Review: Gotham

I’ve watched the first six episodes of Gotham and I won’t be watching anymore. Its issues are so fundamental as to preclude any development worthy of the Batman franchise precisely because it doesn’t feature (you guessed it) the Dark Knight himself.

The show is enjoyable, right up to the point you realise that it’s going to be about 15 years before you get to see the main character who this universe was created for. Sure, having a young Jim Gordon, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and the Penguin appear is entertaining, but it’s a story that would be better as flashbacks to a new series focusing on Batman ala Arrow or even The Flash. Batman has never had that beyond the eternally good Batman: The Animated Series (personally I think Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman).

The need to fill out a season and to maintain ratings means there will be stories and plot twists that shake things up. It will inevitably create a complicated web of coincidence that makes the show ridiculous and contrived, as is already evident with an implied collusion between the Waynes and the criminal underworld over a redevelopment project (Arkham Asylum, of course) and a Wayne Enterprises bid to usurp young Bruce Wayne of his rightful place.

All of this might be forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that the show merely exists; it can’t grow, the good guys can’t win and criminal empires can only change hands. For all the novelty of seeing proto-characters, Jim Gordon can never defeat crime because the city needs to be this bad by the time Bruce is older and decides he needs to become Batman. Gotham is already a corrupt city, with bent coppers and established crime families. Sure, the rogues’ gallery can appear like with Oswald Cobblepot, but that’s it. For fifteen years. What’s the point?

It would have been much more interesting to have had a good city fall to crime, but then again that might have made it too unfamiliar to the comic book world and it may as well have been another police procedural.

So the issue at the heart of this show is it’s trying to be different and complicated to make it interesting TV, but it can never go too far because it’s all just a grand prelude for Batman. Wayne’s parents were killed and years later he decides to do something about it. Tinkering with that basic formula or having the Wayne’s portrayed as anything other than saintly corrupts the rationale that makes a man decide to do take on the underworld.

What should be focused on more is the relationship and the development of Alfred and Bruce Wayne. It’s never fully explored what an adolescent Wayne did in the years prior to travelling the world, and his relationship with Alfred. Here the young man is already displaying a psychological curiosity to make himself more than he is and simultaneously a slightly unbelievable knack for detective work. He’s going to grow up to be imbalanced, and the show should spend more time showing how he spends his days (without descending into Bruce Wayne-High like a young Peter Parker).

Both David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne and Sean Pertwee as Alfred (son of beloved Doctor Who actor John Pertwee) are superb. Mazouz is commanding yet coy, determined but edging to instability with real emotional depth for someone so young and so hurt. Pertwee is Alfred as we’ve never seen him, stern, cheeky and very much a man of action. They’re a joy to watch together but their time is never enough.

The rest of the cast has potential but is altogether let down by the show. I wasn’t a fan of The OC and I don’t believe Ben McKenzie has done anything noteworthy beyond it. He’s actually rather good, but too young and the character has nothing much to do but run around in the same circles. Jada Pinkett Smith is campy and would have found a more natural home as Catwoman in the 60s series. Robin Taylor as Penguin is exaggerated and ridiculous and is more like an enthusiastic fan production of the character. All others are unremarkable.

All of this is why it would have been better and bolder to have had flashbacks in a Godfather-esque structure of parallel timelines to show plot developments and character histories. Alas.

Maybe the redeeming argument is that for years Gordon tries to fix the city and, in his desperation, one day has little option but to accept the help of a masked vigilante. The show’s poster nods in that direction unless the search light just happens to be a massive coincidence.

It’s all such a shame, and a wasted opportunity to return Batman to the small screen. Gotham could have been brilliant, but it’s doomed to failure because of how long ago it’s set and because we know how it has to end eventually. Avid Batman fans will find the bare bones of entertainment, and only as a sugary treat for a short time before a new film comes out.

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