This is likely to be the most controversial of statements, but right now “Gotham” is the best DC show on television. After some careful deliberation, and mainlining “Gotham,” “Arrow,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Supergirl” on Netflix and Hulu over the course of one weekend, we can safely declare without an iota of doubt that “Gotham” is not only stronger than its CW brethren, but one of the best television shows ever.
Two factors were primarily considered when crafting this list: qualities of “Gotham” that are directly responsible for its superior quality, and aspects of CW DC shows that “Gotham” deliberately avoids. No matter the reason, these 15 factors are what keep us coming back to “Gotham,” week after week. Also, this list only considers “Gotham” the best live-action DC show currently on the air. Nothing beats “Justice League Unlimited.” Do you hear us? NOTHING!
SPOILER WARNING: Heavy “Gotham” spoilers run throughout.
15. AN AMAZING CAST
So, the first thing that stands out about “Gotham” is its superb cast. Where do we even begin? You have “The OC’s” Ben McKenzie as Detective Jim Gordon, the always excellent Donal Logue as a hands-down-perfect Harvey Bullock, Deadpool’s girlfriend Morena Baccarin plays medical examiner Lee Thompkins, and these are just the series regulars.
It’s not that the CW shows don’t have amazing casts — Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller are some of the best reasons to watch “Legends of Tomorrow,” which is essentially “Prison Break Through Time” — it’s just that “Gotham” has so many notable actors playing some of comic’s best characters: Paul Ruebens (aka Pee Wee Herman) plays Penguin’s long lost father, Milo Ventimiglia plays The Ogre and Michael Chiklis plays Nathanial Barnes. The best guest star would have to be B.D. Wong, however. Wong is just so damn slick and sinister as Hugo Strange that you find yourself overlooking the show’s more ridiculous moments just to get some more time with that razor sharp neckbeard.
14. HIGHER PRODUCTION VALUES
One of the most striking qualities about “Gotham” that comes across immediately is how well it’s shot. “Gotham” is aesthetically pleasing to watch, as each episode is shot with heavy cinematic influences. Scenes are visually engaging, with deliberate colorful lighting and actors arranged to create a true depth of field. It’s also refreshing to see how much of New York City “Gotham” utilizes to make every scene unique. The level of care put towards the setting makes it feel as if the show takes place in a real living metropolis, and not just a S.T.A.R. Labs soundstage.
There’s a scene where The Riddler is using a butane torch to cook dinner for a date, and more care and time is poured into this one montage than the cumulative sum of every nightclub scene in “Arrow.” Maybe it’s because The CW’s DC shows follow the same production style introduced way back in “Smallville,” but there’s this sort of soap opera style vibe to every show that holds back the quality. Likewise, in order to keep costs down, you have to accept a certain amount of campy CGI powers on The CW, which brings us to our next point…
This piggybacks a bit off of what makes Batman so great, but all of “Gotham’s” primary protagonists have no powers, nor special skill sets like archery or shooting an ice gun really well. Superpowered villains don’t even appear until the later half of Season 2 in the form of Mr. Freeze. No superpowers in “Gotham” means no need for CGI during action scenes, the special effects for which usually come in the form of excellent gun play and hand-to-hand combat. One of the most memorable sequences in Gotham has The Penguin hiring a horde of individuals that look like him, complete with an awkward shuffle walk and purple breasted suit, getting into a shotguns-only fight with the GCPD.
A bonus of this lack of meta-humans means that “Gotham” avoids a certain cheesiness that is on every CW DC show. The CGI has come a long way since “Smallville,” but still leaves something to be desired. Suddenly the meta-human factor becomes a liability, as you have to shoot every fight scene to compensate for digital effects.
