Wednesday, October 8, 2014


When they originally announced there was going to be a show based in Gotham City that wasn’t about Batman, I was intrigued. The idea of focusing on characters within the Gotham City Police Department had been done well in comics like GCPD and characters like Commissioner Jim Gordon and Detective Harvey Bullock had been interesting in plenty of different incarnations. However, the more information that began to come out about the show, the more my interest in the show began to transform into skepticism.

First and foremost, the inclusion of Batman as a 12-year-old kid who is sad about his parents dying is nothing that anybody ever wanted to see. There’s a reason that this part of Batman’s life has never been explored. Patton Oswalt has a great bit about the failing of the Star Wars prequels; he talks from the perspective of George Lucas telling him about the prequels. “You like Darth Vader, right?” “Yeah, he’s a badass!” “Great! Well, in the movie, you get to see him as a little kid and his mom dies and he’s really sad.” Effectively, this is the problem with Batman in Gotham. Darth Vader is awesome because he’s Darth Vader, just like Batman is awesome because he’s Batman.

In the second episode, “Selina Kyle,” young Bruce Wayne burns himself with a candle while listening to death metal, which is as ridiculous as it sounds. This is Gotham’s unsubtle attempt at showing how Bruce is trying to fight his fear. Audiences don’t want to see Batman as a little kid, just like they didn’t want to see Anakin Skywalker as a little kid. A character who’s renowned for being a downright badass has a lot of that taken away from him when his voice hasn’t even dropped yet. This sort of thing might have worked if we skipped from Batman being a kid to Batman in his late teens, but even then, there’s another problem: suspension of disbelief.

When we look at Batman in the comics or the movies or the cartoons, we’re okay with accepting the fact that Batman is the world’s greatest detective, extremely skilled in multiple types of martial arts, and essentially a technological genius who is able to whip up gadgets like it’s nothing. If we have to see the gradual process where he does all of these things, we’re going to realize very quickly that it’s fucking impossible for a kid to learn all of this within the amount of time between his parents dying and him becoming Batman. Even with the money he has at his disposal, it’s just never going to make any feasible sense.

Another issue that is related to this is the fact that we know that nothing can ever get any better in Gotham. If Jim Gordon succeeds in cleaning up the GCPD and putting all the villains he runs into behind bars, why would there ever be a Batman? By the show’s very nature, it would have to stand that things can only get worse in Gotham City and Jim Gordon will have to fail constantly over the course of multiple seasons for the arrival of Batman to make any sense at all. I don’t know if the show is at all prepared for this kind of thing.

But let’s move away from the Batman problem for a minute. Believe it or not, this is not even the biggest issue with Gotham as a series. Probably the largest annoyance would have to be the forced inclusion of Batman villains into the show. Within the first episode, we’re introduced to proto-versions of the Riddler, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, as well as a red herring that could be implied to be the Joker. Even worse, these villains are introduced with the subtlety of a rhinoceros sneaking through a department store. When the Riddler is introduced, they’re pretty much like “Hey Edward Nygma, why don’t you stop saying so many riddles, huh?”

It’s the absolute worst kind of fan service. Shows like Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feature comic book references all the time as well as villains from the comics, but they do it in a way where comic book fans will be able to point out Easter eggs to their friends who might not read the comics. The shows still work even if you aren’t familiar with the comics because they both are strong TV shows, but the Easter eggs are intended to add something specifically for the fans. The way that Gotham is doing this is actually quite similar to how The Dark Knight Rises handled Easter eggs.

In The Dark Knight Rises, there’s a moment where a character named John Blake is told that he should go by his real name, Robin. To comic fans, this is more of an insult than a shout-out: there has never been a Robin whose first name was actually Robin. Had the person said that John Blake should go by his real name, Dick Grayson, it would have been a nice nudge to comic book fans that people would have enjoyed. Instead, they aimed for the lowest common denominator and attempted to add an Easter egg reference that people with a casual knowledge of Batman might be able to enjoy. This is the entire premise of Gotham, where Selina Kyle requests that everyone call her ‘Cat’ or where Pamela Isley has been renamed to the ridiculous ‘Ivy Pepper’ so it will be clearer to general audiences that she’ll eventually become Poison Ivy.

Essentially, what we have here is a comic book TV show that doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for comic book fans, separating it significantly from Arrow, The Flash, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Another issue is that we know that these villains will never become the full-fledged supervillains we want them to be, because Batman is never going to appear on the show and an aspect of the Batman mythos that some accept is that the supervillains and Batman arrive on the scene around the same time, creating the idea that without Batman, there wouldn’t need to be crazy, wild supervillains in Gotham, just as without crazy, wild supervillains in Gotham, there wouldn’t need to be Batman.

Now on top of the Batman problem and the unsubtle villain references, there is a lot more that’s wrong with this show. Tonally, the show can’t seem to decide if it’s aiming for the zaniness of the Tim Burton films or the grittiness of the Christopher Nolan films. It seems to be bouncing between these two tones constantly and it’s not working. Without a consistent tone, it’s impossible to take the show seriously.

And if things were more tongue-in-cheek like the 1966 Batman series, perhaps it’d be easier to swallow. But it’s clear that this is a show that wants to be taken seriously and it’s absolutely impossible to do so. The villains in the second episode are mustache-twirling lunatics and every bad guy the GCPD faces seems to be ripped from over-the-top satires like Robocop, while lacking any reason to act like this. It doesn’t help that the majority of the dialogue is absolutely abysmal.

So, you might be wondering if there’s anything good about Gotham. The performances from some of the actors are pretty great – I’m particularly impressed with Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock (which I think is perfect casting for the character) as well as John Doman as Carmine Falcone, who is hands down the best part of the pilot. Unfortunately, Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon is a little dull. He would have room to grow surely if the show he was on was any good, but I imagine it’ll only be fighting against him from what we’ve seen so far.

The setting of Gotham City is done well and I was generally pleased with the cinematography of the show. But even with some good performances and a decent world being built for the show, it doesn’t help that there is plenty of bad acting on the show as well (especially from Jim Gordon’s girlfriend, played by Erin Richards) and over-the-top acting coming from Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin and Jada Pinkett-Smith as Fish Mooney, who often feel like they’re acting on a different show than some of the more grounded characters.

The third episode introduced a character who uses weather balloons to make corrupt cops and criminals float off into space. This vigilantism was supposed to be used as the first inspiration for Bruce Wayne to become Batman, which, again, is fucking ridiculous. I’ve been essentially hate-watching the show, enjoying at least being able to do that for the first couple of episodes, though it seems that each episode has been getting worse in quality. I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue watching, but I might out of morbid curiosity.

Final Grade: D+
I recommend this to… anyone who enjoys hate-watching superhero shows. People who like the campier aspects of Batman; those who prefer the Burton and Schumaker films to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are likely to enjoy Gotham.

Instead of this, you might like… Arrow is the best superhero show on television right now, hands down. The Flash started out with a great pilot and even though it’s a spinoff of Arrow, I believe it’s intended to be watchable on its own as well. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a rough start in its first season but gradually transformed into something great, which is continuing into its second season. The first two seasons of Arrow are available on Netflix and you can watch new episodes of all of these shows (and Gotham) via Hulu Plus.