Fall 2014 Review: Gotham

8 Oct


I rarely chastise ambition on TV, because usually I appreciate a show trying to do something different, even if it fails, more than a show trying to do more of the same and being meidocore. There’s a thin line, though, sometimes between uncharted ambition and simple directionlessness that can sometimes be hard to read. It’s difficult, when you’re watching every fall TV pilot, to not instantly compare The Flash to Gotham, the two comics-based new shows to debut this season. And while Gotham feels like the more ambitious show straight out of the gate, The Flash, without being great, knows exactly what it’s doing and what it’s going for, and settles quickly into a solidly enjoyable hour, while Gotham feels rudderless and unsteady.

The premise is thus; Jim Gordon, the future commissioner, is just starting out as a detective, and as he gains experience and fights the good fight, several of Batman’s most famous villains are also on the rise in the dark and sinister underworld of Gotham. Bruce Wayne himself is a kid, his parents having very recently died as of the first episode. Gordon meets with Wayne and his caretaker Alfred, determined to solve his parents murder, and builds a bond of trust that we know will last a life time.

His partner is Harvey Bullock, he’s played by fantastic tv actor Donal Logue, and is probably the best supporting character in the show, as a cop whose working both sides, cozy with the city’s organized crime, but somewhat looking out for Gordon as well, though mostly trying to make sure he doesn’t stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. There’s Fish Mooney, an overwrought gangster played by Jada Pinkett Smith, who didn’t quite work for me. There’s also a young penguin and a young riddler, both of which are unnecessarily over the top as if to scream instead of merely winking that these are the villains from the Batman universe you know and love.

The dominant motif is film noir, which makes an abundance of sense in the Batman universe, but it feels off at various places and doesn’t have the chops, dialogue-wise or cinematography-wise to entirely pull it off. I do think there’s a show that works here; my version eliminates all the familiar characters except Gordon, who I think can be compelling enough on his own, and has him deal with organized crime and other seedy, but less familiar villlains, struggling to stay above the filth, and figuring out what comprimises he needs to make to survive.  Gotham is in a way hamstrung rather than helped by the fame and general awareness of its source material; most of the major characters have made strong impressions in our minds, and we have distinct expectatoins for them, which makes it more difficult for Gotham’s creators to make them their own. Sticking with less familiar characters could allow the creators to both focus on the noir and be a little more inventive and free.

That’s just one version though. It’s not inconceivable the creators could work out the kinks but I’m not convinced from the first episode that they have a plan, other than throw together a bunch of familiar elements and hope people get attached and want to see origin stories. The dialogue and writing feel stilted and the plot is relatively uninteresting, considering its head start of stuff we already know about Batman. Knowing its about the Batman universe fairly or unfairly increased expectations somewhat, and Gotham didn’t meet those.

Will I watch it again? No, I’m not planning to. It certainly wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t particularly inspring either, and though, this is a unfair to take against the show, I have a little bit of Batman fatigue (a much weaker case than my vampire fatigue).  I just didn’t see enough to make me feel like I need to come back with so many other shows demanding my attention.

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