Mark Bousquet reviews TV and movies at his site Atomic Anxiety. Check out full-throttle, unabridged, embiggened reviews of all these Gotham episodes there.
I’ve had fun at Gotham
's expense over the past few months, calling it No Batman
and Kid Batman
and The Inevitable Failings of Jim Gordon
, but it’s all been with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The truth is that I have been very much looking forward to Gotham
and agree with the decision to de-Batman the show, as long as it also keeps little Bruce Wayne at the periphery and does not turn into a darker Smallville
, where we watch Bruce endlessly learn lessons and endure experiences that will shape his future cape-wearing self. What I want out of Gotham
is a good, hard-boiled cop show.
Former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies once said that when the BBC asked him to create a secondary Doctor Who show that was more firmly aimed at kids, he said he didn’t want to do Young Doctor Who, as it would inevitably be filled with the pre-Doctor Doctor running around Gallifrey inventing the sonic screwdriver. In much the same way, I don’t want to see young Bruce Wayne being driven to karate class and endlessly drawing bats in art class, prompting the school psychiatrist (who would inevitably be named A. Arkham or H. Strange) to call in his legal guardians for a chat about how Crayola makes more colors than Black, Void Black, Midnight Black, Nightmare Black, and Catwoman Latex Black.
Perhaps it’s too much to expect the opening episode to run full steam ahead, but the overriding feeling that Gotham leaves me with is that it’s all a big put on. It’s kids playing dress-up. It’s actors saying stupid lines with no sense of ownership. Almost nothing feels authentic in this city and all dramas have to make you believe in its authenticity or it’s not going to succeed.
Gotham doesn’t need to feel like the real world, but it needs to feel like its own world, and in the pilot episode, the city feels like everyone just picked up their new clothes from wardrobe and wandered onto the set of Castle. This city – this dirty, dirty city – feels devoid of the one thing it claims to have in abundance: character.
The pilot episode was not a well made hour of television, but there are enough positive elements here in the tandem of Harvey Bullock and James Gordon to give me hope. (Unless Gordon is going to spend time each episode showing up at Wayne Manor to seek Little Lord Bruce’s approval about what he’d like to order for lunch.) Sean Pertwee’s gruff Alfred is a delight, and John Doman’s Carmine Falcone gives the show one credible villain to work with.
The episode opens with the kind of grand pomposity it simply can’t deliver on, and is also completely wrong for this show. The music seems designed to make you think “Batman,” which is exactly what this show isn’t going to give you.
The show also thinks you’re an idiot, as it employs a Love Boat-esque technique of resetting the story for you every single time a character opens his mouth. We see Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace and later, when Harvey says they’ve got a lead on a pearl necklace, Gordon says, “Just like Martha Wayne.” There’s no reason for the show to do this unless it thinks you have the mental capacity of a five year old.
Gotham’s pilot episode can’t just show you or tell you, it’s got to show you and tell you and then tell you, again, and maybe just one more time so you understand what’s happening.
It is my hope that Falcone’s ethos is what Bullock and Gordon find themselves up against every week. That’s far more interesting to me than idiotic “is that guy the Joker?” speculation about a guy telling jokes in Fish Mooney’s club. If that’s the show Gotham wants to be, one where the joy is derived from Batman fans keeping score of all the Easter eggs, than the show isn’t going to be for me. But a good, hard, police procedural about two cops finding their way in a city that’s falling to pieces?
That’s a Gotham I could start to care about.
Episode 2: Selina Kyle
I’ll give Gotham
this:episode 2 is a marked improvement over episode 1.
There are still problems, however. The first is that this isn’t much of a cop show, as Bullock and Gordon’s investigations are neither conducted in the Pounding on Doors or Brilliant Leaps of Deduction variety. Instead, the actual investigations are just an excuse to walk around and show off Fish Mooney and Future Riddler.
