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Gotham Knights Can't Measure Up to the Heyday of the Arrowverse

Batman's teenage son and his ragtag band of antiheroes are fun, but are orphans in the current superhero landscape.
  • Tyler DiChiara, Olivia Rose Keegan, Oscar Morgan, Fallon Smythe, Navia Robinson in Gotham Knights (Photo: The CW)
    Tyler DiChiara, Olivia Rose Keegan, Oscar Morgan, Fallon Smythe, Navia Robinson in Gotham Knights (Photo: The CW)

    Bruce Wayne lies dead in the streets, his Batman cowl affixed to his face to expose his secret identity once and for all. Gotham’s citizens — including district attorney Harvey Dent and Bruce's adopted son Turner — react with shock and devastation. And a trio of adolescent criminals, one of whom happens to be the Joker's daughter, are being framed for the murder. It's the latest twist on the superheroes of Gotham, and this time it's all about the teens. But Gotham Knights comes at an incredibly inopportune time for a CW teen superhero series, and it's hard to see where this show now fits in the DC superhero firmament.

    Few properties have birthed as many spinoffs as Batman. On TV alone, you have Fox’s Gotham, which tried to center a cop show on police detective Jim Gordon but couldn't resist turning its attention to a child Bruce Wayne. Pennyworth imagines Batman's butler Alfred as a slick ass-kicker. Both the animated Teen Titans and the live-action series Titans chased the spirit of youth with their young superhero groups. And then there was Batwoman, which was the latest (and seemingly last) official series in what was known as the "Arrowverse," the Greg Berlanti-produced series of interconnected CW superhero shows that began with Arrow, peaked with The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, and, along with shows like Supergirl, produced some genuinely thrilling crossover events, the likes of which TV wasn't pulling off anywhere else, much less on a network.

    The Arrowverse has been in decline for a while. Black Lightning was connected to the universe but rarely if ever crossed over. CW superhero series like Superman and Lois now exist outside of the Arrowverse umbrella. When The Flash wraps up this spring, it will effectively be the final nail in the coffin. Meanwhile, corporate chaos at Warner Bros. Discovery has muddled the hell out of the strategy for DC superheroes on TV. The priority now is to create an interconnected universe of films to rival the MCU, under the supervision of director James Gunn. A show like Gotham Knights is, perhaps appropriately given its main character, an orphan.

    That Gotham Knights has been cut off from what was once a hugely interconnected universe is a bummer. The Arrowverse, at its best, was an incredibly fun way for The CW to present its superhero offerings, and without it, the disconnected shows that remain feel a bit more drab overall. Gotham Knights definitely struggles to get to the part that could be described as "fun." The show centers on Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan), Bruce Wayne's now re-orphaned adopted son. Turner is devastated by the death of his father and shaken by the revelation that Bruce had been Batman this whole time. Determined to get to the part where this becomes a series about a ragtag group of teen vigilantes operating just out of sight, creators Natalie Abrams, Chad Fiveash, and James Stoteraux barge inelegantly through a bunch of plot. Bruce Wayne's murder is initially pinned on a trio of teen burglars, led by the Joker’s daughter Duela (Olivia Rose Keegan), along with siblings Harper (Fallon Smythe) and Cullen Rowe (Tyler DiChara). Almost immediately, though, Turner is also framed, via a convoluted and barely convincing revelation about Bruce's will. This is done purely to get Turner on the run from the cops and teamed up with our teen baddies. It feels effortful.

    However we get there, though, the show starts to pick up steam when Turner, Duela, Harper, and Cullen realize they share an interest in getting to the bottom of Bruce Wayne's murder. They're soon joined by teen superhero-in-training Carrie Kelley (Navia Robinson), who is the current incarnation of Robin. Rounding out the crew is Turner's best friend Stephanie (Anna Lore), who is ostensibly just a regular girl whose eccentric father hosts a TV quiz show, but since her father is played with wild-eyed abandon by Ethan Embry, it's not hard to guess that he's probably going to turn out to be a supervillain of some kind. (Cluemaster, okay? He's gonna be Cluemaster.)

    Once the gang is assembled, there is a definite charm to Gotham Knights. The show doesn't always make it easy, with its muddy color palette and byzantine plot machinations, the latter of which focus on a shadowy organization called the Court of Owls, who apparently have been running the entire criminal game in Gotham since… essentially always? Suck on that, Ra's al Ghul! No, the idea of yet another show where the enemy is a shadowy but all-powerful cabal doesn't exactly spark excitement, but The Court of Owls gives the Knights an enemy to rally against and ultimately helps forge an alliance among these six, which is the show's strong suit. Turner's whitebread blandness plays surprisingly well against the aggressively attitude-forward criminals he's teamed up with. Duela in particular is 24/7 'tude, but it's fun to watch her needle the "Bat brat" who's become her uneasy ally. The show definitely presses hard on the Gen Z angle; Harper announces her bisexuality loudly, though her sibling bond with her trans brother Cullen is thankfully handled with more sensitivity than condescension A defiantly "OK, Boomer" attitude towards the Gotham elders suffuses the series.

    Speaking of the adults, we spend too much time with district attorney Harvey Dent and his often convoluted quest to exonerate Turner (Bruce was a good friend, after all) while also uncovering the Court of Owls conspiracy. Dent is played by Misha Collins, a rather overt attempt to court the large and vociferous Supernatural fanbase, as Collins played the fan-favorite angel Castiel on that series. This likely explains why Dent gets a bigger chunk of the storyline than the token grown-up authority figure usually is afforded on a show like this. Collins is fine in the role, but, especially once the Knights get into their vigilante groove, it's much less fun to spend time with Dent as he slowly begins to reckon with his inevitable supervillain origin as Two Face.

    There's an affable quality to Gotham Knights that makes it an easy watch, if not one that will have viewers banging down the doors for the next new episode. But the show’s charm just underlines the sad fact that there isn't much of a place for it. The James Gunn cinematic universe is king now. Batman's teen son and his ragamuffin friends exist outside of any larger context, which doesn't fit the way we've come to expect superhero sagas to function. On its own little island, the series is enjoyable enough in the moment, but it could have used an Arrowverse to make it truly fly.

    Gotham Knights premieres on March 14, with new episodes airing Tuesday nights at 9:00 PM ET on The CW. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Gotham Knights, The CW, Arrow, The Flash, Anna Lore, Misha Collins, Navia Robinson, Olivia Rose Keegan, Oscar Morgan, Tyler DiChiara