Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Big Ross checks in and piles on to talk about this odd duck of a comic book television series.
Do you remember that seen in Airplane! where the woman passenger goes into some mild hysterics, and a flight attendant tries to get her to come to her senses by shaking and slapping her? And then a man interrupts for a turn, and then the doctor, and then the nun, and the camera pans to show a line of people with comically ever-increasingly extreme responses like a wrench, a baseball bat, and a gun, all waiting for their turn? I’m here to talk (complain) about Gotham, and I know I’m going to be that 4th or 5th person in line, ready to beat the dead horse that is the discussion, “Gotham is really terrible”. Just for fun, I’m going to do it by way of a list, which are all the rage these days. Let’s begin.
11. (Honorable Mention) The Paradoxical Premise
Others have talked about this, and while it is a valid complaint, I can’t take credit for it, so I’m including it here. The very premise of Gotham makes for a weird outcome. Either Jim Gordon is successful at his mission of cleaning up Gotham City and the GCPD, which negates the whole reason/need for Batman, or he fails miserably, which doesn’t really make for great television. Or they try for some kind of balancing act where Gordon enjoys small victories while ultimately failing, which just seems annoying. It’s like the Kobayashi Maru of TV production.
10. Ben McKenzie’s Over-acting
Look, I’m fairly certain that he’s being directed to act the way that he is, but there are scenes in nearly every episode where McKenzie just needs to dial it down a few notches below “cringe-inducing”. I think he was great in The O.C. and Southland, and he seems perfectly capable of portraying a young Jim Gordon. And there are signs that he could be great here. I just wish he wasn’t so inconsistent and at times over-the-top.
09. Barbara Someday-going-to-be-Gordon’s Bisexuality(?)
Renee Montoya is a character from the Batman comics who is a major player in the series Gotham Central. She is also a lesbian. She appears on Gotham, and like her pulpy counterpart, is a lesbian. I have no problem with this. This could be a great portrayal of a strong, tough, capable character who happens to be lesbian. Instead, she is initially presented as an antagonist to Gordon and is generally unlikeable. Also, in a plot development/twist that I’m pretty sure no one liked, she is revealed to be the former/recurring lover of Barbara. This is really what I want to focus on here. First, Barbara is not, as far as I am aware, LGBT in any sense in the comics. That said, if the writers had a compelling reason to make her so in Gotham, I would be on board with it. But it comes off as a cheap gimmick, nothing more than a way to break up Jim and Barbara for awhile. It honestly feels like a way for the show to be titillating simply to generate some buzz, reducing the character of Montoya to nothing more than a lesbian. I find it more than a little insulting, maybe even offensive.
08. Randomly Disappearing Side Characters
Hey, speaking of Renee Montoya, where the Hell did she go, anyway? And what happened to Harvey Dent? Montoya hasn’t been seen in awhile, and I honestly can’t remember if it was explained what happened to her. Dent showed up in one or two episodes, never to be seen again. These are valuable allies of Gordon who could help him in his quest to clean up the GCPD, yet they are notably absent. What’s the deal?
07. The Glaring Age Discrepancy between Bruce Wayne and EVERYONE ELSE
Jim Gordon was, is, and always should be much older than Bruce Wayne/Batman. I’m talking 20-30 years older. I love the idea in Batman Begins, which is re-used here and also occurs in various Batman comic books, that Gordon was there the night Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered, and that he investigated the crime. This is good. But in Gotham, character after character shows up who is markedly older than Bruce Wayne. Edward Nigma (who will become the Riddler) is in his mid twenties. Same for Penguin. While (Poison) Ivy and Catwoman are nearly the same age, Maroni is going to be old and Falcone will be ancient by the time Bruce is ready to launch his career as Batman. This just makes me scratch my head in utter confusion at how this world and timeline is going to work. I don’t like it.
