by John W. Mills
There are a lot of people who have problems with Gotham, the FOX network’s entry into the television ouvere of DC Comics. I am not one of them. Gotham is easily one of my favorite shows on television. I’ll even go to the effort of watching it live when I can, as opposed to DVR. In the modern television landscape, I’m not sure there can be a larger declaration of devotion.
For any unfamiliar with the concept of Gotham, the elevator pitch is that this is the story of the city that shaped Batman. It’s told primarily through the experiences of his future ally Jim Gordon as he first starts on the police force. It’s equal parts crime procedural, buddy cop show, multi-episode story arcs and villain origins. Gotham is a fun show, reveling in its dark comic origins and embracing the absurdity of its concepts. All too often as comic book fans approaching media, we have an expectation of “believability” as we see someone leap a building without ever straining a hamstring or create a neurotoxin that leaves victims with a rictus smile.
Audiences seem to apply this demand for “reality” unevenly. To wit, while watching a movie like Iron Man we accept the ability of Tony Stark to create a life-saving heart magnet in a dank cave; while watching a television show we challenge the physics of a magical island on LOST.Gotham simply asks the acceptance of its distorted reality, the way Burton’s 1989 Batman did, and for that I am thankful. These are stories I would expect to read not just in today’s comic books, but the elder stories in the days of newsprint past. Further to the show’s advantage is that, instead of showing a series of linear events that lead to the appearance of Batman, Gotham gives people an “everyman” introduction into the city of perpetual corruption. These stories start to build a fabric of why the city demanded Bruce Wayne become the iconic hero, not just his parents’ murders made.Cornerstone to every version of the modern Batman mythos is, of course, the Mob. Gotham’s intricate layerings of Mob politics and infiltrating dominance enhance the monolithic dreariness of the city.Sprinkled in, then, are the people who will come to be Batman’s future nemeses, most notably
Robin Taylor’s “Penguin,” a mob climber deliciously deviant enough to make you cheer his successes. His portrayal is so strong that I don’t care if they even bother introducing the Joker. If anything, he is carving out the niche previously owned by the Clown Prince of Crime in the last couple decades of film: ascendant mafioso. This creates some intriguing possibilities for what will be his eventual introduction, but whoever they cast had better bring their “A Game” if they’re going to compete with Taylor.If I’m going to give praise to Taylor, though, I have to note Donal Logue’s contribution to the series as well. His Harvey Bullock is a true joy to watch as he flexes every possibility of the “burned out idealist” who drinks on the job and cares only about closing the case by any means necessary. As Gordon’s enthusiasm helps him to care again, he provides moments of real comic relief.
Finally, the city has its own look and life that are familiar and alien simultaneously. By contrast, while Christopher Nolan’s films are truly magnificent, the cityscape can be a little too recognizable on subsequent viewings. Gotham sidesteps this with novel cutaways to a landscape created from whole cloth. These clever model shots in the scene transitions give Gotham its own architecture and skyline. Before I garner accusations of “fanboy” adulation, allow me to be clear. Yes, I am a hopeless fan of comic book heroes, and Batman as a character. I adore even his notoriously campy 1960s TV show. However, I am also hopelessly fickle with praise for television shows, especially inspired by comic books. Arrow is intriguing but not captivating; Agents of SHIELD was given one too many chances to justify my love. Gotham is hitting the right balance of entertainment and escapism.
To be sure, it’s not high art. It’s mass entertainment without apology. This first season has had obvious stops and starts as the writing team has found its rhythm. The storyline revolving around Jim’s love, Barbara, and her haunted bi-sexual past, was noticeably truncated and is undergoing a retoooling. This was a relief since it was distracting and frankly too early in the
show for such a curveball. There have been some campy, silly twists in the series as well. While Jada Smith’s Fish Mooney is a fun character that evokes a Catwoman of days gone by, her plot to unseat mafia overlord
Carmine Falcone by way of a manufactured “kept woman” was redeemed only by the resolution of it.
But as implausible as its situations may be, by rooting its main characters in the recognizably-
relatable archetypes of the idealistic cop and the grizzled vet, Gotham is a city worth inhabiting
for an hour a week.
It just feels right, ya know! OVerall this is my kinda show and much like the Dark Knight trilogy it doesn't match up stylistically to the bevy of other superhero shows currently being launched...and that's ok. Check it out it you want something equal parts grim, ridiculous and steam-punk.