When ‘Gotham’ was first announced there were myriad questions raised, chief among them: is it possible to have a Batman series without Batman? The premise certainly sounded promising, allowing the audience to delve deeper into the infrastructure of Gotham (proverbially ‘looking under the hood’ of one of the most infamous cities in popular culture) through the eyes of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), a new cop at the GCPD.
The first two episodes have already aired in the UK (the US being several episodes ahead) and the reaction has been mixed. It’s important to remember the first of these episodes was merely a pilot and thus may not have the sleekness of the others, but still there were some issues. For the first half of the first episode the show seemed to scream typical American cop-drama, with some cringeworthy clichéd lines. This may have been to some tastes but certainly wasn’t to mine, as it missed the gritty atmosphere the show seemed to be trying to create.
Another problem was the fact that it seems incredibly difficult to connect to any of the characters: Gordon’s partner Bullock (Donal Logue) is corrupt and so disillusioned with his job it’s difficult to understand what he’s still doing there; the Major Crime Scene Unit are made out to be condescending and rude; Gordon’s character appears to be a blank slate with no real compelling reason to believe in him other than he’s the main character and Alfred and Bruce, although compelling, are only in the peripheral for the first episode.
However, during the second half of this episode and throughout the second episode, the characters begin to form a bit more, though some clearly still need more development.
Also, one of the best aspects of the show so far has to be the villains, especially Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). Surprisingly, although certainly twisted to the point of being psychotic, there’s a certain sympathy to be found in his character, especially in the first episode where he’s almost positioned as a victim. Of course, the second episode puts an end to that, with his murderous and manipulative tendencies coming into play but his character remains compelling, if not unnerving.
The emergence of Gotham’s mafia-style mob, with boss Falcone (John Doman) and the feisty Fishy Moon (Jada Pinkett Smith), is also interesting as it reveals the corrupt Gotham that people can recognize. Although the current hierarchy seems a bit simplistic, perhaps that’s easier than having too many intersecting and rival gangs running different parts of the city, or it’s leaving the writers room to explore this aspect in more detail later.
The introduction of many potential villains can be a bit overwhelming as it draws attention in so many directions and makes the plot have to work harder to develop all of them which at times the show fails to do. However, it’s only two episodes in so there’s hope that the show settles and begins to select it’s villains more specifically, choosing not to overload the audience.
The main plot in the second episode was good, developing the character of young Selina, otherwise known as Cat (no prizes for guessing which character she’s going to become), as well as the relationship between Alfred and Bruce which showed both of them struggling, an important factor in who Bruce later becomes. The double-act of villains was more entertaining than the creepy tone the show may have been going for but were nonetheless good. This is another aspect in which the show is struggling to find it’s feet, as it seems it’s not quite sure whether it wants to be a gritty cop-drama or more light-hearted fare, which slightly jars the flow of the episodes as the tone shifts abruptly.
Overall, parts of this show currently have the potential to create a seriously good superhero prequel. However, with so much competition from other superhero shows such as Arrow, The Flash and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, it’s a question of whether this show will be given the grace period it needs to fully realise this potential.
Watch Gotham in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays at 9pm.