This is a show that I’ve been trepidatious about since I first heard of it. A Batman story without Batman? I thought. Since then, I’ve opened up to the idea behind Gotham: a story about the Commissioner…sorry, Detective Gordon in a corrupt Gotham City beset by villains the likes of which a certain caped crusader will be needed to handle one day.
Despite my openness to the story as it will be told, I think Gotham will be one of those shows that doesn’t go the distance. Here’s why:
1. No Bat-Family
It’s a setting about Batman, which Batman made famous. Yet he’s not in it (a “young Bruce Wayne” doesn’t count because of point #2), nor are any of his more super-family members (you could argue that Gordon eventually becomes a member of the family, but he’s, at best, the second cousin, once removed, that shows up with a birthday gift and on holidays). It’s like Starling City without Green Arrow, or Metropolis without Superman.
The absence of the Dark Knight has another potential issue beyond the mere setting aspect: his villains.
2. Unfinished Rogue’s Gallery
Why are they unfinished? Because Batman’s villains are dark reflections of himself. Penguin is what Bruce could be like if he used his money for ill-gotten gain. Riddler is a twisted version of Batman’s intellect. Joker is the opposite side of the coin of Batman’s morality. The reason Batman is so cool is because his villains push him to the point of compromise, but never past – that’s the defining element of Batman’s character. And being those dark reflections of the Dark Knight is what makes the villains some of the most interesting characters ever to appear on the comic page. But if you put Joker in a Superman story, he falls flat. Even if you put a Bat-villain in stories with other members of the Bat-family, they feel as integral, as visceral as they are when pitted against Batman. How can they be expected to carry the antithetical element of a TV show with their brighter reflection?
3. Separation from Reality or the DC Setting
It’s a police procedural (we’ve got enough of those, don’t we?) with comic book villains. That removes the common viewer who knows little to nothing about comic books and is just looking for a show to kill time after work/before bed. Even people in the show’s demographic, which I assume to be 18 to 35 year old males, aren’t going to follow a realistic show with villains like Scarecrow and Penguin as the primary trouble makers.
That means they might have to go with more realistic villains as the major villains – mobsters and killers like Falcone or Victor Zsasz (and since Jada Pinkett Smith has been added to the show as a gangsters girlfriend, it looks like this will be the case). But then, why call it Gotham? Why not call it “police procedural show #476″ and change the names to protect the innocent. That’s all we’ve got at this point.
(And don’t expect the League of Assassins to show up, unless you want to break all believability in Arrow, where no cop on the show is a match for a single mook assassin.)
4. Focus on Supporting Characters
I’m speculating here, but I believe ABC is about to drop Agents of SHIELD after season 1 is over. Why? (primarily because it’s ABC, and they drop every good show at, or before the end of, season 1) Because AoS lost its target audience, whom were willing to accept the possibility of a Marvel show about what amounts to cannon fodder supporting minions in the comics, by getting off to a slow start. I think they resurrected the show after the winter break, but that was far too late for a full revival (and then all these hiatuses since…it’s unreliable). But AoS primarily fell apart early on because it felt so removed from the Marvel universe.
But what AoS had going for it that Gotham won’t was a connection to the entire Marvel universe (except X-Men and Spiderman, because stupid studio politics). Not only that, they were connected to the incredibly successful Avengers movie. Gotham is attached to a fictional city that only those who pay attention in the films (or read any of the comics) will identify as Batman’s city. That’s it: location, and supporting characters that amount to cannon fodder supporting minions in the comics.
Why it Might Work
Commissioner Gordon is a great character plagued by the same morality issues as Batman, so he might be able to carry the themes of Gotham City heroes moral battle against injustice. I’ve personally never been a fan of Harvey Bullock, but he’s a required character for a GCPD show. What could really set the show off is using fan-favorite characters from lesser known Batman stories, like The Batman that featured on Kids CW. Detectives Ellen Yin and Ethan Bennet were excellent characters that showed bright spots in the GCPD and would make exceptional partners for Gordon in his fight for justice. The kinds of character interactions that they can create within the characters could potentially make the show stand apart, but for how long?
I’ll be giving Gotham a chance for a couple of reasons: I enjoy how the WB treats DC characters on television in general. Smallville was good, Arrow is great, and Flash looks to be very cool. I also want to see how they handle the villains, which are awesome, but I am still concerned about point #2 above.
Do you hold reservations about the show, or were you onboard the moment it was announced?