Gotham Sucks! (And That Sucks For Everyone!)
Fox’s Gotham returns for season 2 tonight, and while I’d like to be optimistic and say they’ll figure out what their show is this season, I just … I don’t know. Holy Fish Mooney, Batman! I’m very whelmed!
Very whelmed. The villains are rising, you guys. Because that’s exactly what this bloated thing needed.
I’m getting ahead of myself. While there are some great Batman movies (correctly ranked here) you can watch instead of this show, I think it’s badness is worth talking about.
When Gotham premiered, the most common complaints I heard were that it was weird show that didn’t look like Batman.
Penguin is some young dude? Weird.
Ed Nygma works for the police? Dumb.
Batman is 12? Never! A young boy crime fighter in the Bat universe is completely ridiculous sounding.
NOT NOW ROBIN I AM COMPLAINING ABOUT BATCHILD
In a lot of ways people were right. It wasn’t Batman. And that was the best thing about the show. We’ve seen the Batman origin. We’ve seen take after take on Batman punching his rogues gallery. These films offer different tones, directors, and shifting characters, but at the end of the day, the only real variations are different batsuits and levels of camp.
This is the curse of a well known property. Marvel is starting to feel the effects as well: there are certain things expected of a Marvel movie now, and as a result their movies often feel more like a checklist or a game of Marvel bingo than engaging films. They never go out of their way to challenge or surprise.
This show had an opportunity to challenge and surprise.
This is why I had high hopes for Gotham. It was taking a chance by riffing on the Batman mythos like a jazz student about to get a chair thrown at his head. I wanted to see the rise to power of this oddly fun to watch and pleasant surprise of an Oswald Cobblepot. I was excited to see the story of perfectly cast Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock, typically relegated to background and one note ‘bad cop’ gigs in most Batman tales. I wanted to see the idea explored of hard ass Alfred Pennyworth, ex Special Forces butler raising a young Bruce Wayne. Nolan’s Dark Knight danced on the suggestion of this brilliantly, with My Cocaine’s story of being hired to chase a bandit suggesting a darker, bloodier past for Bruce’s chauffer, and it would be fun to play with that idea more. Hard ass Alfred isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I refuse to accept that a boy with a pleasant and loving father figure grows up to fly a thing called a Batwing.
DC is famous for their Elseworld tales like Dark Knight Returns and Red Son. Arrow is a similarly successful Elseworld take, but that is due in part of no one really caring about the ‘correct’ way to tell a Green Arrow story. But in a sea of fans clamoring more and more for things that they recognize and feel familiar with (re: Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn is wearing different pants than I expected her to in this trailer and therefore this movie will be bad), it was refreshing to see something Bat related not have to be as Bat related as expected.
I had high hopes for a show about a city falling apart so rapidly that eventually the only solution is a guy in a Bat suit. And much like Jason Todd tied to a chair, those hopes took some hits.
Seriously, Gotham blew it right out the gate. The rise of Jim Gordon? Cool! Oh, he’s already the most important person on the force. Kay. A show about Gotham City where Thomas Wayne is still alive? We never get to see Thomas Wayne as anything more than an inciting incident! This is something that interests me! Let the Crime Alley murder be a season finale later on down the road, so that the Waynes death means something because those characters meant something! Or, just do the murder in the first episode. Right away.
“I am already everything that makes up Jim Gordon so my character arc is mustache”
So much for seeing something different.
The first season of Gotham ended up being really unbalanced, inconsistent, crowded, and overall sort of crappy. In only a few episodes, we were given Gordon, Bullock, the mob guys, Selina Kyle, Ed Nygma, maybe kid Joker, some Graysons, Leslie Tompkins, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Harvey Dent, Flass, the Cranes, and I’ve been checking IMDB and am genuinely laughing at how long this list is getting. Even Game of Thrones didn’t move this many chess pieces right out the gate. Season 2 doesn’t look to be any less packed as VILLAINS RISE.
And it’s not just that Gotham was overcrowded. Captain America: Civil War’s cast list is about three times as long as the above paragraph, and who knows? Maybe the Russos will throw a hail mary and make one hell of a focused movie: they at least have their structure and tone down. Gotham had no idea what stories it wanted to tell, how they should feel, or what the universe was. In its best moments it felt like a twisted Batman: The Animated Series and in its worse it felt like it was trying to be Breaking Sons of Anarchy Diaries and was almost unwatchable. For every fun ‘Penguin and the mob’ moment, or any Bullock with a soft side scene, we got a 50 Shades of Gray themed serial killer (who in my heart was actually Jess from Gilmore Girls, thus connecting the two universes) or worse, we got anything involving Fish Mooney. Or Barbara. Or any number of scenes that, if this show was stretched over the course of 20 years, provide a timeline that makes zero sense. “Call me Cat.” NO.
We were teased with an exploration of Gotham City before Batman, and what we got was something oddly close to Batman Muppet Babies. We had a chance to explore a world before the murder of the Waynes — a world of shady billionaire philanthropists, of Harvey Bullocks and Falcones with the hints of serious insanity to come, and instead we got a disaster.
Gotham failed, and its second season probably has more to do with studio stubbornness and investment than any faith it can recover, and that failure is going to scare studios and creators closer and closer to the status quo. The concept will be blamed, and not the execution. As more and more becomes expected of the super hero business on screens of all sizes, the less we’re going to be surprised. The less we’re going to be challenged. And that’s bad for all of us Jason Todds watching at home. Because crowbars. But like, they hit your brain.