Gotham Midseason Review
With Gotham having now reached it midseason finale, it seems like a good a time as any to talk about this bizarre little show. You see, even though the show has reached its seasonal midway point, it is no closer to answering the primary mystery that has haunted it since its opening scene, namely “What the hell is the point of all this?!?” Now don’t get me wrong, Gotham does actually do a number of things rather well, but, outside of the simple cynical corporate logic that it will make money because Batman, I can’t actually think of a reason for the show to exist. In fact, the irony is that many of the weakest elements of Gotham come from it trying to pander to the Batman fans through inane cameos and Golden-Age-of-comics levels of silliness.
For those who are unfamiliar with this odd little concoction, Gotham follows newly transferred Detective James Gordon as he tries to make a home for himself in the cesspool of a city that is Gotham. For simplicities sake, I will be giving a two word description of each character in parentheses, because really two words is all I need. For example, James Gordon (Lawful Good) is the lawfully good cop who has been partnered with Harvey Bullock (Corrupt Laziness). Together, they investigate various murders including that of the Waynes (NO PARENTS!!!) which Gordon comes to believe is part of a conspiracy. Various players in Gotham include Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney (Eartha Kitt-esque) who works for crime boss Carmine Falcone (Godfather). There is also the rival crime boss Salvatore Maroni (Godfather Pt.2) who is trying to wrestle control from the Falcone family. Furthermore, Oswald Cobblepot (Simpering Ass) is seemingly trying to work both sides to his advantage. On the personal side of things Gordon also tries to maintain his relationship with his fiancée Barbara (Love Interest) despite having a number of secrets that he feels the need to keep from her. At the same time, Barbara is trying to cope with the presence of her former lover, Renee Montoya (Lesbian Homewrecker) who suspects that Gordon is corrupt. Finally, we also follow Bruce Wayne (DARKNESS!!!) and Alfred Pennyworth (Stoically British) as they try to figure out what is occurring within Wayne Enterprises and whether or not it is tied to the Wayne shooting.
As you can tell, that is a lot of characters to have in play at one time, and I didn’t even come close to naming them all. The show also succeeds in featuring Harvey Dent, Edward Nygma, Victor Zsasz, and Selina Kyle, though “succeeds” might be the wrong word to use. A stronger show might be able to maintain such a large cast while finding a way to humanize each of these characters and keep them distinctive, but Gotham is not a stronger show. The characters are handled without subtlety, from Nygma constantly asking questions to Selena’s insistence that everyone call her “Cat.” So what does the show do right? Well, the mob side of the storyline is often legitimately interesting. Falcone, Maroni, and Cobblepot serve as the closest things that Gotham has to well rounded characters, and the episodes focusing around them tend to be a bit stronger than the more case-of-the-week style episodes. The rest of the cast either feel like broad caricatures of their more well defined comic book counterparts (Gordon, Montoya, Nygma and Selena) or they simply feel like they lack character altogether (Barbara, Ivy, and Crispus Allen). There are also a few occasions where the actors succeed in elevating the material, and, hell, Donal Logue deserves an Emmy for actually making Bullock likable on occasion.
So how do the individual episodes hold up? Well, it’s definitely a mixed bag so far. The weakest episodes tend to be the ones that try to serve as stand alone pieces, such as Viper (which centered around a proto-Venom drug that caused peoples skeletons to fall apart), The Mask (which introduced Black Mask’s nutjob father), and most notably The Balloonman (which was named The Balloonman). The Balloonman centers around a man who kills his victims by handcuffing them to a weather balloon. It is an episode that displays that not only do Gordon and Bullock not understand how balloons work, but neither do the writers of Gotham. Not only can a weather balloon not support the weight of an adult human, but, furthermore, the characters have to be outright told that the balloons will eventually come back down. Of the “bad” episodes, The Balloonman is the only one that I’d recommend for being so bad that it’s good. It is just so silly that it has to be seen to be believed. The show does have a few decent episodes under its belt though. While they aren’t anything spectacular, Spirit of the Goat and Penguin’s Umbrella both display a bit more intelligence and intriguing writing that one might have expected from this show, even if much of the characterization in those episodes remains questionable. The plotting remains a bit silly in some parts, particularly with Spirit of the Goat, but they are still enjoyable on their own merits, and not simply as something to mock.
It isn’t really saying much when I state that Gotham surpassed my initial expectations. I thought it was a terrible idea, and I didn’t see how it could work. Even now I don’t feel that is has succeeded on any particular front, but at least it hasn’t completely failed either. There are a few good characters and a few good plotlines. Gotham’s key limitation is the fact that it doesn’t seem to have a purpose that drives it. Even Smallville had the intention of showing how Clark came into the role of Superman and serving to characterize and humanize an individual who is often lost amidst the power he wields. Gotham feels like the less focused, less intelligent nephew of Smallville and, as someone who didn’t particularly care for Smallville, that is not a great position to be in.
Before I wrap up a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I avoided commenting on this much in the rest of the article, since it is tied heavily to my being a fan of a particular character, but Renee Montoya is handled HORRIBLY. On every level her character falls short, from her bio (she’s the same age as Gordon???) to her personality (she is a close-minded ass) to her general purpose in the show (she serves as a wedge between Barbara and Gordon). I honestly despise this version of the character.
- Richard Kind plays the corrupt Mayor of Gotham, Aubrey James. Looks like he’s moved up in the world after being Barry Bostwick’s Press Secretary.
- John Doman plays Falcone, and sadly has largely been absent from Person of Interest since taking this role… it’s odd that Doman has a habit of seeming more intimidating when he’s portraying a member of the government than when he’s playing a mob boss. Then again, look at what he has to work with here.
- Nygma has a question mark on his coffee mug. “Riddle me this, Batman. What is subtlety?… I seriously have no clue.”
- I glossed over Bruce and Alfred’s scenes since they largely feel tangential most of the time, but generally speaking they are one of the stronger aspects of the show. Both David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee do a good job with what they’re given and they bring some nice emotional complexity and commitment to a show that honestly doesn’t yet deserve it.
- Birdy wrote the original review of Gotham’s pilot, and, aside from maybe one or two nitpicks, I agree with it on almost every point.
- Episodes of Note: The Balloonman (s01e03; So bad it’s good.), Spirit of the Goat (s01e06; Offers some insight into Bullock’s character.), Penguin’s Umbrella (s01e07; Provides some intriguing escalation and reveals.)
Gotham is not a good show. Does it have the potential to be good? Maybe… At the moment, it simply feels like a messy character study of a city in decline, and trust me, I don’t think Gotham has the ability to be Treme. It quite simply does not have the strength of characters or tone necessary to carry a such an unfocused approach. If it wants to improve, it needs to find a way to tie its characters together more closely and give a sense of purpose to the proceedings. Even then, Gotham may not be able to be a good Batman adaptation. The characters come off as two-dimensional, and, without Batman’s presence, the villains come off as mere shadows of their comic book counterparts. They are introduced not because they are interesting, but because we know that someday in the future they WILL be interesting. Maybe, if we are lucky, the same could be said for Gotham.
With an aimless storyline, paper thin characters, but occasional bouts of decent storytelling, Gotham continues to fight with itself over its reason to exist.