I just watched Gotham on Fox.
After an hour on Twitter, discussing everything I liked (and hated) about the premiere with a buncha strangers I decided to come here, stand on my soapbox and rant a bit.
What the fuck, Fox?
The original logline for the show, the basic premise that intrigued me, AND THE WHOLE INTERNET, was: Gotham City before Batman. A police procedural set in the seediest, most corrupt, crime infested city.
The idea was intriguing. “But who would watch a Batman show without Batman?” I heard a ton of people who weren’t hardcore fans of the universe ask.
Smart people. That’s who.
I wanted to see a few good cops trying to go up against a corrupt system, just trying their best when even the highest ranking officials in the city are on the mob’s payroll. I wanted to see characters only tangentially related to Batman because Gotham City itself should’ve been the main character.
I’ll argue that Gotham City is Batman’s true nemesis, more so than any of the Rogue’s Gallery. Gotham killed his parents and Gotham never changes despite all his efforts to clean it up.
Having a dark, gritty series that showcases just how fucked up a place Gotham is would have given us a better appreciation for everything Batman does in his Sisyphean quest for justice.
“But Josh, you foolish asshole,” I hear you screaming. “How do you make that interesting to the average viewer?”.
The same way that DC Comics has been doing it for almost 80 years! Good writing and interesting characters.
They have so much lore to borrow from. They could’ve stolen from the best and it would’ve been completely within their rights. Take a bit from Grant Morrison, a huge chunk of Geoff Johns’ Earth One, add a dash of Scott Snyder for flavour and the makings of an awesome show are apparent right from the start.
Make Thomas and Martha Wayne THE MAIN CHARACTERS.
At least for Season 1. You make Tom an idealistic physician with political aspirations. Everyday when he drives past the Solomon Wayne Court House on his way to work at the Alan Wayne Memorial Hospital he can’t help but feel like the city that his ancestors built is going to hell and he’s doing nothing to stop it. So he runs for mayor hoping to right some wrongs.
Meanwhile Martha Wayne (who in this version was born Martha Arkham) struggles with mental illness. It’s a Gotham urban legend that her father went insane and murdered her mother when she was a girl so the people of Gotham all gossip in hushed tones about how all members of the Arkham family are crazy. Going all the way back to when Jeremiah Arkham built the famed Arkham Asylum for his insane daughter, mental illness is suspected to be heredity in the Arkham bloodline.
Martha’s dependance on Lithium and her dangerous bouts of manic depression are a huge scoop for the gossip magazines and threaten to derail Tom’s mayoral campaign. So she puts on a happy facade and plays the doting wife all the while she’s terrified that her genes have poisoned the mind of her young son who is already displaying sociopathic tendencies that she hides from her husband. She doesn’t want him to see any doctors because if is is diagnosed then she can’t keep living in denial that he’s a normal little boy.
The whole season is about the campaign leading up to election. The mob wants the incumbent Mayor to win and the throughline of the show is a plot to murder Thomas if he wins, but to leave him and his family alone if they can force him to drop out of the race through intimidation, or just steal the election all together.
Jim Gordon, who is still a uniformed cop, is assigned to protection detail. He’s one of many body guards for Thomas and Martha Wayne but most importantly he’s not a boy scout. He’s a bent cop, “on the take”. That’s the way it works in Gotham. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just pragmatic and accepts that he can still do a modicum of good as a member of the police force, but to survive he has to occasionally turn a blind eye on some shady dealings. He spends a lot of time with the family and bonds with Bruce.
Jim and Tom become good friends. They spend a year getting to know each other, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, the audience gets to know him. And Martha.
That way when they’re killed after he wins the election AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEASON we give a shit about it. We’re not just sad because the TV is telling us to be sad and sad music is playing on a close up of a kid with a sad face.
We’ve lost characters we care about.
THEN in the second season Gordon is a detective, he’s personally invested in the case. He DOESN’T WANT to turn a blind eye anymore. He’s gonna solve the murder BY THE BOOK.
This is called character development. Growth.
He’s not just a cookie cutter good guy. He knows that by seeking justice he might even implicate himself, but his guilt just won’t allow him to just let it go.
Now little Bruce’s problems seem to come from the trauma of losing his parents and not inherent mental instability so he continues to go undiagnosed and without the medication and therapy that he needs. His obsession with revenge starts and we see his quest for justice as more of a poor kids delusion and we sympathize with him.
There’s so much potential story and character study here. It’s like ripe fruit begging to be picked and instead we get the exact same origin we’ve seen in film and TV a million times. We get Catwoman witnessing the Wayne’s murder, The Riddler working for GCPD, The Penguin ratting out the mob to Jim Gordon and Poison Ivy namechecked FOR NO FUCKING REASON.
We all love Batman and I guess the guys who created this show thought we’d like the show more if they crammed a whole bunch of nods and references to Batman in THE FIRST GODDAMNED EPISODE.
Remember how much we all LOOOOOOVED it when Anakin Skywalker built Threepio?
What makes Batman so interesting, at least to me, is how ineffectual he is.
He could probably fix the city with his mind and his money, instead he puts on a mask and beats people up. The truth is he creates the villains he fights. If not directly (like Two Face) then by just appealing to the crazies sense of the dramatic. When a psycho criminal sees a guy dressed as a bat, he decides to wear clown make up.
This was my main issue with all the recognizable villains that popped up in the premiere. They shouldn’t exist without Batman.
Last winter Kevin Smith and Paul Dini recorded an episode of one of my favorite podcasts ever: Fatman on Batman. They discussed a dream project of theirs, a TV show (like Smallville), that took place during Bruce Wayne’s youth.
The zeal and pure enthusiasm with which these two dreamers talked about this TV show that would never be, got me really excited. I can’t help but feel that the creative team either heard the show, or the massive fan response on Twitter, and at the last minute scrambled to include as many of those ideas into Gotham as they could.
I was hoping for a more subtle approach.
The show is called Gotham.
Instead they gave us the prequel to Batman Begins: Batman Before.
I’m gonna keep watching because I really want to love this show.
It’s just that so far, there’s seems to be too much Batman in a show that was supposed to be about Gotham City without Batman.