Gotham TV Reviews

Clearing Space on the DVR: Saying Goodbye to Gotham

Last night, Fox’s Batman prequel series Gotham introduced its version of The Scarecrow, the latest in the show’s long line of well-known comic book villains. We know the character as Dr. Jonathan Crane, a deranged psychologist who uses a fear toxin to exploit and incapacitate his enemies. Gotham walked it back and gave us Jonathan’s dad, Dr. Gerald Crane, who similarly preys on the phobias of his victims just without the aid of any kind of psychotropic agent. Jonathan was around, but mostly just as Gerald’s kid who doesn’t stay in the van as ordered because the parking meter ran out.

To recap, this means that in its short life Gotham has already presented us with some of the biggest Batman villains of all time (Scarecrow, Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman) along with somewhat lesser-known baddies like The Electrocutioner, Victor Zsasz, and even Balloonman, just to name a few. The Dollmaker is due to show up in just a couple of episodes, and now executive producer Bruno Heller is telling TVGuide that because “nobody can wait” in America the first season will even “scratch the surface” of the Joker story.

I’m a Batman fanatic. As I write this very article, I’m looking up at a framed picture I have of Frederick Jay’s “Starry Knight,” which inserts Batman into Van Gogh’s classic “Starry Night.” Everything I just said about Gotham should be like catnip to me (insert a Catwoman pun here, if you’re so inclined). They’re already over half way there to incorporating some version of every one of Batman’s cinematic villains. The only ones left are Joker, Dr. Freeze, Bane, and Ra’s al Guhl! This comes after years and years of all these characters being saved for the big screen and repeatedly held off of Smallville so as not to diminish their value. Now, Ra’s al Guhl is running around Arrow, and just about every villain you could imagine seems set to show up on Gotham at some point. As the Burt Ward Robin might say, “Holy fan overload, Batman!”

Or as Jim Carrey’s Riddler might say, “Joygasm!”

So, why did I just cancel my DVR series subscription to Gotham last night with no real plans to simply catch the show down the line on Hulu or On Demand? The answer is obvious: I don’t really like Gotham. However, what really inspired my decision is that when I recently fell behind the show by a couple of episodes I discovered how much more fun it was reading recaps and reviews written by increasingly disgruntled fans than actually watching the episodes they were tearing apart. Hush Comics, in particular, has been a real delight, recently deciding that one of the only pros of the episode “What the Little Bird Told Him” was the presence of, “Morena Baccarin is a beautiful woman. Why is this a plus? Because pretty much everything else about this episode sucked. Also, she can act better than the rest of the cast. And now that she and Jim Gordon have hooked up, it looks like she is here to stay… for a while at least.”

Really, once you’ve seen two or three episodes of Gotham you can stop watching and read someone else’s take on the show and quickly conclude, “That’s so something that show would do.” As the AV Club argued in its review of last night’s Scarecrow episode, “This episode feels no different than any other. When every episode follows exactly the same beats, how are we, the audience, supposed to differentiate between what’s significant and what’s just for fun?”

This comes after Gotham made a clear attempt at a reboot in its mid-season premiere. After having stepped on too many toes, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) was forced out of the Gotham City Police Department and into working security in the undermanned and newly re-opened Arkham Asylum. His tumultuous partnership with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) had suddenly turned chummy, Bullock presented as a lovable ally longing to be re-ignited with his partner. Gordon’s sexually confused fembot of a fiancé, Barbara (Erin Richards), was mostly sidelined in favor of a cute Arkham physician played by Baccarin, a fan favorite of genre shows from her time on Firefly/Serenity. Bruce Wayne and Alfred were gone, off to Europe for a bit. What any of that had to do with the escalating mob war involving The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), Butch (Drew Powell), Carmine Falcone (John Doman), and Sal (David Zayas) was less clear, but, still, Jim Gordon, the man who will be Police Commissioner, stuck working in Arkham at least seemed like something new.

GOTHAM_612x380_0So, of course, he was back on the police force just a couple of episodes later. Just when Gotham finally did something I found interesting it reverted back to its default setting, another example of the show being too impatient to be interesting.

I’ve had people tell me that they love the way Gotham seems like 75 years worth of Batman history all colliding at once in the body of a single show, with the campiness of Dick Sprang in the comics, Adam West on TV, and Joel Schumacher on film competing against not just the grittiness of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central in the comics and Christopher Nolan on film but also the visual flair of Tim Burton’s Batman.  I’ve also heard from some who don’t take Gotham too seriously and simply enjoy how strange it is.gotham-villains

That last part is what kept me going with the show for a while. For example, I had a good laugh when the show’s version of Harvey Dent erupted in fiery anger in practically just his second scene. Then I convinced myself that I really liked Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as an especially weaselly Penguin. Then I convinced myself that Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney was pure camp fun. Then I convinced myself that sticking Gordon into Arkham would peak my interest again. And then I stopped watching for a couple of episodes and realized I didn’t miss a single one of the characters nor did I absolutely have to see what happened with such and such storyline. At the very least with something like Arrow, even when I dislike pretty much all of their storylines I still keep coming back because I actually like the characters.  Right now, my favorite character on Gotham is Fish Mooney’s right-hand man who stuck with her even when a double cross was there for the taking.  That’s it. What, then, is there really drawing me back beyond blind loyalty to all things Batman?

