On the surface, this show is a cross between the 1966 Adam West Batman series and Batman: The Animated Series of the early '90s. It has the former’s zany, often silly sense of humor, and the latter’s deeper, more mature take on Gotham’s seedy underbelly and the rogue’s gallery that calls it home. The series is also very much its own thing, though, setting itself apart from any other Batman shows or movies you may have seen.
For one thing, since it’s an audio drama, the show has to come up with ways to portray Gotham’s traditionally colorful characters without the aid of visuals. This is perhaps best done with Two-Face. The visual aspect of his character is arguably one of the main things that makes him who he is. But in an audio play, we never get to see his half-disfigured face or the two-toned suit he traditionally wears. Instead, the duality of his nature is portrayed with a more tangible split personality: Harvey Dent (brilliant Gotham City attorney) and Two-Face (mentally unhinged Gotham City crime boss). Both are played by the same actor, but with two distinct voices, who frequently argue with one another. It’s very funny and very effective.
Each episode is presented as a series of vignettes, following different characters and different situations around Gotham. Most of these vignettes take the form of a radio show called Life and Death in Gotham City which we hear several different chapters of each episode. Interspersed with these chapters are commercial jingles, news reports, PSAs, and even music from other Gotham stations. A lot of it seems unrelated and disjointed, but the more you listen, the clearer it becomes that everything is connected, and everything ties in with the overarching, season-long plotline.
The cast of this show is fantastic and often unexpected. For one thing, it features a number of former Saturday Night Live cast members, including Chris Parnell as the Narrator, Kenan Thompson as Commissioner Gordon, Melissa Villasenor as Robin, Jason Sudeikis as Gotham Mayor Hamilton Hill, Seth Myers as Gotham TV Personality Jack Ryder, and Bobby Moynihan as Oswald Cobblepot (whom you should absolutely never, under any circumstances, call Penguin).
There are also plenty of non-SNL names you’ll recognize, particularly among the villains. All of them turn in fantastic performances and bring something new and unique to these familiar characters. John Leguizamo is the Riddler—the most brilliant mind on the planet, but so pretentious that nobody actually understands or cares about his carefully crafted riddles or the crimes they’re connected to. Rosario Dawson is Catwoman, who despite her penchant for thievery, forms an unlikely alliance with reporter Vicki Vale (Brooke Shields) to try to uncover some of Gotham’s better-kept secrets.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face is Ike Barinholtz. Leader of the second-biggest criminal enterprise in Gotham, he finds himself being goaded and taunted into a war with the man in the #1 spot, Oswald Cobblepot.
And Brent Spiner is absolutely chilling as the Joker. How do you effectively portray a psychotic clown in a medium where you can’t see any clown makeup? Brent Spiner does it, and his performance is unlike any I’ve heard before. I won’t say he’s better than Mark Hamill, but he’s definitely on par with him—in a very different way.
Then, of course, there’s the man himself, Batman, played by Jeffrey Wright. In a number of episodes, he’s almost more of a side character, as the villains and their shenanigans take center stage. That doesn’t make his performance any less noteworthy, though, as he seems to channel Adam West to great effect.
As mentioned, all of the performances are fantastic, but having great writing doesn’t hurt either. The scripts are written by Dennis McNicholas, who is, not surprisingly, a long-time writer for SNL. As such, he nails the humor of the series, with frequent glimpses into just how strange and, frankly, ridiculous, life in Gotham City must be, what with all the supervillains and their constant mayhem. Many of the characters have a self-awareness that’s funny and irreverent, but still maintains a healthy respect for the source material.
The humor is only part of what makes this series so good, though. The stories are also really well-crafted. There’s genuine suspense as Riddler perpetrates his latest deadly crime, or as Joker slowly counts down to some unknown pageantry which he has promised to unveil on Valentine’s Day. The show captures the imagination in all the ways that audio dramas are meant to and keeps you completely invested and on the edge of your seat through all 10 episodes.
What really makes this show fun, though, is that everyone involved seems to be having a great time. The actors are having a blast playing characters they ordinarily wouldn’t have a chance to and showing off their versatility in an environment that’s typically a lot stressful or demanding than on-camera work. The writer is having fun crafting things like commercials for local Gotham businesses and PSAs for what to do during one of the city’s frequent gas attacks. Composer and songwriter Doug Bossi is having a great time writing everything from commercial jingles to lounge songs for Oswald Cobblepot’s casino. The enjoyment is palpable on this show, and, as I’ve always said, when the cast and crew are enjoying themselves, it translates to better enjoyment for the audience, as well.
The show technically counts as a podcast, only the main platform for it is HBO Max. It’s stuck in amongst the rest of their DC shows and movies and is pretty easy to miss. It plays just like a regular TV show, except the only visual is of an old-timey radio, placed with a window in the background, showing the Gotham skyline and the Bat Signal in the night sky. The lighting changes a bit over the course of the episode, but, otherwise, there’s nothing much to see.
Fortunately, if listening to a podcast on your television doesn’t appeal to you, as of last month, all 10 episodes were also released on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Season 2 drops on October 7th. I’m not sure if it will also be released in podcast form at that time or if it will start just on HBO Max like Season 1 did; however, if the second season is as good as the first, it’s well worth playing on your television, your computer, or whatever other device you can find it on. If you’re at all a fan of Batman, this is a show you won’t want to miss.
Creative Team: Dennis McNicholas (writer, director, and producer), Jon Berg (executive producer), Deborah Ann Henderson (executive producer), Angele Petrella (producer), Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (producer), Doug Bossi (original songs by), and Tony Phillips (original songs by)
Released By: Blue Ribbon Content, Warner Bros. Entertainment
Season 1 now available on HBO Max, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify