’ve read comic books. But clearly they’ve read much more.

Acting is solid throughout the cast, including some teenage actors from whom we might not expect as much. They bring to life a lively and complex series of characters whose dark and Machiavellian interaction somehow never let us stop caring. These villains are more dimensional than most feature films’ protagonists.

Now, I enjoyed the Christopher Nolan reboots of the Batman franchise as much as anyone. I might be more annoyed than most at the Ben Affleck incarnation. But watching Gotham tonight forced me to a dark and shocking realization: This is better than Batman! Jim Gordon as police commissioner has a lot of the Batman’s stoicism and hidden rage, but it’s played less grandiosely. It’s more relatable. And the sheer space provided in a multi-season series allows for the baroque plots that these magnificent setting seems to demand.

And who, whatever his political party, can resist the campaign slogan of Oswald Cobblepot, “Make Gotham Safe Again” (MGSA)? I’m already trying to order a red hat that reads that.

Having said all this, I really do need to get back to Season 3, episode 13.

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John Zmirak is Senior Editor of SCENES. He has sold screenplays, published a graphic novel ("The Grand Inquisitor") and taught writing at several...
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