I’m torn on Bruce. When I remarked in the last reaction that I didn’t want to see Bruce drawing pictures of bats in art class, I didn’t mean to suggest it would be better to see him sitting at home drawing morbid pictures as he listened to death metal. That’s not an improvement. I suppose it’s too much to ask that Bruce not be involved, at all, but I haven’t seen any indication that Bruce makes the show better. He’s this show's version of Arrow green costume. When fans complained that Oliver Queen wasn’t called Green Arrow but The Vigilante or The Arrow and didn’t wear a mask but slapped dark green paint around his eyes, the costume was the pacifier for fans wanting more superhero in their superhero show.
For Gotham, this pacifier comes in the form of Bruce Wayne, but it seems people who want to see Batman are not likely to be satisfied simply seeing Bruce anymore than the people (like me) who don’t want Batman around are going to be happy with seeing Bruce, instead. What it comes down to, of course, is what the show does with Bruce, but I don’t feel like he has a point other than for Gordon to show up every episode for a Kiss the Ring moment.
On the flip, however, if the show removed Bruce it would have to remove Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth, who is one of the best parts of the Gothamverse.
This show’s example of Neon Light Storytelling is the episode’s titular character of Selina Kyle. In case you don’t know she’s Future Catwoman, last episode had her stealing milk to feed cats. In this episode, we learn that even though Selina is her name, she wants you to call her Cat. We also learn that dogs bark at her!
Yes, people, dogs bark at her because DOGS AND CATS.
I imagine in a coming episode we’ll see a bottle of calamine lotion barking at Future Poison Ivy.
When you get past the show’s LOOK RIGHT HERE EVERYONE IT’S CATWOMAN SO YOU HAVE TO CARE BECAUSE CATWOMAN flashing lights, actress Camren Bicondova is doing some good work creating an interesting character.
Episode 3: Balloonman
In the long view, two steps forward, one step back is still progress, but it’s a frustrating, halting, stumbling progress, and that’s what “The Balloonman,” the third episode of GOTHAM, brings us: a definitive step back from “Selina Kyle,” but a step ahead of “Pilot.”
Even though “Balloonman” is a disappointing step back, what the show continues to do well is found in its two major characters, Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock, and two of its secondary characters, Alfred and Oswald Cobblepot. What it continues to do poorly is nearly everything else.
The romantic tension between Montoya and Barbara is less erotic than the (non-existent) homoerotic tension between Bert and Ernie. Were we supposed to be surprised when Montoya tried to make out with Barbara in this episode? Do the writers think we’re so dumb that we completely missed this subplot in the first two episodes? Apparently, they do, because we have to keep listening to Montoya re-state her belief that Gordon is dirty and that Barbara deserves better.
“I could have you arrested for walking in here,” Barbara shoots back, and then actually asks how Montoya got into her apartment.
“I used my key,” Montoya says.
BECAUSE, FOR THE EIGHTH TIME, THEY WERE IN A PRIOR RELATIONSHIP AND WE NEED TO KEEP REMINDING YOU OF THIS BECAUSE APPARENTLY BARBARA FORGOT HER EX-GIRLFRIEND MIGHT STILL HAVE A KEY TO THE APARTMENT SHE LIVED IN WHEN THEY WERE DATING.
“Th Balloonman” contains the signature moment about what’s wrong with Gotham. The bad guy plot involves a guy who attaches his marks to weather balloons and then releases them into the atmosphere. For all the good they do arguing with each other, Gordon and Bullock are some of the most terrible detectives TV has ever seen, as their investigate procedure is to wait around until a clue, quite literally, falls from the sky. Bullock only advances the case because a suspect literally walks into the station and volunteers information. And another suspect literally laughs at them because … wait for it … THEY DON’T KNOW HOW WEATHER BALLOONS WORK!
At one point in “Balloonman,” Gordon insists that “everyone has to matter, or no one matters.” That’s not just true of life in Gotham, but life in Gotham and to this point, the show’s creators are failing their main characters.