Three television viewers break into whoops, cheers, and insane flailing. What would cause such a thing? Oswald Cobblepot walking into a police station and saying, “Hello.” Then the viewers replay the scene and cheer all over again, because we really love Gotham at my house. We love it a lot. On a scale of one to ten, we’re at “fangirl flailing.”
Apparently Gotham is getting great ratings (yay!), and yet most of the reviews I’ve seen are negative. So, I’m setting out to write a positive review! I plan to explain why I like the show in direct relation to the typical complaints I’m seeing in other reviews. I’m not trying to argue with particular reviewers or saying they should like the show when they don’t — I’m just explaining why I like it, detailing why these common objections don’t bother me, and illustrating how people can have wildly differing opinions of the exact same content.
1) “I wouldn’t keep watching if it wasn’t a Batman show.”
I honestly don’t understand this objection, because it IS a Batman show. The whole point is that it’s a Batman show. I’m watching explicitly BECAUSE it’s a Batman show, so obviously I wouldn’t keep watching if it wasn’t!
The fact that it’s Gotham City is deeply ingrained in this thing. The Gotham we see on this show could not be anywhere but Gotham. It’s a city of insanity, full of power-mad gangsters, drawing larger-than-life personas up out of its alleys like it’s a force of nature. This show could not exist or function if it wasn’t a Batman show.
I’d also like to take a moment and praise the characters’ tone. They’re not “genre-savvy,” they’re not aware of what’s going to happen just because they know their genre works that way. And yet, no one’s going to stop and say “Hasn’t anyone noticed how utterly weird this is?” because in their universe, it’s not weird. Comically silly villains are not comically silly, they’re played totally straight, and their crimes are gruesome. All that is disturbing to the characters, but not inherently strange. They understand the rules of the game, but there’s a complete lack of self-awareness about those rules… It’s like a whole new kind of genre-savviness! This was the first thing I noticed about the show in its initial episodes, and is still one of my favorite aspects. Again, the show could not function if it wasn’t about Batman comics.
This leads into number two…
2) “It can’t decide if it’s a cop show or a superhero show” and/or “The tone is confused.”
There are elements of this in how some of the cops are waaaaay older than they should be, betraying a kind of “We want to do Gotham Central even though those characters would be way too young in a prequel” situation. However, I don’t feel like the tone itself is confused. It’s dual, and I love it!
Batman is both silly and creepy. There is no “real” version… Adam West plays the real Batman, and so does Christian Bale. Batman’s whole milieu is the same way. The Joker is ridiculous, but he’s also terrifying. The concept of Batman is inherently both things, and I adore this show for being both things! Not only does it suit Batman as a topic, it fascinates me as a ho-hum TV viewer. It makes the show feel vibrant, unpredictable. It makes me want to see what happens. It makes me think of how weird and nuts being a cop in a superhero universe might actually be. It’s a cop show lifted to superheroic proportions, and it’s a superhero show brought down to the nitty-gritty of a cop show. It’s both.
3) “Jim Gordon is boring.”
Yeah, okay, I get this one. I’d like to see more to Gordon. I’d like to see more to his relationship with Barbara, and I’d have liked to see him start out one way and then develop into being another way (i.e. the Gordon we know in the future).
However, I feel like Jim would be a really fun guy if he wasn’t always under duress and taking it so seriously, and I pin that on Ben McKenzie making the best of the lines he’s given. I love watching the facial expressions between Gordon and Harvey Bullock. (Donal Logue is getting widespread approval for his acting job, and I’m totally on board with that — the line “I got you one but I dropped it” still makes me laugh every time I think about it.)
Anyway, the fact that Gordon does take everything so seriously is rather interesting to me. He doesn’t come across as the “everyday guy doing the best he can” that older-Gordon usually is. This Jim Gordon plays the straight man to all the other characters, but in his interactions with all the crazies of Gotham City, I feel a sense of barely-repressed insanity. He’s so straightlaced because he wants so desperately for straightlacedness to be possible, while no one else in this city (meta-speaking, this universe) even sees how insane they are. (Except maybe Barbara, who seems to be totally boring and serious without any undue effort. Part of his motivation seems to be remaining “normal” so she’ll approve of him). I could certainly be reading too much into this, or into McKenzie’s efforts to make something out of a boring role, but my point is that I’m not bored. I’m fascinated!
Gordon could’ve been given more depth or a more unexpected characterization and been immediately more interesting, but at the end of the day, it’s also a straightforward move to create a normal guy with whom to contrast the other characters. It could’ve been more subtle, but we’d have still known what the writers were doing, and those contrasts are carrying the story right now. Some are obvious, like the contrast between Gordon as the young firebrand and Bullock as the jaded cynic. But others are more subtle and complex, like the way Gordon and Cobblepot don’t have anything in common, but are experiencing parallel origin stories on opposite sides of the fence and being pushed together while doing so.
4) “Bruce Wayne is shoehorned in, he doesn’t have anything to do with the plot.”
Of course he’s relevant to the plot! The plot is “stuff happens in Gotham City.” Stuff happening in Gotham affects him, and it looks like he’ll be affecting stuff in Gotham, now that he’s interacting with the board of Wayne Enterprises.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!