Gotham has arrived on HBO Max, making it the perfect time to rewatch the show or watch it for the first time. For those unfamiliar with it, Gotham is a television drama that is somewhat of a Batman prequel. The series begins when Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down and follows the young billionaire as he grows up, eventually becoming Batman in the final episode. The series also focuses on Jim Gordon working his way up the ranks of the Gotham City Police Department. Gordon has his work cut out for him, since the GCPD is full of corruption and the city leadership is in bed with the mob.
At the time it was airing, Gotham existed in an interesting place in the DCTV lineup. Shows like Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl were regularly crossing over on The CW, while Gotham lived in its own corner on FOX. This caused a lot of people to overlook the show and miss it. I’ve also seen people dismiss the show because it’s “a Batman show without Batman” or because it broke canon. The thing is, when you say that, you’re only telling half the story.
While it’s true that the Dark Knight doesn’t suit up until the final episode, saying that Batman isn’t in this show doesn’t give David Mazouz enough credit. Mazouz played young Bruce Wayne for five seasons and did a fantastic job. When Gotham premiered, David was 13 years old, and he had grown to 17 by the time the final episodes were filmed.
This meant that we got to see Bruce Wayne grow into adulthood in a way that no other piece of Batman media has ever been able to capture. Sure, Batman Begins did a good job of showing us the path Bruce took to becoming Batman, but in a movie, you have a limited time to show that growth. Gotham gave us nearly five years of showing Bruce grow into adulthood, slowly becoming Batman. We saw Bruce learn how to fight, learn how to be a detective and learn how to be a master of disguise.
A show without Batman? This show was all about BECOMING Batman, and it was done wonderfully. Over Gotham’s 100 episodes, Mazouz gives us one of the most nuanced takes on the character yet attempted. It’s not easy to play a hero who goes from a scared young boy to a confident Dark Knight over a handful of years, but you see the evolution play out in real time and Mazouz makes it work.
While I’m at it, Gotham does a phenomenal job with casting all around. Sean Pertwee (the son of an English space traveler who likes to hang out in police booths) gives one of the best Alfred Pennyworth performances ever captured on film. Pertwee’s Alfred embodies tough love and is likely to be relatable to every parent that has ever felt in over their head raising a teenager who doesn’t listen to them. This is the perfect time for me to remind everyone—stop leaving Sean Pertwee off of your rankings of Alfred actors!
I can’t talk about Gotham without talking about the series lead Ben McKenzie, who plays Jim Gordon. McKenzie was a Gordon for the modern era, where antiheroes like Walter White and Dexter Morgan dominate the water cooler talk. While McKenzie’s Gordon never gets as morally corrupt as those two examples, Gotham’s Gordon is a conflicted antihero who’s faced with difficult decisions about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The show regularly makes it clear, Gotham is a rough city and to survive, you must let the city corrupt you, otherwise it will swallow you whole.
McKenzie’s Gordon navigates that fine line for five seasons as he makes tricky alliances with mobsters, breaks promises and makes sacrifices. Through it all, he remains the inspirational, positive example the Gotham City Police Department needs. That’s not to say he’s a saint. This isn’t the Jim Gordon from the Golden and Silver Age who stands as a shining example of moral integrity. Ben McKenzie’s Gordon takes his cues from Batman: Year One and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. He doesn’t always do the right thing, but he never stops trying to make the city a better place.
Does Gotham depart from canon? You bet your batarang it does, but don’t pretend it’s the only piece of Batman media that does this. The 1989 Batman film has the Joker as the killer of Batman’s parents, The New Batman Adventures gives Jason Todd’s origin to Tim Drake. Yet, both of those are still beloved pieces of Batman media. If you can look past the changes those productions made, then you should give Gotham a chance.
This means that some of Batman’s most iconic villains are established before Bruce Wayne is old enough to vote. (That might be hard to wrap your head around, but think of it like an Elseworlds story.) Besides, it means we’re treated to Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin, which is one of the most entertaining television performances I’ve ever seen, and we’re there for the twisted journey of Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma as he gradually becomes the Riddler.
Then there’s Camren Bicondova’s pitch-perfect Selina Kyle, Donal Logue’s world-weary Harvey Bullock, Cameron Monaghan’s truly shocking take on the Joker—see what I mean? The list goes on and on because the entire cast is just phenomenal. There’s just not enough place here to do everybody justice. The best thing for you to do is just see it for yourself. All five seasons are available to stream right this moment on HBO Max. Start a series binge today and before long you’ll find yourself asking, “What took me so long?”
Stream all five seasons of Gotham right now on HBO Max.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.