Why Gotham deserves to be given a chance

Switching off Gotham now would be premature damnation of a potentially-excellent show. Rob explains why…

This article talks about Gotham up to episode five. There are no big spoilers, though.

In some corners of the internet, there are those who are already trying to call time on the Gotham TV show. From the small handful of episodes we’ve seen so far (5 have aired stateside and 2 in the UK), a few folk out there are acting all Ra’s al Ghul about the matter and telling us that Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die.

The tone of some of these pieces, we’d suggest, goes beyond criticism into lambasting. It feels somewhat like the cool kids ganging up on the new boy who read the questions wrong in his school entrance exam and landed himself in the bottom set for everything. Sure, there have been mistakes, but there’s no need to assume this kid/TV project/weak analogy is completely worthless and should be expelled/cancelled/given up on.

If this were indeed a schoolyard fight, we’d feel inclined to argue back with some evidence to the contrary (or more likely mumble quietly to ourselves when the bullies aren’t looking). To cut to the chase: we reckon there’s plenty of hope for Gotham yet. Here’s why…

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Admittedly, the show has its flaws. As does any show. It’s not our intention to call something perfect that clearly isn’t, so to prove that we’re not just blindly supporting Gotham because it’s based on characters we like, we’re going to start by putting our initial niggles with the show on the table.

As we’ve mentioned in our regular Gotham reviews, Fish Mooney is a character who absolutely jarred with the attempted sheen of the show for the first few episodes. After episode three we noted that her hammy performance would be better suited to a scenery-chewing showdown with Adam West than a programme pitching itself somewhere between a police procedural, Tim Burton-esque gothic stylisation and Nolan-like dark gritty realism.

That description of the show’s attempted style draws to mind another flaw from the opening episodes – Gotham doesn’t know its identity yet. Is it a murder investigation drama like Broadchurch, a gangster drama like The Sopranos, a superhero origin story like Smallville or a villain-heavy ass-kicking show like Arrow?  For the first couple of episodes, there was no answer to that. In fact, Gotham’s opening double-bill tried all of those things at once by juggling wackier elements like The Balloonman with gruesome gangster-based torture.

The not-so-subtle foreshadowing has peeved some onlookers too, which is a fair observation. The characters that presumably go on to become Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, Poison Ivy and a potential Joker were all introduced in the same hour of telly – Gotham’s pilot. These revelations feel like they could have been spread out better, and in some cases written better too.

Additionally, there’ve been a couple of moments so far where the show has wasted time a little – we can think of two episodes that were light on interesting plot, one of which was high on real estate negotiations instead, and particularly naff. One more thing: it snags with us slightly when flashes of lazy writing gives Jim Gordon a ridiculously easy clue for the sake of getting to the final showdown quicker.

So there you have it, that’s everything we’ve been mildly disappointed with in Gotham so far. Now, we’re going to explain why we shouldn’t worry about this too much, at this stage.

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Here’s one reason that it seems very premature to banish Gotham from your watch-list – the show is already displaying signs of improvement. Now that this writer is five episodes into Gotham, most of these niggles are already beginning to clear up.

For starters, in episodes four and five Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney really starts coming into her own. She’s been given some more plot to play with by the introduction of an intriguing ‘secret weapon’ and the deployment a more intriguing love interest. Both of these new facets are already helping develop Fish into a more show-suitable, better fleshed-out character. Smith could still tone down the ham factor a bit, but it’s far less irritating now that she has something to do. Similarly, we didn’t like Bullock much to start with and now he’s bringing big laughs and really adding to the show.

The tone of Gotham is arguably beginning to fall into shape now, as well. As the formula of the writing begins to become more obvious, you can begin to see where things are headed, here’s our reading of the show:

Gotham is a police procedural which sees Officer Gordon and Detective Bullock investigating one central case (the Wayne murders) over a long-form arc. Jim and Harvey don’t have much time to work this case though, as a string of oddball criminals start terrorising the town on a seemingly weekly basis. As the detectives take down these sometimes-spectacularly-enhanced weekly distractions, they frequently find that these assumed-random events actually regularly lead back to the Wayne foundation. Meanwhile, the orphaned Bruce Wayne has been doing some digging of his own (much to the chagrin of his awesome Sean Pertwee butler, Alfred), also unearthing some worrying information. As all this is going on, the criminal underworld of Gotham City is preparing for something big and many players begin bids for dominance in the city.

Admittedly, that is all a little convoluted. Now that we’ve picked up on this plotting pattern (the weekly crimes linking back to the Waynes) though, the show as a whole seems to make a lot more sense. To wildly speculate: we’ve a feeling things might come to a head when the GCPD, the mobs and the ever-suspicious board-members of Wayne Enterprises wind up in some kind of big confrontation. Regardless of that vague prediction’s validity, and unlike how we felt after watching the third episode, we’re currently very pleased with where the show seems to be headed.