Here’s what happens when you tune in to Episode 7 of Season 2 of “Legends of Tomorrow”: “Previously on ‘The Flash,’ ‘Arrow,’ and ‘Legends of Tomorrow:’: Oh hey Supergirl is here too, by the way.” Don’t get us wrong, it’s awesome that we live in an era where you have to go across three different shows just to see the Invasion storyline on The CW. The CW DC shows have essentially become “The Avengers” of television. Crossover episodes are awesome, but in order to be caught up for Invasion, there are a lot of episodes to binge. Hell, you have to watch three seasons of “Arrow” and one of “The Flash” just to be up to speed for the first episode of “Legends of Tomorrow.”
Fortunately, “Gotham” will never cross over with “Arrow.” Not just because “Gotham” is on a rival network, but because such a crossover wouldn’t make sense. you can’t have a Justice League without Batman, and Oliver has already fought major Bat-villains. “Gotham” is self contained, however, so while we will never get a mind-bending yet totally doable “Gotham” and “Flash” universe crossover, it doesn’t matter as “Gotham” is strong enough to stand on its own.
11. GREAT CHILD ACTORS
One would think that incorporating child actors would bring down the quality of “Gotham,” but a cool aspect you can only really notice when rewatching the series is how much Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle grow as the show progresses. Compare Season 1 Bruce to Season 3 Bruce: he starts the show as a socially awkward rich kid, but by the latter half of Season 3, he’s gone through a major growth spurt and has started to muscle up, dodging kicks and catching high kicks. Bruce isn’t the Batman yet, but he’s getting there.
On the other hand, you have Selina Kyle: a little badass career street urchin turned jack of all trades criminal who keeps trying to recall that she’s still just a little girl at the end of the day. Abandoned by her mother, Selina is what would’ve happened to Bruce without Alfred’s guidance, becoming essentially his polar opposite. Naturally, Bruce is in love with her. Because we know Batman and Catwoman are basically the Kevlar-bound Ross and Rachel of comics, you get to see the two fumble their way into the death trap that is inherent in all romantic relationships. Speaking of romance…
10. NO OBLIGATORY ROMANCE
One bad habit that sticks out when marathoning The CW DC shows is their tendency to jam in romance where it doesn’t belong. Take “Legends Of Tomorrow,” where in one episode, the time hopping heroes make it to 1958 France, where White Canary helps a sexually confused nurse come out of the closet. Canary teaches the nurse that she should be proud of her sexuality, in addition to how to properly make out League of Assassins-style. A great lesson, sure, but White Canary changed the time stream by a factor of one lesbian nurse. Maybe the nurse would’ve come out eventually, but White Canary totally sped up the process.
In “Gotham,” when romance occurs, it is central to the plot. There’s a whole storyline of Edward Nygma wrestling with his “Riddler within” to woo Ms. Perkins. There’s a scene where they kiss for the first time as their glasses clink together and it’s all just so damn cute. You know that Nygma is just a monster in waiting, but you can’t help but root for him when he finally gets the girl.
9. GOTHAM IS DARKER
It’s just occurred to us that we’ve gotten this far through the list without a single Riddler-brand riddle:”What do you call a tavern of blackbirds?” Then The Riddler proceeds to bash a cop with a crowbar. We’re not saying that darker is better, as the last thing we want to do is inspire an Emo Renaissance, but “Gotham’s” darker tone allows for more artistic freedom. Whereas CW DC shows can go all out on the various power sets, “Gotham” can go all out on the violence.
Other moments of lovely ultra violence include Jerome introducing his group The Maniax! by dropping live prisoners off of a rooftop to spell it out with their corpses, complete with an exclamation point. In the same episode, Jerome is one faulty lighter away from lighting a bus of cheerleaders on fire. Darker isn’t always better, but you’re never going to get this level of gallows humor on “The Flash” or “Arrow.” If anything, there’s a certain campy, wholesome vibe with the other DC shows that is replaced with pure grit on “Gotham.”