06. Jim Gordon, and Generally Everyone Else’s Stupidity
Gordon is our hero, and he is supposed to be a good cop, both in terms of morality and capability. Yet time and time again he displays a tendency for ineptitude and outright stupidity. Here is an excellent article from io9 on that very subject. On a related note, Montoya was in a bunch of the early episodes, where she and her partner, either from IA or Major Crimes, for some reason spent all of their time going after Jim Gordon, who literally is presented as the only clean cop in a department overflowing with corruption. True Detectives these guys are not.
Seemingly everyone makes dumb decisions. Fish makes the dumb decision of letting Falcone live when she successfully orchestrates her coup. Falcone makes the dumb decision of not only not killing Fish when he successfully retaliates and reestablishes control of the crime families, but of torturing her with such minimal guard on duty that one guy is able to break in and free her. Here is an excerpt from another great io9 Gotham recap:
The best example — and what has to be the new front-runner for the dumbest Gotham moment of all time — is in this very episode, when Barbara calls Gordon’s apartment, and Ivy answers, pretends to be Gordon’s girlfriend, and Barbara not only falls for it but is devastated.
Let me rephrase: Barbara calls Gordon’s apartment. A child answers the phone. This child pretends to be Gordon’s girlfriend for no apparent reason other than to upset Barbara, even though Ivy has no idea who is calling or why. Barbara somehow does not realize she’s talking to a child, and despite Ivy’s completely unconvincing performance, Barbara accepts everything the kid says at face value and abandons her entire relationship with Gordon based on a 30-second phone call. WITH A GODDAMNED KID.
05. Penguin’s Mommy Issues and Riddler’s Stalker Creepiness
I don’t know much about the Penguin as a character in the comics. I don’t know what his relationship is with his parents. But Oswald and Momma Cobblepot (played by Carol Kane) have this weird Oedipus complex thing going on, and it’s just freaky and weird. The inclusion and persistence of Momma Cobblepot seems to serve no other purpose than to highlight how weird and creepy Penguin is, which seems unnecessary after seeing him kill a bunch of random strangers with a knife in the second or third episode.
In what I consider an odd choice, Edward Nigma is apparently the only employee working in the GCPD crime lab other than the medical examiner, which seems ridiculous for a city the size of Gotham. There has been an odd little side story in which Nigma has a crush on a woman that works in the records department. I’m not sure if this is supposed to highlight how creepy Nigma is, or if we are supposed to feel sorry for Nigma and his unrequited love (my impression is showrunners intend the latter). Regardless, Nigma is venturing farther and farther into stalker/harassment territory, and the farther he goes, the more this sub-plot doesn’t sit well with me.
04. Leslie Thompkins Being WAY More Appealing than Barbara Someday-going-to-be-Gordon
If you are not a fan of Batman comics you might not be aware that Jim and Barbara eventually get married and have kids. Likely you are aware of this, and so you, like me, were likely surprised and more than a little exasperated at the decision to start Gotham with Jim and Barbara together, only to arbitrarily break them up (only to bring them back together on down the road). Why not just start with Jim being single, and then introduce Barbara later? But the writers have a bigger problem on their hands. Having introduced Barbara, and making her generally dumb and unlikeable, they have created a situation where I was almost happy she and Jim broke up. The writers have compounded this with the introduction of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, played by the amazing Morena Baccarin, and new development of having her and Jim start a relationship.
Here’s the thing, Thompkins, largely because of Baccarin, is INFINITELY more likeable than Barbara. Thompkins is smart, capable, and independent. And now that she is working as the new medical examiner, she actually contributes to the story. She helps solve cases. And, Baccarin and McKenzie have oodles more chemistry than McKenzie and whoever plays Barbara. I now found myself in the situation where I am rooting for Thompkins, I want her and Jim to stay together, and yet I know that their romance is as doomed as any couple in the Whedonverse. This is cruel and frustrating and I DON’T LIKE IT.
