'Gotham' Is Set in Its Own Unique Place & Time

by Ariel Kay

One of the buzziest new shows of the fall season, Gotham , tells the story of how Batman and a host of other DC Comics characters went from being innocent young children to the heroes and villains they eventually become. But at a deeper level, Gotham is about the city itself. And yes, it is super cliché to say that a show's setting is "like another character," but in this case, I promise it's actually true. It's the name of the show, for Pete's sake. Gotham's streets and interiors make up the city's specific look and feel, which no other show has right now. One question on every viewer's mind is, in what time period is this version of Gotham set? The comics, movies, and TV shows span from the 1940s to the present day, so there was a wide range for the show's executive producer, Bruno Heller, to consider.

As it turns out, Heller didn't have to choose just one era to ground his Batman reboot in (lucky guy). It's an open secret that Gotham City is at least partly based on New York, and Gotham is shot entirely in that city — so if you live in the Big Apple and happen to see the Bat Signal light up one night, no worries, Heller's just working late. In the video below, he describes the various tones found in the series.

New York's look has changed substantially in the past 70 years, and when picking a scene's location, there are a dozen different neighborhoods to choose from, each with their own appearance. Series producer and director Danny Cannon told the New York Times that when creating the layout of Gotham, he mixed current New York architecture with buildings created by the visual effects department inspired by 1800s London, to produce a style that felt "old and broken."

In the same article, Heller explained, “For a lot of young people, their first experience with great visual beauty is not from art galleries or movies but from comic books. ... [Batman] is literally a Gothic world. So it has a kind of mythic resonance beyond itself.” (In this case, I think "mythic resonance" means sort of creepy and dirty... but in a cool way).

Creating a place out of time comes with a lot of serious advantages for any writer. For one, Heller and his team have creative freedom to decide which elements of each decade to draw from. Jim Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock use cell phones (the early flip phone kind), but I didn't spy any other electronics in the first episode, though computers will appear later. As the Times article stated, "The ambience is New York in the 1970s, but characters use computers and carry cellphones. Their clothes could be from the 1950s. And the buildings...look more like edifices from the 1930s, or even longer ago."

Well, Robin Williams from Jumanji, the answer to your question is, no specific year at all. Heller and the other creatives who work on Gotham have built a story that takes place within its own world, one that doesn't adhere to the styles of the modern day, or to any other single decade. Instead we get something much more interesting: a city created just to make Gotham look cool.

Images: Jessica Miglio/FOX; ComicBookMovie; LiveMeme