Since episode one, we’ve also yet to have another central Batman villain shoehorned into proceedings. It seems they learnt the lesson very quickly that they may have got a bit excited and crammed too much into that first hour. With the exception of Robin Taylor Lord’s show-stealing Penguin-in-waiting Oswald Cobblepot, the other villains have either disappeared (Ivy, potential Joker) or settled nicely into entertaining supporting roles (Riddler, Catwoman). There’s currently no problem with over-inflating the show with coy cameos as far as we’re concerned.

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That leaves our only present worries being Jim’s easy clues, and the concern that some episodes are lighter on plot advancements. To us, those seem so minor that we assume they will be worked out as the creative team grows in confidence. To only have those mild flaws dangling at the five episode mark, we’d wager that Gotham could still be an amazing show. We’ll bear with it then, as it might be heading somewhere good.

Of course, this sort of thing has happened before. Only last year people were beginning to switch-off Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and never return. Lambasting articles around the web deemed the show unsalvageable and worthy of canning. And what happened to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.? In the opinions of many, it became a very strong companion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an enjoyable TV show in its own right.

S.H.I.E.L.D. started on shaky feet too, with the opening few episodes seeming a disappointing experience  – they were only tenuously linked to main film continuity, and a series of overly-obvious attempts at mystery-building made the whole thing seem a little wooden. Chemistry wasn’t immediately forthcoming between cast-members either, making people begin to worry, and ultimately to switch off; seven weeks in, the show had dropped from 12.2 million US viewers to 6.6 million.

A while later, the show was really hitting a better run of form. We had two fun-filled episodes involving Asgardians , Bill Paxton firing on all cylinders and Agent Coulson thrust into some really dark places. While the exact point the show found its feet is a point of contention, the Captain America: The Winter Soldier crossover episode Turn, Turn, Turn is when we finally discovered what was really going on at S.H.I.E.L.D and entered a strong run which has arguably barely let up since.

The fact that only 5.37 million US people from the original 12.2 tuned into that episode is a real shame, as we do think a huge chunk of those (presumably Marvel-movie-loving) viewers would love the show Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become. To think they missed out on Bill Paxton going full villain, Nick Fury in sunglasses and Coulson doling out justice with the Berserker gun.

Our point here? That’d be that it took 17 episodes before Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. really took off and became a true televisual treat. There is absolutely no reason Gotham can’t do the same. A mid-season production gap, allowing the ideal opportunity for the writers to rejig things in light of the reams and reams of feedback doing the rounds, can only be a good thing.

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Again to draw a parallel, the changing representation of Skye and the split between Fitz and Simmons in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are both examples of how televisual talent does change its mind, listen to feedback and alter from their original formulas in order to make the best show possible.

We’re hoping that Gotham will really hit its stride in a few weeks, so we’re far from ready to switch off yet.

To wrap up then, it’s worth remembering that American TV plays a very long game – we already know we’re getting 22 episodes of Gotham at the very least. So regardless of how quickly you’re watching, you can’t be further than a quarter of the way through Gotham season one yet. Shows often need more time than that to really hit their stride, with many classics struggling to find their voice for the majority of their first season. Sometimes, it takes even longer than that.

With long-form plans, potential HYDRA-sized twists, midseason breaks, and more audience feedback accessible to writers than ever, we’d put money on sticking with Gotham being a very rewarding decision in the long run. Maybe not all our money, but money nonetheless.

With the way a lot of sites report on TV shows, it’s difficult to remember the positives sometimes too. For example, no-one we’re privy-to has had a bad word to say about Robin Taylor Lord’s portrayal of Oswald, Sean Pertwee’s casting as Alfred or Ben McKenzie’s turn as Jim Gordon. Given time, we think you’ll find that Salvatore Maroni, Mr E Nygma and Harvey Bullock become loveable supporting players, as well. Gotham‘s casting is near-perfect, and the more time these actors spend in their roles, the better their performances, and the more-tailored material they’re written, will become.

It’s worth mentioning that the show looks beautiful too, with a lot of care clearly put into the design and construction of Gotham City. Within these trappings, a lot of the direction is strong as well. Chases, fights and effects genuinely hold up very nicely.

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These days, when networks are trying to find the next big comic-book-adaptation smash hit telly show in a massive hurry, it’s not that surprising when the resultant shows hit our screen with a bit of tinkering still needed. Unlike film, TV is a far more work-in-progress medium. The sheer scale here is that Warner Bros. are trying to pull off 22 hours of Gotham. Staggeringly, that’s 1,320 minutes of content, which divides down into eight films the length of The Dark Knight Rises.

Gotham is already showing signs of promise, and the casting, design and direction are very strong, so we say let’s try focusing on that (or at least ruddy mentioning it) rather than taking the toys-out-of-pram approach.

Read more about Gotham on Den Of Geek, here.

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