It’s still superhero season. Marvel continues to flood the cinemas whilst slowly expanding their cinematic universe to the small-screen. DC have been playing catch-up in the big flicks but have slowly churned out TV shows. The Flash joined Arrow, both bearing resemblance to Smallville. Now the most popular hero from the DC stable gets his own show. Well, kind of. Gotham hits our television sets portraying the city before the Dark Knight emerges.
Not for the first time we see the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents on film. This is the show’s starting point. So we know that we’ll see no Batman for a long time, just a younger Master Bruce coming to terms with the killings. Perhaps it is this repetition that makes the scene so underwhelming. Compared to previous versions there is no desperation in the murderer, no panic in the Waynes, and we know they’ll be no swift rise and resolution in this format of storytelling. We get a clean and clinical, shot because they had to show it, scene.
Herein the many problems with the new show are revealed. The setting actually works quite well. The city has a dark edge to it, bordering on the Gothic New York that Gotham deserves to be. However, it is wasted with the way it’s used. Many lines of dialogue and set-up are lifted fresh from a teen-TV show. In the areas where a sprinkling of Tim Burton would have made the show edgy we are given plastic and safe scenes.
It fails further when it tries to be a serious crime show. If this was the aim then it needs to be on a par with the BBC’s Sherlock. This would be the only way we could excuse the absence of Batman, the world’s greatest detective. At least Smallville teased Superman’s power and his alien origins, admittedly they teased for five years longer than they should have, but it started with promise.
If the makers see the inclusion of characters we know to become major players, like Penguin and The Riddler, as a bridge way to this, then they are failing further than feared. Not only does this destroy or rewrite well known origin stories, it also reminds us that we are supposed to be in a Batman universe. And characters that are supposed to be larger than life, vibrant, intimidating, are soulless shadows of their former (future) selves.
The positives come by the way casting. It’s easy to buy into Ben McKenzie as a young, ambitious James Gordon, it’s a shame he’s hampered by bad screenwriting. Regardless, it’s clear he’s the show’s hero – Gotham’s White Knight. Sean Pertwee has a glint in his eye, which lends belief to the idea he’s the sort of Alfred that could facilitate the broken boyhood Bruce’s rise to Batman. John Doman plays crime boss Carmine Falcone to such perfection that his character alone could be the main antagonist of the show for seasons to come, without the need for half-formed super-villains.
Over time the show may find its stride. It needs to find a darker edge, better dialogue, deeper crimes with better police procedural elements. We also need to watch Bruce Wayne slowly transform. Gotham can only work if it plays to its strengths, and that has always been the Dark Knight. Unless this has just been a massive long game from Warner Bros., the parent company and producers behind the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. They took a lot of abuse for hiring Ben Affleck as Batman. After a season of Gotham without a sighting of our hero, we’ll be accepting “Batfleck” with open arms.
Batman’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it has right now.