I wanted to like Gotham.
Now, after the pre-Batman Batman show has reached its midseason break, I definitely don’t like Gotham, but I can’t even muster up enough venom to hate it. Instead, it’s been relegated to a bin of other shows of which I share a similar feeling: indifference.
The show came with a novel idea (well, more like a graphic novel idea, seeing that the comic book series Gotham Central is part source material): telling a Batman story without Batman. While Gotham Central showed how a police force dealt with Batman (and Batman-related villains), the TV series Gotham instead chose to look at the city when Bruce Wayne was just a boy in the immediate aftermath of his parents’ murder.
That difference has proved crucial, and not in a good way.
A quick aside: when I reviewed The Passion of the Christ for a newspaper, I said the film provided little back story as to why this Jesus character was important, counting on the audience’s pre-film Biblical knowledge to guide them. My friends laughed at me, but I maintain that any piece of art must stand on its own merits without relying on our existing knowledge. In that sense, Passion failed.
So, too, does Gotham. To an outsider with limited Batman reference points, it is a complete mess. To those of us more familiar with the Dark Knight story, the in-jokes and winks started off as fun but have since grown into storytelling crutches for the writing staff. Why bother with character development when you can have Edward Nygma come in and make over-the-top references to the Riddler he will someday become?
Gotham is also plagued by a mish-mash of tones, going from gritty realism to broad camp, sometimes in the same scene. The steady presence of John Dorman as Carmine Falcone clashes up against the Eartha Kitt-ness Jada Pinkett Smith brings to Fish Mooney (also, let’s not ignore the fact that “Fish Mooney” is the worst character name maybe in the history of television). Both actors are turning in solid (if solidly different) performances, although neither seem to be set in the same world, let alone the same TV show.
The show has shown some promise, particularly with David Mazouz’s role of Bruce Wayne. He has started inhabiting the obsessive compulsiveness that no doubt helped transform Wayne into the Dark Knight. That said, showing a pre-pubescent kid with an investigation room straight out of The Wire still seems a bit much, even for The Boy Who Would Be Batman.
But for every step forward, Gotham takes two steps back. It has no idea what to do with any female characters other than Fish Mooney (and again, SHE IS NAMED FISH MOONEY), and Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon basically has two acting styles: frowny and growly. The man talks through clenched teeth as if he’s doing an impression of Bruce Springsteen as a ventriloquist.
After Gotham finishes its first season, I’ll check in on reviews to see if it’s improved, perhaps leading to me finishing the remainder of the episodes. As it stands now, though, I have no choice but to give up on Gotham, which is an absolute shame because of the wasted potential. This isn’t the show Gotham deserves, but it’s the one we have right now.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough.