Comics · TV & Movies

A Positive Review of Gotham

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.”

Equestria girls twilight sparkle flail gif - Copy

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.

Gotham promo

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!

therealbatmanBatman 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!

Jim Gordon Oswald CobblepotGordon 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.

David Mazouz Bruce Wayne Gotham
And he’s adorable. My sister keeps comparing him to Artemis Fowl, and it’s an apt comparison so far. Serious, rich, quite smart, with a personal carriage beyond his years and not shocked by crime… but still naive in the face of it.

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “A Positive Review of Gotham

  1. I’ve heard mixed opinions of this show from everywhere, both the internet and people I personally know. I’ll probably do what I did with Agents of Shield … wait until the season is over, or whenever I have the time to watch it, and then try the first few episodes to make up my own mind.

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    1. What did you end up thinking of Agents of Shield? I actually meant to discuss the “too many villains/characters in Gotham” objection in this review, because I feel like it’s the opposite of Agents of Shield… Shield played things too close to the vest and ended up super boring, then got better. Gotham lays it all out, “You can expect to see all these villains and all this stuff.” So, hopefully the first few episodes give a better sense of the show than Shield’s first few.

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      1. Agents of SHIELD started way too slow and relied too much on tying into the movies in the first season. it got better as the season went on, but wasn’t actually good until after Winter Soldier. The second season so far is so much better, with its own independent story arcs and an interesting 3-way conflict between what’s left of SHIELD, Hydra and military forces

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  2. I think some of the acting on “Gotham” is terrible, which is kind of baffling as they film it here in NYC (what happened to all the great off-Broadway actors who used to populate “Law & Order”?). And sometimes I am taken out of the story a bit by the fact that many of the actors really aren’t on the same page at all (the ’60s TV series and the Nolan movies do not suffer from as many internal inconsistencies). That said, these are really minor complaints. This is the early part of season 1; the show will find a more steady footing. It’s fine now and it’s probably going to be really great in 18 months.

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  3. I’m with you. Gotham is really good. I was skeptical when the first episode opened with the origin story that we’ve seen a million times, but I like now that they’re using it as an on going topic on the side. Also Selina Kyle and Oswalt Cobblepott are both captivating, especially Kyle. Spot on review.

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  4. I’m probably in the minority here but I just don’t like Gotham even though I keep watching and hoping. The production values are great but that isn’t enough to sustain my interest for much longer. The lead actor (or is it the character) just feels flat: there is no there there. And ho hum another police procedural for tv. Really? I agree that the tone is confused. Visually it aims for noir but the plots all have cops and establishment types as the heroes. I’d might love this show if it was from the point of view of one of the anti-heroes: Catwoman or Ivy for example. To see these powerless people especially as children navigate their way through corruption might create a drama I could care about.

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