03. The Wild Shifts in Tone
I think one of my biggest problems with Gotham is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It’s the Batman Forever of Batman movies. The Burton films were very dark and gothic and serious at times, but also very artistic and fun. Batman & Robin fully embraced the goofy camp of the old Adam West show. Batman Forever sits on the fence between these two styles, trying to do both and failing miserably. (Incidentally, the Nolan movies are dark and gritty and uber realistic and generally devoid of any fun.) That is what I mean when I say Gotham is like Batman Forever. There are times when it is dark and high-stakes and super violent and serious, and times when it is trying to be light and campy and (I think) intentionally cheesy, and to me it just falls apart. The gritty seriousness detracts from the campy fun, and the campy fun undermines the gritty seriousness.
For example, in a recent episode, Gordon and Thompkins are on a date at the circus, and there’s a brawl in the center ring between two men, ultimately over a woman who happens to be a snake charmer. Gordon decides to release the woman’s snake, which promptly leads Gordon and a retinue directly and unerringly to the woman’s bloody dead body, hidden under a tarp. Right up until the snake slithers under the tarp, there is this jaunty circus music playing over the proceedings. The shift from playful to deadly serious is so sudden I nearly suffered whiplash. I wish the show would just decide on a direction and go with it.
02. Everything about Fish Mooney/Jada Pinkett-Smith
The single most annoying aspect of Gotham is the character of Fish Mooney and the actress portraying her – Jada Pinkett-Smith. Make no mistake, it is the amalgamation of these two elements that creates something far more terrible than either considered alone.
Fish Mooney is a mid-level crime boss in the Falcone crime syndicate. She is completely original, created for Gotham. I am okay with this. Introducing new villains means Gordon won’t be taking down all of Batman’s rogues. But Fish fails because she is a boring character with as much depth as a sheet of paper with equally boring storylines. Best case scenario she should have been killed off midway through season 1 (or sooner); worst case scenario she shows up every third or fourth episode for a brief scene or two. The reality is far, FAR worse.
Jada Pinkett-Smith is a middling actress who has distinguished herself more by her choice of spouse (Will Smith) than any achievement or demonstrated prowess in acting. The only other thing I can recall her in is the Matrix sequels, and I didn’t like her then either. But there, she was merely forgettable. On Gotham, she has turned the acting knob right on past 11 on past 15 and just kept right on twisting until she ripped the damn thing off. There is no dialing it down or dialing it back. On Gotham, JPS doesn’t just act, she ACTS. She ACTS in every goddamn scene, with every goddamn line of dialogue. She isn’t just chewing scenery, she is GNAWING it, CHOMPING it, MASTICATING the ever-loving fuck out of it. EVERY. SINGLE. SCENE. Submitted for your consideration:
I now have to stifle audible groans any time she appears on screen. I am actively rooting for anyone and everyone to just kill her already. PLEASE! WOULD SOMEONE JUST KILL HER? Gotham City is full of corrupt politicians and dirty cops and untouchable crime lords and burgeoning super criminals and FIsh has managed to piss off plenty of them and NO ONE WILL KILL HER???!!!?!?!!
01. The “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” School of Production
In the first season alone we have met: James Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya, Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Barbara Keane (Pre-gordon), Leslie Thompkins, Carmine Falcone, Sal Maroni, E. Nygma (Riddler), Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin), Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Harvey Dent (Two-Face), Victor Zsasz, Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), and The Dollmaker.
We’ve already seen the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. We’ve basically seen the origin of Scarecrow. The seeds have been planted for The Riddler. Selina Kyle is pretty much already Catwoman, going so far as to insist everyone call her “Cat”. Cobblepot is already rising through the ranks of Gotham’s underworld and has pretty much embraced being The Penguin. We’ve gone to the circus and met Dick Grayson’s parents. The Dollmaker is in business and Zsasz is doing his thing (at the behest of Falcone). We’ve met the Red Hood gang and have had multiple allusions to the Joker, including that one episode with the creepy ginger kid who was for all intents and purposes the Joker in everything but name. The only major villains we haven’t met are Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, and I’m sure they’ve already got appearances planned and/or written.
The is no method to the madness of Gotham. The inmates are running the asylum. It’s like the writers and producers have no coherent plan, but are just sitting around the writers room with the Batman Wikipedia page open when one of them asks, “What about Man-Bat? Have we done Man-Bat?”
No, but it’s only a matter of time until they do.