Comparative Geeks recently made a compelling argument that Gotham is mirroring iconic Batman graphic novels Year One and The Long Halloween by gradually transitioning the city from a place ruled by the mob to somewhere overrun by supervillains, positing this as a universe in which Batman will eventually rise to defeat the costumed maniacs instead of the more traditional model of the maniacs rising in response to him. That seems like exactly the kind of thing that happens to a show which tries to do Batman without Batman but can’t resist entertaining “us with the signature traits of its icons now.” As the AV Club argued:

The origin story, by nature, is character-driven. It takes what we already know about a character and gives us insight into how they got that way. Gotham’s idea of an origin story is just giving us younger versions of characters we know. That’s it. It’s the worst kind of reductive nostalgia, which assumes that all Batman fans, or even casual superhero fans, want to see is winking nods to future characters.

Prior to Gotham’s debut, I made an informal bet with a friend as to who would stick with the show the longest.  I won; she quit halfway through the second episode. The reason we made the bet in the first place was because we were both so down on Gotham, sight unseen, conceptually.  It’s The Wire/The Shield but with James Gordon and the Gotham City PD.  Wait – it’s Smallville but with Bruce Wayne. No, it’s both!

We wondered what their long-term plan was for integrating Bruce Wayne into the story so that every time we cut back to him from whatever Gordon is up to doesn’t feel wholly unnecessary.  We worried we were heading for a TV show version of X-Men: First Class, which began as two separate projects (X-Men prequel, Magneto prequel) which merged into one.  That worked far better than it had any right to there, and Gotham was unlikely to pull it off as well.

I’m not sticking around to see if they work all of that out. If the show quite improbably gets really, really good, by all means let me know – I can catch in on Hulu. But it’s not going to take up room on my DVR anymore.

What about you? Are you still watching Gotham? Do you see just enough in there to keep you coming back? Or do you totally love the show, and don’t know why I would be walking away from it? Let me know in the comments.

This is how I imagine Fox reacting to news that I’ve decided to stop watching their show:

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  1. We’re sticking with it for now, but to be fair, I pretty much agree with everything you had to say here. So I’m not sure I could tell you right now WHY I’m sticking with it, except maybe that I really am curious how they pull this off… I really think a 5-years-later second season would not be a bad idea. Although it’s Fox, so maybe they think this can be Bones or something and get to double-digit seasons – by which time Batman could show up. I don’t know.

    1. If they did a time-jump in-between seasons that would be enough to at least bring me back to watch the season premiere. Don’t feel bad about not having a real explanation for WHY you’re still watching. I don’t have a super fantastic explanation for why I am only just now quitting the show after I was already pretty down on it after the first 3 episodes.

      1. At some point here after this season, Holly and I are going to have a lot less time… this might be one for our eventual chopping block. We’ll see. There are ways to revive this, but if they really go for the Joker this season… then it might deserve to be a show that’s only a couple of seasons long!

      2. I think they are going to simply set-up the Joker this season, like maybe introduce The Red Hood Gang or something and tease them for next season, with their leader being an early version of The Joker. They always said they were going to use each season to primarily focus on one villain, with season 1 being about The Penguin. The Joker was supposed to come later. I get the impression that Heller’s “because American can’t wait” excuse for why there are going with the Joker this early is bullshit. I think it’s actually a result of them scrambling to provide more content to fill out their 22 episode order when they had originally intricately planned out a 16 episode season.

      3. Yeah, it seems like it’s some great gift to be offered extra episodes… but from a writing and storytelling standpoint, it seems like the worst idea.

      4. Absolutely. It is a total, “Thank you, bosses at the network. I can’t wait to break these new stories with the writers,” one minute, and then “Crap. What the heck do we do now” once you actually get to the writer’s room.

  2. I take it dropping the show after the pilot was a good decision on my part. I considered catching up if there are good review, alas, the got worse and worse. I am currently down to two comic book shows I watch as soon as possible (AoS and Agent Carter) and one I catch up to when I am in the mood (Flash). Wouldn’t have thought that happening one year ago, as AoS was on my “maybe I give it a second chance at one point” list.

