Why the police-led Batman prequel fails on both counts.
When I found out that FOX was going to create a TV series chronicling the early career of detective James Gordon in Gotham City, I was initially sort of okay with it.
With DC already enjoying a lot of success through Smallville and Arrow, and The Flash into its first season, TV is the one place in which Marvel is forced to play catch-up.
And while Agents of SHIELD took a good few episodes of its first season to really settle into a good groove – and did it ever after the initial teething problems – I thought we’d be safe with a Gordon-led police procedural that shows glimpses of the world it will become.
After all, with Gotham being specifically pitched as “the early days”, the programme makers would’ve simply built up the life and career of an honest cop fighting corruption in the city where a hero would eventually rise – years down the line – to try and end it for good.
But only four episodes into its run on Channel 5 and I’m almost ready to bin Gotham, for two main reasons in which it fails to keep me interested – the two main areas in which it attempts to hook viewers.
As a precursor to Batman’s mythology it’s not only failing to set up its future supervillains properly, but in the police procedural side of things it barely even holds together believably – which can’t all be down to the somewhat supernatural roots of Batman’s universe because – like I said – they’re not being planted properly.
Cobblepot. Falcone. Kyle. Nigma. Ivy. Five episodes in and we’ve already seen five pretty big components of Batman’s universe, even though Batman himself is years away. Even the introduction of young Bruce Wayne – whose parents’ murder is admittedly a good place to kick things off in the timeline – feels somewhat crammed in just to put over the city’s plight.
It being a Batman prequel, we do need to be made aware of the universe this takes place in. However, and more importantly, we’ve begun watching with full knowledge that it’s a Batman prequel, which makes cramming ALL these people in such a needless task.
Gotham is running roughshod over all the intricacies of setting up long-running character development in favour of some absolutely appalling telegraphing just to stitch it all together at far too brisk a pace. Without a gradual and cohesive set-up to and build-up of the universe – just like we got with Shield, and at the risk of boring viewers – it’s not going to make a lick of sense somewhere down the line. Not far down the line, at that.
The line “we don’t have time for your riddles, Nigma” was one of the very first – and very worst – offenders here. Dr Nigma is one of “the boys in the lab” at Gotham PD, the equivalent of NCIS’ Abby Sciuto or Greg Sanders in the first few seasons of the original CSI. It’s Nigma’s job to come in at certain points and break down to detectives Gordon and Bullock exactly what fibres were found on the vic, or what substances can be added to the chemicals at the factory they’ve busted to make explosives. It’s a component of most police procedurals and would’ve been filled by any new character if Nigma hadn’t assumed the role.
However, with the offending line being uttered minutes into Episode One, there’s no mystery left about him. Anyone who knows who Edward E. Nigma is, knows that one day he’ll be The Riddler, which means he may as well have a question mark drawn on a sign hung around his neck for all future appearances, in which he’s actually performing a key function of modern cop shows. It’s a horrible signposting of what’s to come.
Oswald Cobblepot’s entry into the universe was somehow even less subtle; he doesn’t like being called Penguin – not that we’ve got any reason why he even has that unfortunate nickname when introduced. And part of Gordon’s initiation into the seedy dealings of GCPD was to kill Cobblepot – his not doing so signifies that he’s a good man, and telling Cobblepot never to come back to Gotham was a good thing to do.
And had the storyliners had Cobblepot re-emerge at the end of the season as a wronged man seeking revenge with various criminal elements in tow, it would’ve been a good gap and worth the wait for his return as a fully-turned Penguin, ready for a good skirmish in the future. But oh look, there he is. In Episode Two. Being an over-the-top psychopath because he doesn’t like being called Penguin.
Cobblepot’s murdering the men who he hired to rob Maroni’s restaurant was a nice twist, but a move which would take some nerve and considerable resources to pull off. Given that Cobblepot has not been offscreen for more than two seconds per episode, we have no idea where he acquired either of those things – just that he’s a bit of a nutter. This would’ve worked beautifully with The Joker – precisely because he is a lot of a nutter and we can forgive the lack of foreshadowing for him – but did not square at all with Cobblepot’s victimised demeanour.
(Oh god, they’re going to absolutely ruin the Joker, aren’t they.)
Gotham’s creators must have been extremely worried about an early cancellation, so crammed as much in as they could to ensure that viewers would return for subsequent episodes.
The only danger now is that, as they run out of characters, even more of Batman’s future foes will need to be brought in to face off against Gordon. But as long as Gordon’s trying to stay alive in his own job thanks to endless corruption and mob violence, the villains will have even less time for their own character development.
Next time, I’ll look at the police procedural side of Gotham and ask whether it’s even supposed to be one.