Gotham Is Pretty Bad

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Ten episodes of “Gotham” have aired, and the entire experience has been extremely underwhelming.

Gotham

I can’t I’m surprised, really. I didn’t have any expectations about the show, beyond that it would be competently written enough to get on TV in the first place. What was I thinking? The show is garbage. It suffers from a number of problems, which I’ll outline here, but first I want to discuss my biases.

I’m a big Batman fan. The biggest that I know of, in fact. I’m not necessarily a purist, or against adapting stories into different forms. I’m okay with changing a character around to create new narrative opportunities. But the mark of a good adaptation is respecting the source material. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy” featured numerous changes to characters and settings. Batman not being a detective wasn’t a big deal. Rachel Dawes as a composite character of Julie Madison and Rachel Caspian was also cool. His use of the prison pit as a defacto Lazarus Pit was inspired, honestly. Clearly the showrunners of Arrow found his adaptation interesting, as they’ve effectively mined almost all of it for use in their show.

The point I’m trying to make here is that “Gotham” is not a show that respects the source material. Huge issues, like Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered by a criminal conspiracy, to little things, like Pamela Isley’s inexplicable name change, and Falcone’s name being mispronounced literally every episode, make me wonder what the hell was going on with this show’s production.

The first time I ever looked into Gotham was when I read this interview with Bruno Heller. There were a couple of quotes that got me moderately excited, such as:

How serialized will Gotham be vs. how procedural?
Serialized.

Yeah, well that’s just a fucking lie.

Calling “Gotham” a serial is like calling “The Big Bang Theory” historical fiction. Oh sure, there’s a plot thread here or there that links the various episodes, but by and large, the show is a police procedural. Gordon and Bullock go to the crime scene of whatever the fuck uninteresting murder of the week they are investigating, do some interviews, and then catch the bad guy, and pat each other on the back. It’s extremely boring, unoriginal, and frankly I just don’t understand who even cares.

Here’s what’s wrong with “Gotham:”

Contrivances

Almost all of the resolution in “Gotham” comes as a result of contrivances. How did Gordon catch the guy who was killing people with Venom Viper? Because the one guy they questioned, a tangentially related professor, happened to be the suspect’s conspirator. How did Gordon catch the Balloon Killer? They just happened to find his last balloon, sitting out in the open. How did Bullock catch the Goat serial killer? He saw a person move their arm, and makes an incredible leap of deduction.

There’s also an abundance of character contrivance. Barbara Kean does not act like a real person would act, and instead appears to just do whatever the plot necessitates. Montoya and Allen find one homeless man to corroborate their story of Gordon’s corruption, and suddenly they can just arrest him, regardless of how shaky the testimony might be. Fish Mooney apparently has an incredibly devious scheme which requires characters thinking and acting in exactly the right way in order for it to succeed.

Characters frequently do things that make no sense. In the latest episode, Gordon attempts to fight trained assassins with his fists, instead of just shooting them. Random nameless citizens will often act in ways that no normal human being would act, like putting a strange looking object in front of their eye, or inhaling a mysterious green vapour. None of it makes any damn sense, and almost all of it defies logical and rational thought.

Heavy Handed Symbolism

Did you know that The Riddler likes riddles? Did you know that Catwoman likes cats? Did you know that Poison Ivy likes plants? Did you know that Two-Face flips a coin? Did you know that The Penguin is called The Penguin? Did you know that Black Mask likes masks?

Because even if you did know all of these things, the show doesn’t care. It will repeatedly remind the viewer that these characters eventually become iconic. I hope you know that Gordon is a man of honour and that Bullock is lazy, because the show will go out of its way to tell you this. Over. And Over. And Over again. Did you know that Bruce Wayne becomes Batman? Better show a bunch of unrelated-to-the-plot snippets of Bruce Wayne doing Batman stuff.

I like to think that even the person most ignorant of comic lore knows who the characters are, without all this unnecessary exposition being pilled on at every instance. Just name the character and move the fuck on. I think Edward Nygma being The Riddler would be easy for anyone to grasp without him telling not one, but three, riddles in the pilot.

This problem also extends to non-comic characters. Characters with a gimmick get that gimmick repeated endlessly, replacing whatever characterization they may have had with useless traits. The villains of the show are often one note characters, reduced to their motive and method, and with no memorable qualities.

Lack of Character

This is more of a personal gripe, but I just don’t feel that any of the characters are believable. A good story, at least for me, is one where I care about the outcomes of the various characters. I wanted Rust Cohle to catch the killer in “True Detective,” and I wanted Stannis Baratheon to take the Iron Throne in “Game of Thrones.” I wanted John Locke to realize his destiny in “Lost,” and I wanted Patrick Jane to kill Red John in “The Mentalist.” Their successes made me happy, and their failures made me upset. A good story is one that inspires some emotion in our own lives.

The characters in “Gotham” do no such thing. Part of that is the nature of being a nebulously defined prequel to a story that we already know the outcome of. Gordon saying that he wants to eradicate the corruption in Gotham City is ultimately hollow, because we know he will fail. But another part is the complete lack of understanding of the characters being used.

Carmine Falcone is a character who was very interesting in the Batman mythology. He was a crime lord who disgusted by the surge of “freaks,” costumed criminals and vigilantes. He was from the old remnants of Gotham City, and had no place in the new one. Even though he was a villain, he was compelling. But he’s not so in “Gotham,” because he’s just a name. None of Falcone’s characterization is present in the show. Same with Maroni. We should be interested in these characters and their rivalry, but we’re not, because we have no reason to be.

This problem extends to all of the characters in “Gotham.” None of them are interesting, or have interesting goals or motivations. If Bullock died next episode, I wouldn’t care. If Gordon and his boss Sarah Essen start making out next episode (which I’m sure will happen at some point this season), I wouldn’t care. It doesn’t matter how many named villains they shove into the show, unless they make me care about them as human beings, it doesn’t matter. Why should I care that Mooney and Cobblepot and Falcone and Maroni are all scheming and double crossing each other, when none of them are developed as people, and Batman will eventually come around and beat up the winner?

I will say that Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot is an extremely inspired choice, and is the best character on the show. If there’s any reason to watch “Gotham,” it’s for him. But I can’t really get excited about a show that just rehashes the same tired storylines that I’ve seen a dozen times before.

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