    1. It was a very good decision on your part, I’d say. I am with you on both Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD. Hayley Atwell has been such a joy to watch as Peggy Carter, and Agents of SHIELD has been surprisingly great this year. Gotham could turn everything around just as Agents of SHIELD has in its second season, but I just think that Gotham is so fundamentally flawed at the conceptual level that it’s never going to be able to get past that.

      1. Today it occured to me that the reason I dropped the show THAT fast is most likely because I don’t really WANT to know the backstory of most of the Batman villains. With most of them, it makes them just less scary.

  3. Penguin is literally the only reason I still watch the show. The only reason. It’s a difficult thing to hold on to considering that I have to put up with some of the elements I hate most (I’m looking at you, Fish). It is the one show in my rotation that I’m constantly hoping I should drop. Since I review it, I’ll see if through the the end of the season. It’ll get one episode next year to see if it gets the boot.

    One of the things that bothers me most about it, is the hodgepodge of characters. Rather than playing people close to the chest, they are throwing everything at the wall.

    1. The mid-season twist that Penguin had actually been working for Maroni the whole time worked for me. But it seems like they kind of threw all of that away in the last two episodes, and the less I see of Carol Kane as his mom the better.

      If I had been reviewing every episode I probably wouldn’t be giving up on it; my reviews would probably just be getting snarkier. But I can ultimately relate.

  4. I’m still watching, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Maybe just because it’s SLIGHTLY better than mots of the other crap on right now. For shame.

    1. Don’t feel bad. It seems like a lot of people still watching this show don’t have a fantastic reason for why they haven’t given up yet.

      The big Joker episode is on tonight. Who knows – Maybe those who’ve stuck with it will be rewarded with something awesome.

  5. I stopped watching after about 5 or 6 episodes. The only reason I stuck around that long was to watch Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin. He’s a bit snivelly, but it suits what seemed to be his strategy (at least up to that point). Also–and this touches on what you mentioned about origin stories showing the formative experiences of certain characters–I liked that early on we saw how he got his distinctive walk. At the time I quit watching, for me he was not only the best part of the show (which is kind of like saying he’s the only part of an old sandwich that doesn’t have mold on it) but actually too good for the show (i.e., he deserves to be put in a better sandwich).
    Aside from his performance, the show just isn’t that good. The characters, and most actors’ performances, seem two-dimensional. The arcs of individual episodes generally follow the same structure (as you mentioned). Subplots move at a snail’s pace. Overarching arcs (e.g., the murder of the Waynes) are largely forgotten for multiple episodes at a time. As you suggested, it seems like they’re just throwing everything they’ve got at the wall and not even waiting to see what sticks before they scrape it off and throw it again. They would’ve been better off really developing and cultivating a small handful of characters and the relationships between them.

    1. Robin Lord Taylor on Gotham is like that actor who gets a Best Supporting Academy Award nomination for a standout performance in an otherwise average if not kind of bad film. He’s the one you want to see the show canceled for because once he’s not tied to Gotham the rest of the industry can throw higher quality projects at him, although from a financial security standpoint I’m sure he’d probably have no problem if Gotham got the standard 5 season, 100 episode life.

      Gotham, overall, is that maddening show which just isn’t very good but actually gets watched by a lot of people. However, we’re far used to that happening with CBS shows or other nondescript procedurals. It’s a bit more difficult to take when it’s something which should be tailor-made for you, like a Batman TV show should be for me.

    1. Yeah, I remember we really differed on this show.

      You’re not alone, though. A. As far as I know, the ratings are still solid. So, obviously a lot of people watch this show, and it can’t all be hate-watchers.. B. I regularly find new episode reviewers from people who like the show, or at least show far more patience with it than I did. Everyone I’ve read seem to really dislike what they’re doing with Barbara, though.

      1. Oh yeah, totally agree on Barbara. In my opinion she’s actually a demon from Supernatural who’s on the wrong show, giving bisexual women a bad name while she’s at it.

      2. “In my opinion she’s actually a demon from Supernatural who’s on the wrong show”

        Well, the moment the Sam and Dean Winchester break through Barbara’s apartment door and shoot her with rock salt is the moment I start watching Gotham again because that would be so insanely weird and awesome.

        And, yeah, it did kind of seem like she wasn’t the greatest representation for bisexual women.

  6. Ooh hindsight is a wonderful thing. Season 4 is far superior to the duller seasons before. Actually 3 wasnt too bad either. All those complaints I challenge you to say what were you expecting this show to be about. It cant have batman although it feels like it is eminent with the actor playing Bruce growing up faster and taller than the kid from Everyone Hates Chris. Plus they have accelerated Ivy and Catwoman and have thrown in plenty more villains. So its all there itching to be a discount Batman Begins. I like it again. A bit perplexed about the whole Joker MK2 storyline as the first version was very good.

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