Gotham: Joel Schumacher on TV

I finally got a chance to see the new Fox series Gotham, a show that looks at Commissioner Gordon’s life prior to the Batman. I had high hopes for this show given all the stuff I had heard about it, or from the images I had seen. But did it live up to the hype? Could Fox make a show in the Batman mythos that didn’t feature Batman work for the non-initiated?

In short: they didn’t make a show in the Batman mythos that didn’t feature Batman for the initiated.

Ed Brubaker Gregg Rucka and Michael Lark wrote and illustrated a series of comics for DC that focused on the Gotham City Police Department called Gotham Central (2002–2006). It was a very successful series and helped land Ed Brubaker his run on Captain America in 2004. It can be done and Fox wants to do this.

So when I sat down to watch the show I was extremely disappointed, to put it mildly. Let’s start with how the show starts because it’s extremely important. The show begins with Catwoman running around Gotham, pickpocketing people to get milk for her cats and some spending cash. She’s in an ally where she hides from a couple who is robbed at gunpoint. After the couple gives up their wallet and pearl necklace the gunman decides to shoot them anyways. Rather than kill their son the gunman leaves. We later find out that this was the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the origin for Bruce Wayne to become the Batman. In the comics this was to be a senseless, random crime, not an assassination. But Gotham turns this show into Gordon’s hunt for the assassin—that’s right the Waynes were assassinated.

This kills the show in two ways. First, the origin of the Batman is in jeopardy. Batman is a vigilante who wages a one-man war upon crime. If he is looking for an assassin who uses a specific gun and bullet and wears specific shoes, Bruce doesn’t have a beef with crime but one person. There’s no need for him to be Batman but only to look for vengeance against the one man, and he has the resources to do so without the theatrics. He is now either addicted to Batman or he’s now a criminal, either way he’s not a hero after this.

What would have been better is to forget the conspiracy to the Wayne murder and made them central characters with Gordon in the show. Make the audience care about them and their relationship to Bruce—who should be introduced after a couple of season—so that in the series finale we care when they are killed by a random mugging gone wrong. They city is too powerful to throw money at the problem. It needs the Batman.

Secondly, by including the Wayne murders Batman is now in the show. This is no longer a show about Gordon in Gotham before Batman shows up, that’s just simple details of the setting with no real meaning. Batman is now a ghost, a specter haunting the show from the future. Audiences are looking for Bruce’s transformation and have forgotten Jim Gordon.

After the murders we are introduced to Jim Gordon, but again this is all wrong. A random criminal is being escorted inside GCPD HQ to the holding cell for booking. Just before the cell is unlocked the criminal, who has been asking for his pills the whole time, attacks his escorts and holds one at gunpoint. Harvey Bullock looks down at this dispassionately. The rest of the cops in the room draw upon the armed criminal. Gordon appears from on high—that’s right he descends down the stairs into the situation—and is able to calm the cops down and disarm the criminal with a slight of hand.

In effect, Jim Gordon is now a superhero. He has been sent from on high to save Gotham from its evil. The problem with this is that Jim Gordon is not a superhero like Batman. He’s an everyman, a regular detective on the police force trying to make a living. The made him more than an idealistic cop who does his job, refusing to succumb to the corruption. He’s the pre-incarnation of Batman. It would have been better to start the show at his apartment with his fiancé Barbra Kean—I love that she is a curator for an art museum as it turns their home into a place of beauty in a city of ugliness.

Thus the meta-theme of the show, a good man trying to save a city so corrupt that it will need Batman, falters before the show ever introduces it. It’s now hard to identify with the central character and his drama through the show’s life.

Now the characterizations are just off and feel more like Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin from the 1990s—the films that killed the franchise until 2005. I didn’t care about Gordon. Bullock couldn’t decide if he was a corrupt cop or just a cop who is trying to get by like everyone else in the city and has made too many compromises. Jada Smith’s Fish Mooney is straight up annoyingly a Joel Schumacher creation. Carmine Falcone seems to have some complexity as a crime lord who uses organized crime to save the city and works in tandem with the law enforcement officials.

But there’s another problem with the characters: there’s too many for a pilot. We have Catwoman for absolutely no reason—she’s our narrator but that’s Gordon’s job, we have the Riddler working for GCPD, we have Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin)—who I actually liked in this pilot. And I can’t forget about little Pamela Ivey.

This should have been true noir bathed in the Frank Miller vision of the Batman mythos. Gotham should have been an evil character like in Scott Snyder’s Batman tales. Gordon and Bullock needed more of a Brad Pitt-Morgan Freeman from Se7en kind of relationship.

I am willing to give this show some more time but not much more. If this pilot is indicative of the show I’m not going to be onboard. But then again this is Fox. They like to cancel shows made by Joss Whedon—you might have heard of his films like Toy Story and Marvel’s The Avengers—so they might keep this poorly made show around for a while. I hope it gets better and they keep the improved show on for a while.

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~ by hankimler on September 29, 2014.

2 Responses to “Gotham: Joel Schumacher on TV”

  1. disappointing to read that it isn’t very good… do you think it can grow into something good?

    • I think it can become a good TV show. There’s a lot to work with for sure. I’ll just say that they have put themselves into a very precarious situation that will be hard to come back from soon. Using Catwoman as a silent narrator distances the viewer from Gordon and having him descend to us only complicated that issue. What they’ve done with Penguin will really help push the story further. I hope they find a way to keep the looming specter of the Batman from haunting the show too much, I do. I’m just not sure how they’ll do it.

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