Gotham season one has come and gone, and left in its wake a divided fanbase. But while you wait the long summer for the first episode of Gotham season two to descend on the airwaves on leather wings, take a moment to consider what the series did right (and very wrong) during season one.
Some of Gotham‘s season one troubles could be attributed to growing pains. A high-concept show with a quick to series pick-up can often stumble out of the gate. The fact that the series was originally intended to be a shorter season (like Fox has experimented with on shows like the recent 24 revival and Gracepoint), didn’t help matters, and the cracks were clearly showing in the home stretch.
But Gotham has an excellent cast, a network that has faith in it, and solid talent behind the cameras in Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the show to right the ship for Gotham season two.
Focus on Fewer Characters
Gotham‘s cast is definitely one of its strongest selling points. Most of the actors and actresses assembled are playing characters that come with a host of pop culture baggage, though, and that became a problem at a few points. When audiences have expectations about how particular characters are going to develop, it makes delivering surprises a little more difficult.
Oswald Cobblepot is a character who has traditionally been portrayed as older than Batman and his crew, so the story of his rise to dominance over Gotham City’s gangland scene felt fairly organic during Gotham season one. The Riddler has only had fairly cursory explanations of his backstory in other media, so there’s room to flesh him out, as well, especially since it looks like he’ll be a primary focus during Gotham season two.
The problems then stem from the show trying to juggle so many different story arcs, which ultimately ends up serving none of them particularly well. The Fish Mooney diversion with the Dollmaker put the brakes on what was the evolution of what could have been a significant way for Gotham to contribute an original character to the Batman mythology. And very minute spent with Barbara Kean was a minute that could have been spent on other characters.
Show us More of Gotham City’s Past
There’s plenty of Gotham City history that doesn’t involve younger versions of the most iconic characters in Batman history that can and should be explored on Gotham. The series has some wonderful production design, looking like a slightly stylized version of New York City on the outside, with a more timeless noir feel for its interiors. So why not tell us more about the city itself?
Gotham City should be a character on the show that bears its name. They’ve already shown us that Gotham is corrupt, but it hasn’t told us why that is or how it got that way. There should be secret societies and occult history lurking around every corner. Comic book storylines like The Court of Owls or the Riddler-centric Dark Knight, Dark City should provide fertile ground for season long b-plots that will flesh out the most famous city in all of fiction.
There was a hint of this in the “Spirit of the Goat” episode during season one. That one didn’t quite hold together, but it was a hint of how the show could illustrate the inherent weirdness of Gotham City without having to resort to bringing in teenaged versions of established characters (or their parents).
Embrace the Police Procedural
Instead of a show that staggers haphazardly around the back pages of Batman mythology, Gotham should be a cop show that just happens to have some familiar names. While I can’t believe that I’m advocating for another police procedural on television (and it’s not like Gotham needs to switch networks and end up at CBS) just hear me out for a moment.
Considering that this show is really supposed to be about Jim Gordon’s rise through the ranks of the GCPD, we’ve seen precious little actual police work. There have been countless interrogation montages, a few lucky breaks, and a handful of leaps in logic, but not much investigation. Ben McKenzie is great as Detective James Gordon, but in order for us to buy his rise to top cop, he’s going to have to take charge of more episodes.
Some of this might be solved by trimming the number of characters and side stories and allowing the Gordon/Bullock partnership to grow naturally. Even though Holmes and Watson are familiar characters on another procedural with some serious pop culture baggage, Elementary, their friendship and mutual respect was something the show very much earned over the course of three seasons, even in the midst of some real by-the-numbers TV crime procedural crap. Their relationship and characterizations would work just as well if you removed the familiar names from the series leads. Gotham has a pair of solid leads with Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, and they should be able to do the same with Gordon and Bullock.
Get Bruce Wayne Out of Gotham City
This one hurts, because it involves characters I’ll genuinely miss. David Mazouz is excellent as young Bruce Wayne. So is Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth. The problem is, every time Bruce Wayne shows up in an episode of Gotham, it becomes a show about how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. That’s a process that has not only been covered in detail virtually everywhere else, it’s also a story that also immediately outshines the far less well-known journey of Jim Gordon to the top of the Gotham City Police Force.
Bruce has to get out of Gotham City in order to begin his Batman training in earnest, anyway. Perhaps recent events with Wayne Enterprises will make things too hot for him to stay in town. Either way, he’s gotta go. This doesn’t mean he has to be written off the show completely, but weekly check-ins at Wayne Manor should be off-limits, and when Bruce does make guest appearances, it should be a signal that something important is about to go down.
Ease Off With the Villains
This is important. Look, it’s not that I don’t want to see Batman villains on this show. I do. I’m always curious about how they’ll be handled.
But when it happens, try and leave the audience a little room for uncertainty. Would Edward Nygma’s journey towards his OCD master criminal future been diminished if he didn’t speak in a riddle every time he made an appearance? No. If anything it would have been enhanced.
Gotham needs to make sure that these characters, the heroes and the villains, earn their place in viewers’ hearts. Relying on clever pop culture shorthand and the fact that we already know these characters from other movies, TV shows, and comics isn’t enough…especially not when the “payoff” moment is something we’ve seen coming all episode (or episodes) long. I can’t remember any TV show spoiling its own reveals in trailers quite as much as Gotham did.
While the promise of a big name Batman villain is an easy way to rope in people who don’t watch every week, playing only to the rafters is a disservice to the people who do give the show their time every Monday. Gotham should put equal importance on earning the trust of the casual viewer, while also trying to throw the hardcore fans a curve every now and then. Revealing the Joker in a trailer does neither.
Perhaps the episode that best walked this line was “The Red Hood,” which put a neat spin on some Batman mythology that already fit neatly into the city’s past. It was arguably the best episode of the season, and its biggest crime was that it was done in one. The Red Hood Gang could have been operating in the background all season long, and this first manifestation of the costumed criminal problem should have been a little harder for your average Detectives to crack.
Instead, Gotham should be building up the real villains of the show: Commissioner Loeb and the people who keep him in power. Loeb was woefully underdeveloped in season one, and since the root of the GCPD’s corruption (or the city’s decline) was never really addressed, it made every crooked cop come off like a caricature, and the half-honest ones appear cartoonishly inept. Focus Jim and Harvey taking on the villains who can’t be put behind bars and it’ll make their throwdowns with “name” villains feel that much more special.
Showrunner Bruno Heller addressed this before the show premiered. “When it’s this big of a brand and a franchise, from a purely business point of view, you don’t want to hide your light under a bushel. We want the big names out there to bring people into the tent. Once they’re there, then things will get much more controlled.”
Well, they definitely got “people into the tent” this year, securing some solid ratings and an early season two pickup. Hopefully Mr. Heller delivers on the second part of that promise for Gotham season 2.