Gotham: A Failed Opportunity

Batman’s a hot topic these days.  Chris Nolan’s movies, the DC Animated Universe films, Batman V. Superman, Batman comics, Lego Batman, everything is Batman.  So when Fox put together a Batman prequel television series featuring the rise of Jim Gordon, it was presumed that it would be a thrilling and compelling comic book story, with the same fanfare as Arrow.  It has garnered the same amount of attention to a certain extent, but if fans were expecting to receive the same quality material as the other DC-based television shows, they’re likely disappointed.

Unlike the plethora of other shows dabbling in the comic book genre, Gotham is not a superhero show.  It is at its heart a cop drama with a little bit of The Sopranos thrown in that likes to reference comic book characters to keep fans watching.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is hard to compare to other comic book shows which are inherently in a different genre altogether.  The problem with Gotham is not in the genre that it belongs in (i.e., what it isn’t), but rather the execution.  The show wants to be a compelling character-centric drama, but it’s more like a vampire sucking on the piles of money to be made from superhero adaptations.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh.  But from the first episode, it was pretty apparent that the show was more about taking advantage of a business opportunity than making a worthwhile piece of art.  The show is mostly about Gordon, with large subplots involving The Penguin and Bruce in the aftermath of death of his parents.  But in the first episode, the makers managed to fit in Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and the new villain Fish Mooney.  That’s a ridiculous amount of cameos in the first episode alone.  That kind of pointless fanfare manages to go away after the first episode, but what we’re left with is a plot involving tension between the Falcone and Maroney crime families, which produces little more than yawns for the majority of the story.

There are some compelling moments.  The actors for Gordon and Bullock are phenomenal, as is the newcomer as a young Selina Kyle, and the choices for Alfred and Bruce were spot-on as well.  Indeed, the quality in terms of acting is superb.  That’s not the problem.  But the direction of the show manages little more than occasional moments of crescendo, which are unable to compensate for the overall drudgery of the season.  The show wants to make Penguin its primary villain, but Penguin comes across as more of an insecure, bloodthirsty kid than the makings of a serious gangster, and it’s hard to buy him as his source character.  Beyond a phenomenal episode featuring a precursor of The Dollmaker, the series has so far failed to impress me.

Which is a shame.  Because the overall tone of the show is something that I as a Christian would love to be expounding upon on a weekly basis.  Bullock is a straight-up bad cop, even more given to the dark side than his character in the comics, which I actually like.  It sets the standard that Gordon is expected to meet, and makes Jim struggle with the question: Can a good guy do some bad things to be able to keep doing good?  I love that conflict, because Gordon manages to (mostly) come out solidly on the side of good.  Even when he struggles with that line, we can see that he’s doing his absolute best, and probably does better than most of us would in those same situations.  I love that conflict and I love his integrity and character.  But then there’s Barbara.

While it’s not explored in detail within the first couple episodes, we’re left with the impression that Barbara, Jim’s wife, has had a lesbian affair in the past.  That’s explored a little bit more as the series progresses, and we learn that she hasn’t told Jim.  When she does, she almost expects him to be her version of bigoted by asking repeatedly “Is it because she’s a woman?” when he’s upset.  Jim makes it clear that he’s upset because she lied, but the message to the rest of us is clear: We have no right to have a problem with same-sex relationships.

That theme is explored further, though perhaps in a less positive light, in the sex-saturated atmosphere of Fish Mooney’s club.  She’s a brutal woman, but more than that, she runs a sort of strip-club (which is kept mostly in the background, and at PG-13 level), but the sexual allusions go further.  A male employee is referred to as her “boy toy,” and when she wants to fill a position with a young woman, she tells the applicants to “seduce her.”

So even with the show’s promising theme of not sacrificing morals in an unforgiving atmosphere, the overtones of sexuality, as well as the lackluster overall plot overcome the positive aspects of the show.  I’ve continued watching the show mostly because of my love for Batman, but even that is sputtering to continue motivating me to watch the show.

Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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