Television Review: Gotham

 Posted by on September 25, 2014 at 1:23 pm  Reviews & Discussions, Television
Sep 252014


Gotham is a coattail-riding kind of show; wanting to have its superhero cake and eat it too…or something. It’s riding the wave of superhero success, certainly. Television is still figuring out how to do that in a way that keeps pace with the phenomenon that is happening at the movies. There have been successes and bombs but no phenoms on TV, and I doubt Gotham will change that.

Professor Spouse approached this show with more enthusiasm than I, as she’s the Batman fan in the family. I appreciate the permutations that Batman has gone through over the years: The hard-as-nails creepy good guy introduced in the ’30s, the campy ’60s TV show, the resurgence of noir darkness with Frank Miller and Alan Moore in the late ’80s, as well as a checkered movie history. The bat guy has certainly straddled a range of artistic expression. He’s just never been my favorite cup of bat-tea. Still, I approached with an open mind, and I’m a Donal Logue fan, so there’s that.

Gotham‘s look is beautiful. It doesn’t have that “Make the CGI go away!” artificiality that gives me the heebie-jeebies (thanks for nothing, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). It looks spooky, complex, dark, and subtly futuristic. The cast is diverse and interesting, it doesn’t suffer from Pretty People Syndrome; people look like people; fat, skinny, weird, scruffy, and there are Latinos and African-Americans in key roles, including Jada Pinkett-Smith as the primary villain.

The plot follows new detective Jim Gordon (Ben Mackenzie), who will, in the future, be Commissioner Gordon, and his partner Harvey Bullock (Logue). Bullock is the wizened, cynical, compromised side of the “opposites attract” cop duo that is such a staple of crime drama, while Gordon is the naive do-gooder who also throws a mean punch. Professor Spouse points out that Mackenzie seems to be channeling Russel Crowe circa L.A. Confidential (I’d had him pinned more as Jeremy Renner). Frankly, attractive as he is, he doesn’t have the muscle, size, or sense of menace to be convincing. At least twice during the course of the episode, Gordon disarmed and beat up larger, more imposing criminals–at least once he took on two at a time. At no point did that feel like anything but TV. Early in the episode, young Bruce Wayne watches his parents get murdered, a tale we all know. The continuing plot seems to rest on Gordon’s efforts to solve this crime, while also introducing villain-of-the-week episodes: A standard sort of crime drama construction. From Castle to The Mentalist, you can watch crime-of-the-week get solved while the main characters periodically progress in their search for That One Personal Killer.

Most of the pleasure of the show seems to be in watching how it’s constructed. We meet Future Commissioner Gordon, Future Batman, Future Catwoman, Future Riddler, etc. It’s fun to watch these threads weave together, and there’s that little thrill of recognition.

On the other hand, ugh.

Ah, okay, I’ll start over. On the other hand, there was not a single scene that didn’t end exactly as I knew it would. There was nothing surprising, no revelation that provided any real “aha.” And the dialogue! Oh, Gods, the cheese! What human being in the history of death has ever comforted a grieving child by saying “there will be light”? It’s stilted, awkward, and over-written, especially when Gordon is speaking.

The show has potential, for sure, but it needs either better dialogue, a more deft hand with plotting, or both, if it wishes to keep me interested.

Who watched? What did you all think?


  6 Responses to “Television Review: Gotham”

  1. If you want to hang an actor from a meathook–who looks like this isn’t the first time it’s happened to him–Donal Logue is on the short list, near the top.

  2. I had the exact same thought as Professor Spouse on seeing McKenzie as Gordon: young Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential. Not quite that level of power, as you say, but not a bad model. I liked most of the casting: Logue, Sean Pertwee as Alfred (with a tough working-class accent, instead of the usual cultured Oxbridge tones, which is a nice change), even David Mazouz as the young Bruce Wayne. The exception was Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was just awful, over-the-top and campy.

    I don’t see how the show is going to work out of the trap it’s set for itself. I remember when The West Wing debuted, they said that it was going to be about the president’s staff, not the president, that he would be a minor character that only would appear occasionally. By the second season, Martin Sheen was at the center of every story. Since Gotham can’t age Mazouz immediately into an adult once they find they need Batman in the story, I’m curious to see how they can sustain the show for however many years they’ll need.

    • Since Gotham can’t age Mazouz immediately into (Batman).

      I suppose they could make him a problem-solving crime-fghting kid – a proto-Batman.

      Lee Child did something like this with a short-story prequel to his Jack Reacher series (Second Son) – the 13-yr-old Reacher was pretty much the same as grown up Reacher except for the sex and no killing.

  3. It’s good to see our girl Lizzy Moss get into a film with such heavy hitters as Blanchett and Redford. Seems it’s based on a memoir by Producer Mary Mapes, who reported that 60 Minutes had hired a senior document analyst who examined “slacker memos” purported to have been written by young Bush’s CO – but were almost certainly written using MS Word using default settings (a Selectric does not type superscripts).

    Ken Burns excellent documentary on the Roosevelts recounts the diplomatic and personal decision TR Sr. made to legally pay for a soldier to stand in his place for the Union (TR Jr.’s mother was a ‘true Southern Belle’ who had relatives fighting of the Confederates).

    At least two generations of subsequent Roosevelts dodged bullets in combat – TR Jr’s youngest son was killed instantly in a WWI dogfight.

    Contrast with Presidents Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama, none of whom saw active service. Clinton and Bush were subject to the draft – Obama was not.

    Not so long ago the mere lack of active service might have ruined a presidential candidates chances (though this seemed not to have harmed Wilson and FDR).

    These days, the hunger for scandal often centers on the trivial – this time it took down career journalists such as Mapes and Dan Rather.

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