8. THE JOKER MYSTERY
Perhaps what really keeps us coming back to “Gotham” and revisiting old episodes is the true identity of The Joker. Take Jerome, who may be one of the best Jokers put onscreen — if he is in fact The Joker. Whether it’s just a wisp of green hair, the jokes,or the maniacal laugh, Jerome’s entire character just screams Joker. Jerome himself sets up the nemesis parallels between himself and Bruce Wayne, such that you’re positive that he is the Joker… and then he dies. In his wake, Jerome’s highly televised crime spree has inspired a mass of potential Jokers across Gotham.
Enter Lori Petty as Jeri, a character heavily influenced by Heath Ledger’s Joker. Seriously, there’s even an interrogation scene in the GCPD that culminates in Jeri asking “What time is it?” In Season 3, Dwight Pollard — played by David Dastmalchian, who also played Joker henchman Thomas Schiff in “The Dark Knight” — brings Jerome back to life. This would be a convenient way to give Jerome a chemical bath makeover, but that’s too easy. Instead we get an homage to “Death Of The Family,” with Jerome’s face cut off and then crudely stapled back on. It’s brutal, and amazing.
7. SIMULTANEOUS STORYLINES
It seems impossible, but “Gotham” has almost no throwaway episodes — looking at you, spike-guy from Season 1. Even episodes that deal with one-shot villains still feature some sort of nefarious activities from Gotham’s underworld that is integral to the plot. Part of this nigh-perfect record has to do with how “Gotham” is set up, as one villain’s origins are revealed in the main plot of an episode, another villain like Edward Nygma slowly goes through his own character arcs in the background, taking center stage when necessary. Some Batman villains are born in the flash of a freak accident, while others are forged through a slow burn.
“Gotham” is not a show just about the rise of The Batman, but also how Jim Gordon transforms from detective to commissioner, how Oswald Cobblepot went from umbrella-boy to The Penguin, and how Gotham City itself became a den of super-crime. While Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne are our main protagonists, part of “Gotham’s” hook is devoting so much time to telling each character’s story. We find ourselves caring for each character and each plot line, no matter their motivations.
6. BEAUTIFULLY INSANE
The best and most polarizing part of “Gotham” is how the show so delightfully embraces insanity. Take the primary Season 2 antagonist, Theo Galavan. Galavan spends the season breaking out a cabal of villains from Arkham Asylum, trying to buy Wayne Enterprises, and dastardly throwing documents containing the identity of Bruce’s parents’ killer into a fire — typical mastermind villain stuff. By the midseason finale, Galavan meets his end with Jim Gordon shooting Galavan before Penguin impales him on an umbrella.
Good death right? Oh, we’ve only just begun. Hugo Strange brings Theo Galavan back to life, brain-damaged, crazy strong and believing that he is ancient crusader knight Azrael. Galavan is now Azrael, wielding body-armor, a replica sword and a penchant for pulling off Batman-style stealth takedowns. This inspiration for Bruce’s alter ego poses a predicament: How do you defeat a villain that can just be brought back from the dead? Bring in a rocket launcher, duh. The real insanity of this scene is that it’s exactly what happened to Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” and yet somehow the exact opposite of it. Galavazrael is just one insane patch on the crazy quilt that is “Gotham.”
5. NO MELODRAMA
This entry isn’t so much about what “Gotham” does right, but what “Gotham” makes sure to avoid: the obligatory melodrama. Nearly every action sequence in a CW show is paired with a slow, emotional scene of self-expression. It’s as if every CW superhero show has an overly dramatic quota to fill in order to unlock the actual superhero stuff. Is the episode moving at a break-neck pace and full of action? Let’s bring all of that to a screeching halt so that we can have characters talk about their feelings.
Not that “Gotham” doesn’t have its fair share of scenes of introspection, but with CW shows it’s just so frequent. You think maybe this scene will just be some light banter and action, but then you hear the dramatic cue and realize someone is going to talk about their feelings for the rest of the scene. The melodrama just throttles down the action, making it a chore to get through the episode.
