Aside from the casting and the coolness, it’s usually the grey areas that make Batman so fantastic. It’s what sets him, and his story, apart from many of America’s superheroes: Batman isn’t red, white and blue, but a shade of grey, and it’s the grey areas he revels in.
On the surface, Bruce Wayne is just a billionaire fighting street-level thuggery. At its core, it’s obviously a tale of what turmoil can drive you to become.
From the Keaton/DeVito dynamic in Batman Returns to the Greek tragedy of The Dark Knight, the good things in Batman adaptations have historically been nuances, irony and detail.
It’s both fitting and obvious to pen a prequel of Wayne’s world, but again, the idea of Gotham is one that treads fine lines indeed. It feels halfway between a guaranteed tune-in and a huge artistic gamble.
Gotham aims to mine deeper than a blockbuster can. It looks like a noir cop show, with James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) cleaning up the streets of the city, and the show dives further into the shadows of the hero’s city than a Batman movie ever could.
It takes Nolan’s ambition to create character arcs that only a TV show can, and casts the hugely underrated Sean Pertwee (Elementary) as an edgier Alfred, David Mazouz (Touch) as a young Bruce and Robin Lord Taylor (The Walking Dead) as a mercurial Penguin.
The show glistens often. McKenzie holds Gotham together as moral compass Gordon, and mazy plots weave at healthy paces. It’s less bombastic than you may expect, and there are intriguing parallels when you relate Gotham to modern-day American cities, crying out for heroes in times of crime.
Superhero stories should always have one eye on the present-day’s world, but Gotham’s downfall is that it gazes too much at its own universe’s past.
Gotham has its flaws, but perhaps none more so than the fact that it doesn’t feel unique enough. The stars are famous Batman villains, who recur maybe too much. It doesn’t deviate too far from canon, and Gotham can’t settle on a tone: gritty, adult drama, or tongue-in-cheek, comic-heavy telly.
Gotham excels when it seeks new layers of the city’s story, but it’s perhaps fitting that often, it can’t escape from its own shadow.