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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Gotham, Series 1, First Half.


Gotham
Series 1, First Half.



Raise your hand if you were a little baffled that someone actually ever had the idea to do this series. Imagine how the pitch for that must have gone: 'Right, so. We want to do a series set in Gotham, revolving around the Batman mythos.' 'Bro, we can't use Batman, for legal reasons.' 'No, no, no. This will be about this one Batman supporting character who is well-loved by fans but really only known to most people as having been played by Gary Oldman. He doesn't have any superheroic stuff, though, he's just a regular police detective.' 'By jove, that's genius!'

Gotham, if you didn't figure out from that slightly stilted opening spiel, is a series set in Batman mythos grimdark noir city Gotham, and revolving around a young Jim Gordon before he became police commissioner. In the immediate wake of Thomas and Martha Waynes' deaths, Gordon sets out to discover the conspiracy behind their murder, only to find himself running up against Gotham's corruption, and the warring mob families of Falcone and Maroni. 

So, here's question number one: Why did this have to be set in Gotham? The answer is pretty much 'to cash in on Batman' obviously, but the series itself could really be set anywhere - Chicago, New York, a fictional city other than Gotham, anywhere - and it wouldn't really change, because the story is just one about a detective fighting back against corruption, and those have been around as long as we've had detectives and corruption. The clumsy attempts to insert Batman-ery into the series are just, well, clumsy. Villains like Two-Face and Black Mask (and, it's implied, a pre-Joker Joker) show up as men already grown while Bruce is still a ten year old child, leading one to the conclusion that by the time Bruce dons the cowl in this universe most of his enemies will be using walking sticks to get around, and Arkham Asylum will be the hip replacement capital of the world.

Fish Mooney is the big exception, being an original character for
the series. Or at least only a very minor comics character that I've
never heard of.

Some of the attempts to insert Batman's allies are even worse. Renee Montoya shows up as one of Gordon's contemporaries in this, and is utterly out of character, being cast as a weird 'bitter lesbian' archetype pursuing old flame Barbara (who implies in none too subtle terms that her relationship with Renee was just a phase, and that she's really straight) while levelling a strange vendetta at Gordon. It's not only out of character, it's an incredibly creepy and backwards path to go down. It's 2014, we should not still be trying to insist that women eventually always go back to sausage casserole, while breathing heavily and rubbing our stomachs thoughtfully. 

The series itself is - odd. The gang war plotline is solid, and the detective-fighting-corruption plotline would be solid if Gordon was more interesting than a damp cardboard box at an accountancy convention, and the Bruce-slowly-developing-into-Batman plotline is fine too, but every time the series attempts to mesh any two of the three together it feels about as natural as a really unnatural thing. 

No, you two need to stay in your own plotlines.

That feeling of 'this is unnatural and awkward and stilted' is there throughout the series: Attempts to insert Batman villains? Awkward. Clumsy. Unnatural. The setting, a hodgepodge of elements from the 20s, 50s, 80s, 90s and modern day forming what my GCSE Drama teacher called a 'timeless void'? Really unnatural and awkward. Every time Gordon tries to emote? Please stop, you're making me uncomfortable.

(The acting is, by and large, okay, though. Sean Pertwee is good, if a little strange, as Alfred, and Jade Pinkett Smith is excellent as Fish Mooney. Robin Taylor makes a surprisingly good young Penguin. Ben McKenzie as Gordon is really the only bad performance of the lot.)

Is this anger? Sadness? Confusion? Arousal?
I can't tell.

I don't think the showrunners really know where they're going with this series, either. I, and I think most people, except possibly people who are really big fans of Once Upon A Time and Supernatural, have picked up a sense of when a television show is sustainable, of how long it can feasibly last before the quality, such as it is, starts to drop sharply as the writers start to run out of ideas, the cast starts getting bored, so on, so forth. There's a scale, and at the least sustainable end is Reign and at the most sustainable end is, I dunno, Pokemon and Doctor Who, whose premises are so immutable and flexible that they could theoretically keep just keep going into eternity

Gotham is a lot closer to Reign than it is to Doctor Who, and I can't see it lasting beyond two, maybe three series before it just starts dying a death. Which bothers me, I like things to either have clear plans for how long they're going to be, or to have sustainability built into them, and Gotham is limited in how long it can run and what it can do - it's limited by its premise, by its setting, and by its need to keep including tidbits of Batman canon to keep the interest of fans who might well only be watching for that.

This is not a show destined for great things. It is the Manbat or Killer Moth of television shows.

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