4. NEW BATMAN MYTHOS
“Gotham” may be marketed as the story of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but that’s something of a misnomer. “Gotham” covers an era of The Batman that no one has covered before. Even “Batman Begins” jump cuts to a collegiate Bruce Wayne, glossing over Bruce’s most formative (and most likely goth) years. Just as Gotham City in the comics was full of monsters and crazies before Batman even existed, “Gotham’s” Batman will ultimately be a response to the super villains that tear apart his city, with Bruce Wayne building a new part of his persona with every villain he encounters.
“Gotham’s” handling of the Batman continuity is actually a turn off for many fans, but the best Batman series have always established their own continuity. Without “Batman: The Animated Series,” we would have no Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze would have the lamest origin story. Even the 1960’s “Batman’s” “Bat Shark-Repellent” popped up in “All Star Batman” recently.
3. GOTHAM ALFRED IS THE BEST ALFRED
One of the best parts of “Gotham” is Sean Pertwee’s portrayal of Alfed Pennyworth. While other interpretations of the Batman have Alfred filling the atypical butler’s role, Gotham instead focuses on Alfred being Bruce Wayne’s guardian first, and butler second. It’s as if every other Batman writer forgets that Alfred has experience as a combat medic, with an emphasis on combat. It makes sense that Alfred would patch up the Bat’s wounds, but why wouldn’t Alfred also teach Bruce some survival techniques? This simple acknowledgment of Alfred’s past turns the butler into one of the show’s most lovable characters as a mentor and replacement father figure for Bruce.
Simply put, Alfred Pennyworth has never been this badass. You would never guess that Alfred gets the best fight scenes in the show. “Gotham” Alfred is a former British commando who has stood his own in hand to hand combat against a Court of Owls Talon, took a throwing knife to the back before escaping by means of garbage truck, smacked Selina Kyle super hard for killing a friend, and still had time to school Lucius Fox on what kippers are.
2. BEST PARTS OF THE BAT-VERSE
“Gotham” may be writing its own continuity, but it’s a retrofit utilizing some of the best storylines and aspects of its source material. Over the course of two and half seasons, Gotham has borrowed elements from: “The Court of Owls”, “Death Of The Family,” “Hush,” “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” “Knightfall” and “Batman #666” just to name a few.
Likewise, “Gotham’s” writers dig up some of the best Batman characters that have never been onscreen. This includes Silver St. Cloud, a potential love interest for Bruce Wayne that has been around since the ’70s, yet has never appeared outside of comics. Without a doubt, the best obscure character “Gotham” has ever used is Grant Morrison’s flamboyant assassin cannibal, Eduardo Flamingo. Flamingo is as one-shot a character as they come, but in his three short ultra-violent scenes, he makes such a beautiful bloody introduction to the live action format. These characters have been in the Batman universe for decades, yet have never been tapped for their cinematic potential. Alternatively on “Arrow,” we are introduced to the Big Bad of the Season 3, Ra’s al Ghul, Batman’s greatest nemesis when Joker is dead or figuring out a new look.
1. (ALMOST) NO VILLAINS OF THE WEEK
The best quality about “Gotham” is the pace at which it introduces its villains. Most villains on CW DC shows are given one episode to introduce themselves, go on a crime spree, then get sent to jail and/or hell by the episode’s end. Even when you have a universe-changing event like Flashpoint occur in “The Flash,” the show still wrangles in a villain generator, allowing them to conveniently fall back to the villain of the week format.
Gotham treats its villains in a surprising manner, be they big or small. With a few exceptions in the first season, villains on Gotham are introduced through actual character arcs. A-List villains like Riddler and Penguin have their own proper storylines spread over a season. D-List villains like Electrocutioner, Firefly and Ogre have multiple episodes devoted to fleshing out their origins. Even when Black Mask shows up as the villain of the week in an early Season 1 episode, he returns for Season 2. So when you see a character hauled off to Arkham at the end of an episode, it’s not the last you’ve seen of them.
What do you think? Have we convinced you that “Gotham” is DC’s best TV show? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!
“Gotham” airs Monday nights on Fox at 8:00PM EST.
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