Gotham was originally envisioned as a Jim Gordon Batman spinoff, but all the focus on the show’s finale is on the Caped Crusader himself. When Gotham first premiered back in 2013, the idea was to explore the early years of Commissioner Gordon during his time as a rookie detective in the GCPD, all while dropping in on the origins of some familiar faces from the Batman Rogues’ Gallery.
Fast forward to 2019 and Gotham is preparing to releases its last two episodes after five seasons of dangerous villains, teenage tantrums and Jim Gordon love triangles, with the finale confirmed to be a flash-forward peek into the city’s future of heroes and villains doing battle in the streets. However, much of the build-up surrounding that long-awaited finale is focused on the emergence of Batman, with the remaining attention reserved for Cameron Monaghan’s Joker, and very little left for Jim himself.
This has been clear both in Fox’s own marketing of the finale and in interviews. For instance, Ben McKenzie (Gotham‘s Jim Gordon) recently did a promotional segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live and the chat took in topics such as McKenzie’s role as a writer on the show and whether Gordon would have his trademark mustache in the finale. That aside, most of the Gotham-related talk revolved around Batman’s appearance, with Kimmel himself joking “Maybe if there was a Batman in the show, I would watch it.” While clearly a light-hearted comment, did this kind of attitude perhaps force Gotham to change focus somewhere along the line?
Upon first hitting screens, Gotham was arguably structured closer to a superhero-tinged detective piece than an outright comic book prequel series, with the newly paired crime-solving duo of Jim and Harvey Bullock tackling a case-of-the-week in each episode. David Mazouz’s young Bruce Wayne was a key member of the supporting cast, investigating the circumstances around his parents’ deaths, but McKenzie’s rookie detective remained the primary focus.
This approach shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Prior to Gotham‘s debut, showrunner Bruno Heller said of the show’s take on the Batman story: “as soon as you’re into capes and costumes, it’s less interesting than seeing how these people got there,” a clear indication that this was not going to be a typical Batman show.
Of course, Gotham did become more directly influenced with its source material as time progressed, and familiar characters such as Penguin and Riddler developed slowly into the figures the audience knew them to be. It also wasn’t too long before Gordon and Bullock began tackling more recognizable, long-term villains rather than one-off baddies, and more influences from the Batman comics and movies gradually began to find their way into Gotham‘s narrative.
However, subsequent seasons also saw a seismic shift in Bruce Wayne’s role in the Gotham story. With each passing season, Bruce edged closer to center stage, ultimately becoming as much of a lead protagonist as Jim Gordon. The cast and crew’s take on whether the Dark Knight himself would eventually appear also softened, with Ben McKenzie confirming as early as 2015 that the iconic hero would feature in Gotham‘s final episode. With this ending in place, Gotham‘s fourth and fifth seasons turned the series into a bona fide Batman show, albeit one without the cape and pointy ears. Key comic arcs such as “No Man’s Land” were adapted, the arrival of Ra’s al Ghul ushered in a Batman Begins-inspired origin story and Bruce himself turned into a vigilante right before viewers’ eyes.
This shift needn’t be interpreted as a negative, and it could even be argued that Gotham‘s later seasons were its strongest, but a shift most certainly did occur – towards the very “capes and costumes” approach that the show was originally envisioned not to be. It’s nigh-on impossible to say whether this was a natural progression of the story or a conscious attempt to draw in bigger audiences with material more suited to casual viewers but, for the Jimmy Kimmels of the world at least, a Batman show without Batman simply isn’t an easy concept to buy into.
All of which makes the forthcoming butler origin series Pennyworth a curiously unpredictable proposition. After all, if Gotham‘s increasing focus on Batman suggests a limited amount of interest in a pure Jim Gordon spinoff, is an Alfred-centric venture destined for the same fate? Will Pennyworth‘s earlier setting quell the audience’s desire to see Batman, or will viewers expect flashforwards depicting an older, familiar Alfred? Will the show’s smaller network home put less scrutiny on viewing figures and allow the focus to remain squarely on the future butler? And most crucially of all, can a Batman TV show enjoy long-term success without the man himself?
Gotham continues with “They Did What?” April 18th on Fox.