Friday, November 28, 2014

Leaving Gotham

So 'Gotham' recently had its midseason finale, giving me a solid jumping-off point to stop watching.  Last year I wrote about five ways in which a "young James Gordon" show could or couldn't work, and to some extent, all five were incorporated into the actual show…which is the problem.  'Gotham' is trying to be all things to all people and it's resulting in a watered-down show.  Let's break things down according to my five thoughts on how they could've done this program...

1. Jim Gordon stars in Your Basic Police Procedural
"It could very well be that "Gotham" becomes a more comic geek-friendly version of Mentalist, with the GCPD solving a new case every week and maybe one larger arc (a la the hunt for Mentalist's "Red John" serial killer) taking place over the entire series."

About half of the episodes have indeed featured Gordon and Bullock solving stand-alone cases, and the other half have been centred around the larger arc of Gotham's mob war and the Wayne murders.  The problem is that the second arc is just so overwhelmingly big that it overshadows regular business.  Gotham is so cartoonishly corrupt* that it's hard to go from episodes where Gordon is being strong-armed (by his own partner!) into allegedly killing the Penguin or arresting the mayor and bursting into a mob boss' mansion to episodes where Gordon is just back on the job investigating some random crime.  Gotham is presented as such a cesspool that it makes Gordon look, frankly, like an idiot for staying in town.  Ben McKenzie's one-note performance isn't helping matters. 

* = Literally half of Captain Essen's dialogue is some variation of "it's Gotham, Gordon!" or "that's how things are in Gotham!" to explain why something outlandishly shady has happened.  If you took a shot anytime Essen or any of the other characters had a line like this, you'd have alcohol poisoning on almost a weekly basis. 

2. Jim Gordon stars in Bigville (aka a fan-servicey Smallville-type show)
Hmm, that police forensic examiner loves speaking in riddles!  I wonder if he's really the Riddler?  Or wow, that little girl named Ivy, maybe she'll grow up to be Poison Ivy?!  And I dunno if you realized this, but Cat more than likely grows up to be Catwoman! ZOMG! 

If "notice a shoehorned reference to a Batman villain" was also part of your drinking game, forget alcohol poisoning, you'd be dead.  In the first 10 episodes alone, we've seen Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Bane, Black Mask, Zsasz, Hush and Dollmaker either directly shown or at least referenced.  If you count Falcone and Maroni are 'Batman villains' (which I guess they are, though not of the colourful villain variety), then that makes it twelve.  The most recent episode ended with Gordon being assigned security detail at Arkham Asylum, so dollars to doughnuts that we'll see Hugo Strange and Jonathan 'Scarecrow' Crane pop up sooner or later.  This show isn't subtle about anything, least of all how it's cramming in as many familiar characters as possible, timeline or logic be damned.  I'm astounded we haven't seen the Joker yet, that seems to be the only person the show is hesitant about referencing.

3. Jim Gordon stars in James Gordon: Year One
Of course, having some Batman references are necessary, since as I wrote last year, "I don't want the series to be overwhelmed by Batman-related stuff, but obviously the series needs SOME reference to the source material, otherwise what'd be the point?  Setting the series too far before Batman's emergence would negate too much of the mythology, and also cut out some of the intrigue in Gordon's actual personal life."  The problem is simply overload.

Since I referenced Gordon's personal life, the Barbara Keen character is another issue.  She has no role on the show other than to be a damsel in distress for Gordon to worry about, and the next hint of chemistry between McKenzie and Erin Richards will be their first.  I guess I should be thankful that they haven't had kids yet, since the way this show operates, we'd have a scene of a toddler Barbara Gordon wearing a cape and using her blankie to swing down into her crib.

4. Jim Gordon stars in Gotham Central
Words can't express how much I would've rather seen Gotham Central adapted to a TV show rather than 'Gotham.'  Instead, we get a show where the entire force literally leaves the precinct rather than help Gordon confront Zsasz, yet Gordon just shows up for work the next day.  Unbelievable.

5. Jim Gordon stars in (Just Before) Batman Begins
If FOX was so anxious to have so much Batman-related material in the show, then this honestly might've been the better option.  Set the show a few years before Batman's official emergence, so you can have all of the villains in their early stages yet not so early that it makes Gordon look incompetent.  The way 'Gotham' is structured now, after all, ensures that Gordon will never stop Falcone, Maroni, Penguin, etc. because they're all still active 15+ years later when Bruce finally becomes Batman.  I half-believe that the Fish Mooney character exists because, as as an original creation of the show, she's actually someone Gordon can defeat without throwing comics continuity into the air.  (Even now, continuity doesn't really fit since none of Montoya, Bullock, Riddler, Zsasz, etc. were all supposed to be 20 years older than Bruce Wayne.)

Many of the show's flaws could've been excused had the acting been better.  As mentioned, McKenzie is throwing up a D-minus performance here, giving Gordon nothing but righteous anger or silent frustration 95% of the time.  Half the cast is so over-the-top they seem like they'd be better fits as Adam West's enemies on the old Batman TV series, and others have such small roles that you wonder why they're even in the main cast.  Sean Pertwee's Alfred is the only performance I'd really call good, with David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne and maybe Robin Lord-Taylor's Penguin in the above-average category.  Lord-Taylor is having loads of fun chewing the scenery playing Oswald as kind of a cross between DeVito's Penguin and Mark Hamill's Joker, though his Penguin is straight-up crazy, killing people willy-nilly.  The comic book Penguin is eccentric but perfectly sane, making him a unique challenge amongst Batman's enemies.  There's one interesting theory I've seen online which states that Lord-Taylor's character is actually somehow the Joker, and the 'real' Oswald Cobblepot will emerge later in the series after Lord-Taylor takes a dip in an acid bath at some point.

Maybe I'll get back into the mix if I hear that the show has drastically improved, though realistically, I probably won't.  Jason Lynch recently wrote an interesting article for Adweek noting that most viewers generally don't give shows a second chance since there's simply too much else out there (both new shows and old) for them to watch instead, so if a show doesn't took an audience right off the bat, they could be toast.  "Gotham" has gotten pretty strong ratings so perhaps I can't really fault them for throwing everything at the wall early, though personally, I prefer a show like "Agents of SHIELD" that took a pretty slow build through its first half-season and has really kicked into high gear ever since.

Oh well.  I guess that's how things are in Gotham. 

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