Marc Alan Fishman: Gotham Gets Better
Back in November I lamented that Gotham was a train-wreck with glimmers of hope peaking out amongst the smoldering boxcars abandoned near Arkham Asylum. Well, here we are, a large smattering of episodes later, and I’m starting to change my outlook on Fox’s proto-Batman dramedy. Hear me out, skeptics.
My turn of opinion first peeked its tepid head out into the light when I came to the realization that the show was not, nor would it ever be, Gotham Central by way of Ed Brubaker. The fact is I’ve circled my wagons around the ideology that business and the boardroom will always help dictate the creative endeavors of the Big Two™’s creations. That means that as critically acclaimed a graphic novel may be, at the end of the day all Warner Bros is going to care about is ratings and the potential syndication of Gotham. Hence, the fact that producers are making a show that by-and-large is built to appeal to the widest audience possible by way of brazen continuity-shattering canon-damning characterizations was bound to happen. Or in lesser terms, we were never ever ever going to not get interpretations of Batman’s rogue gallery. So I got over it.
And when I did, the sky opened up, and the show instantly became more entertaining to me. Jim Gordon – the John Wayne of Gotham – and his trusty drunkish sidekick Harvey Bullock are the lone moral compass amidst a sea of corruption. Hell, Bullock up until the 8th or 9th time Gordon saved his ass was as much a part of the problem as anyone. But as the show settled into itself, there was a slight shift in the dynamic duo’s camaraderie.
After sticking his neck out on the line enough times, Bullock and the police chief both turned from broken records (“You’ll never beat this city, Jim!) into begrudging do-gooders. And it did the series a hell of a favor. Instead of one man against a city, there was a subtle cracking of a window, piercing the muck and mire with rays of hope.
Hope. It’s the biggest concept the show misplaced at the onset. But over time, the cases of the week gave way to those notions that yes, in fact, some people did want to fight against the rampant corruption. And to a degree even those who existed on the other side of the law started to show depth of character. Make no bones about it: Carmine Falcone is an evil and bad man. But he bleeds the same blood as we do, and through the plot line of Fish Moody’s planted girlfriend, we saw shades of grey in what was an otherwise black and white caricature of any gangster we’ve seen a million places elsewhere. OK, and let me not give too much credit here. The shtick of an Italian-American loving his mother is not exactly original storytelling. Again, lowest-common-denominator here. Take the small victories as big ones.
Because Gotham was given more than twenty shows to produce within the first season, the writing team has been very sneaky in utilizing slow-burn storytelling in-between the predictable ratings bait. While we’ve been treated to outright terrible iterations of the Scarecrow and the maybe-Joker to-be, we’ve been privy to the ebb and flow of several well-defined debauchees.
Oswald Cobblepot immediately comes to mind. Robin Lord Taylor steals nearly every scene he’s in. While his recent pyrrhic victory over Fish has left him her club, yes, it’s at the cost of anyone believing him ever again. His playing of Maroni and Falcone has no doubt left him as a pawn to more powerful men – until he figures out yet-another way to squawk out of harm.
Outside of The Penguin, the aforementioned Fish herself has been perhaps the only other critically acclaimed person on the show. And while I had not been fond of her personally, I see the appeal. A strong female lead who plays an elegant sexy versus the traditionally slutty alternative amongst Batty’s libertine ladies does leave a better taste in the mouth. Combine this with her more recent turn as a sympathetic heel and you have the makings of another breakout star. My hope though is when she makes an eventual return to Gotham City she does so to rebuild her empire independently. Let Ozzie keep the club for now. Heck, maybe he should turn it into a casino.
And then there’s Bruce. There was no way around the awkwardness of his origins. We’d seen them done dozens of times before. The pearls. The gun shots. The scream into the night. Followed of course by stoic angst amidst solid oak furniture and priceless bric-a-brac. But once Gotham got past the traditional beats, we’ve been granted a look into Bruce Wayne’s life that otherwise has not been better captured. As Alfred would denote several times since my last writing, the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne have granted their sire an unyielding independent streak. He’s been focused (even when gallivanting as the weakest looking punk ever depicted on TV, with Selina Kyle), keen-eyed, and bright. And he’s been all of this whilst figuring how to cope with the grief. The performance has been stilted now and again, but the storytelling has been solid as a rock. This is a Bruce Wayne about to enter adolescence. And it’s slowly become an enjoyable B story against the cases of the week.
While Gotham is still significantly flawed, it has leapt forward in its ability to put a smile on my face. When the show isn’t confined to redefining known properties, there’s an original mish-moshing of noir, black comedy, and a decent (if dumb) police procedural.
Combine this with an astoundingly nice production budget, and the backing of a major network and you have a show that I once thought would be unsalvageable, and over time has become a minor fleet-of-fancy. It’s not Flash or Arrow mind you… but for the time being it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to ultimately calm down and realize its best adventures are still yet to come.