Marc Alan Fishman: Gotham Is Close, But So Far Away…
… from being what it could be. In short, they’re uncertainty is palpable, and it’s sickening to watch week to week.
For the uninitiated: Gotham creates a timeline in which a young James Gordon arrives in the titular city right as Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered. The city that will one day be protected by a dark knight is at present a cesspool incarnate. Corruption is common and even embraced by the police force. Politicians are mob-owned. And the mob itself has its nightclubs, contractors and restaurants littering the yellow pages. Impending war between Don Maroni and Carmine Falcone is discussed as much as the local sports scores and the weather (the Knights won, and it’s always going to rain). And literally crammed into every visible orifice on screen, a future commoner of the caped crusader’s cadre of kooky criminals lays in waiting.
Look, kiddos. I don’t have an issue with starting the show with Bruce Wayne’s orphaning (yeah, I’m coining the term). It’s a pivotal moment with plenty of roots into the budding season’s serial storyline. What I take umbrage towards is how desperate it all feels. It’s truly as if the writers, producers, and executives behind the show are compelled to scream at the viewing public “People! It’s Batman! This is the Batman show! Don’t you like Batmaaaaaan!?” I know this is a common thought that’s traveling amongst the blogosphere, but, seriously, why can’t DC and Warner Bros. just take a page from Marvel’s handbook?
When the House of Mouse announced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., comic book fans largely held their breath. By anchoring their TV presence with a concept that could play in their cinematic sandbox but seemingly not require our favorite Avengers to drop by for a cameo… it took the better part of a season to truly win over the public at large. And when the words “Hail Hydra” were whispered, everyone rightly lost their marbles over the cleverness of it all. In contrast, Gotham has been obsessed with planting seeds that are so obvious they might as well just be trees already. Instead of trying to build a DC Universe, or even just a plausible setting, Gotham would rather be another Elseworlds tale. And were DC to have the smarts to tell us in any way that was the actual plan, maybe I would have happily declined even setting my DVR.
That’s a point I’d like to repeat for posterity. For Geoff Johns to drop even the inkling of a hint that the DCU-on-TV (Flash and Arrow clearly being coupled, Gotham, and potentially Krypton) could each exist in a parallel dimension to the movies, et al, is just dumb-dumb-doodle-dum. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. To think that the pencil pushers at DC Entertainment will eventually have to sell us a compendium guide to the Multiverse just so we can officially know where each damned show is in relation to one another is just sad to think about. Can you hear it now off in the distance? “Yeah, that Batman in Batman v. Superman isn’t the Batman from Gotham. No, I know that makes no sense [person who doesn’t understand Multiverse Concept].” Sigh.
As I’m prone to do at junctures like this, I’m apt to celebrate a few small victories the show has for itself. The cast – while anchored with pretty hammy dialogue – are all perfect fits. Our young Gordon is a proper police detective to Donal Logue’s lazy Harvey Bullock. The mobsters are all perfect caricatures we’d expect. And for what it’s worth, the Penguin is pitch perfect when he’s not going all kinds of Patrick Bateman on people wearing shoes he covets. The look of the show is also a small saving grace. Every edge is crammed with garbage and sepia toned grime. While it leaves little to no room for levity, the show is heads and shoulders above S.H.I.E.L.D. when it comes to environments… what little we’ve had to explore. And even young master Wayne is one of the better child actors I’ve seen cast. While (again) the script has called for less-than-stellar set-pieces for him to chew on (near suicide off the roof much, Brucey?), David Mazouz delivers a credible sell when he’s trying to be the rich kid forced to grow up too soon.
Beyond those points, Gotham is just too heavy fisted for its own damned good. With Edward Nygma posing poignant puzzles at every possible point he can, or Selena Kyle practically walking on all fours and meowing when she wants to be called Cat, it’s not as clever a turn as the showrunners seem to think. The public at large knows enough about the Batman mythos; few know about the brilliant shades of gray that exist in his world outside of the well-known rogues gallery. Why force feed us proto-Riddlers and Penguins when you can flesh out lesser-knowns like Mr. Zsasz, or Calendar Man who could tie to the mob war so much better than the current gaggle of goons being bum-rushed towards the credit roll. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. taught us that you need not depend on the name brands to be entertaining or credible. Don’t think so? Two words: Phil Coulson.
There’s still plenty of time for Gotham to turn things around. But the question to ask yourself is this: even if the show is successful, how will they find a way to not end up with fully developed supervillains straight outta Bat’s belfrey… all while he’s still having Alfred picking up Oxy at the Rite Aid? If the folks creating this cacophony could just take a deep breath and believe in Jim Gordon and solid police drama set in a slightly exaggerated world, Marvel might actually look up from their continuously growing pile of money and pay attention.
But I wouldn’t count on it.