Thursday, 16 October 2014

First Impressions: Gotham



Gotham is quite possibly the most anticipated new show this year - set in the DC comicbook world we're all familiar with in some shape or form, Gotham follows a young Detective, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who arrives on scene to find a city rampant with corruption and crime. 

Tasked with solving the murder of two powerful philanthropists, Gordon and his ageing partner Bullock (Donal Logue) must cross paths with some of the city's most eccentric characters, as well as navigate an escalating mob war.

With the pilot of Gotham having aired on Australian TV over the weekend, I took some time to put together my first impressions of the show...

Gotham is a primetime Batman show, without Batman. That is to say, 20 years before Batman became Batman. You know what I mean - it's Gotham: Origins in essence, charting the rise of Detective James Gordon through the ranks fo the GCPD and the emergence of iconic villains like The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman and Posion Ivy.

On paper, the premise is genius. Gotham, pre-Batman? Watching the whole place fall to pieces, as mobsters and gangsters run rampant? That should be an absolute masterpiece, witnessing a once great city tear itself apart through mob wars and corrupt police infighting, with a dash of comicbook weirdness for good measure. Where do I sign up?

And yet, Gotham isn't anything close to genius. It's flawed (some would say fatally). It doesn't know what it wants to be, caught somewhere between standard police procedural and full-blown Adam West zaniness.

The inconsistent tone is the show's biggest issue straight out of the box - one minute we have an artistic police interrogation montage (to the grungy sounds of the Dead Weather) before we abruptly shift to a scene where two detectives talk with Oswald Cobblepot's heavily-accented and bedraggled mother, who looks like something torn straight from a Tim Burton film. Plus, is she Russian? German? Ugh, whatever.

Also, I found that the pilot made a fatal error in the first two minutes. It kicks things off somewhere we've been time and again - the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Not only is this boring (like I said, we've seen it before), but it's predictable and formulaic, right down to the pearls clattering onto the blood-stained pavement. Right from the word go, it feels like we're treading water until Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, even if that's not the point of the show.


Narratively, it would've been a much smarter decision to have the Wayne family as influential side characters that actually mean something across the first season, maybe even two seasons. Maybe they work with the police, do something philanthropic that elevates Gotham into becoming a better place. That way, we actually see their work helping the city first hand, and eventually killing them off impacts the show in a major way.

Instead, we're treated to an opening scene we've seen a million times before. Hardly a gripping, thrilling opening. Yawn. It feels so pre-ordained and rigid - almost like there is no Gotham, no story prior to their death. Why not make Thomas Wayne the Ned Stark of Season 1, his death being the trigger that sends Gotham into even deeper chaos?

But nah, screw that. Gotham does away with any pretence of a long-game and plunges straight into the thick of it. You want Batman characters? You got it buddy - Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Posion Ivy, Fish Mooney and a raft of GCPD detectives are all thrown straight into the mix during a cluttered and messy opening 45-minutes. It's simply too much, too soon. The characters lack impact, and are simply thrown at the screen in an attempt to get audiences to stick around.

Criticism aside, not everything about Gotham's first couple of episodes sucked.

The best thing about the show is without a doubt the protagonist, Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). He's the kind of do-gooder we can all side with and relate to. Clean-cut, kind of hot-headed but with good intentions - what's not to like?

Robin Lord Taylor is also a great addition to the cast as Oswald Cobblepot. He's jittery and slimy, as well as being lovably snivelly. Taylor does a fantastic job of communicating Cobblepot's lack of physical strength and contrasting it against his ambition to gain power of the mob. Camren Bicondova is also good as Selina Kyle, or Cat as her character inexplicably insists on being called.

On the whole, Gotham's first few episodes have been a very mixed bag. I can appreciate the challenge the show has set itself in taking on such iconic characters. I'll stick with it for a few weeks, see how the show evolves the further along the road it gets - but based on first impressions alone, Gotham isn't as amazing as I'd first hoped.

6 comments:

  1. I think the show is still trying to find its footing. It has potential, but I agree, the Wayne family murders have already been done so many times. My biggest issue with the show is the whole *nudge nudge wink wink* vibe I get when they introduce comic characters. Yes, that's Poison Ivy awkwardly positioned by the plant. That dog is barking at Catwoman, GET IT?!?! The Riddler just told a riddle!

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    1. I know, right? I get that not everyone is as familiar with characters as fans of the Batman universe, but there's no need to beat us over the head with it - the Riddler one was the worst, like, he's not supposed to be the Riddler yet, why is he telling riddles? That's my main issue - the arrival of Batman is supposed to trigger the arrival of these madmen. Bruce is supposed to be confronted by the possibility that he made them what they are - but in this version, Riddler and Catwoman and everyone are pretty much set on that path with or without Batman. Thanks for commenting Brittani :)

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  2. Gotham is fun to watch but it could be more consistent with its style. Jada Pinkett Smith is a little to over the top for me, which really brings on a heavy kitschy-hokey vibe. I'd like to see Alfred evolve the most; one second he's insulting Bruce, the next he's being sympathetic with him. That character is all over the place. I think for primetime it's trying to tread a line between kid-safe who love Batman/superheroes and mature enough for adults.

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    1. I like that they've made Alfred conflicted with Bruce, but you're right in that the changes in mood are jarring. Part of me wishes the show had been picked up by AMC or FX so we'd get a more adult realisation of pre-Batman Gotham. Thanks for commenting Katy :)

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  3. Gotham reminds me a lot of Fringe, when it first came on air. I fell off after the first season of Fringe, but I do want to go back and watch the entire thing, one day. It just doesn't know what it wants to be, and considering the confidence of the showrunners, heading into the first season, I'm a little afraid that it will never discover what it wants to be. Regardless, I will be watching, because... BATMAN!!!

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    1. But...it's not Batman yet. That's the problem I think. They're trying so hard to make it Batman, when it shouldn't be about that at all. It should be more about the city's descent into despair, torn apart by crime wars. The constant wink-wink nudge-nudges about Batman villains are really over-the-top. I'll probably stick with it for a bit longer, but I want there to be a more consistent tone that doesn't rely on being overly cartoonish :)

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