Monday, October 27, 2014

First Impressions: Gotham

What a time it is to be a fan of capes'n'tights-themed comic books. A few years back, if someone had told me that the biggest film of the year would be based on the Guardians of the Galaxy, I would have called them mad. If they then went on say that the autumn TV schedules would feature five superhero shows I would have been on the phone to the local sanitarium. I mean, thats crazy talk, few supers shows have succeeded in the past, and even the ones that did are rarely fondly remembered, for all we're getting nostalgic about Adam West these days. And yet, here we are, As Agents of SHIELD enters its second year, and Arrow its third, one of this years newcomers is Gotham, which has now shipped out two episodes in the UK. So, how does it start?

It starts of course with Thomas and Martha Wayne being gunned down in an alleyway, in a scene so utterly familiar I felt a little bit of goodwill burn off then and there. A bit like Spiderman, Bruces' tragic origin is one of these moments that I would have thought nearly anyone with any interest in watching a show called "Gotham" would know, and this brings nothing new to the table with its rendition, outside of a watching Selina Kyle. It may yet do something with that, so we'll see - but for me at least it wasn't an inspiring opening.

The placing of the young Bruce at the emotional heart of the show - as this seems to indicate - is a bit of an odd choice given that the main characters are quite far removed from him. Gotham's setup seems to be more as a police procedural centered on the young James Gordon, rooted in the "Year One" continuity with a dash of "Gotham Central" added in for good measure. Both these are very good things, and the early focus on a looming gang war and police corruption could keep the show distinctive and interesting with only one major flaw; its not like they're going to solve Gothams problems, really, because otherwise there is little need for a brooding savior dressed as a flying mouse.

More problematic for Gotham is it's uneven assimilation of the vast accumulation of Batman lore. There is a huge advantage here that you always have a character to go to - Harvey Bullock as Gordons partner is a great choice (and a good performance) and Allen and Montoya from MCU smart choices too. Less so is the dropping of "future villains" into the plot left right and center; the pilot brings us Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler and Poison Ivy, the latter two dropped clunkingly into scenes that blared out "look! look who this is!" with no regard for if they needed to be there or not.

Please, Gotham, calm the fuck down with that. Thanks.

Because you know what? When it works its pretty decent. The young Penguin is integrated in the main story well and fantastically cast. The second episode made me hope that rather giving the young Bruce a story, they could give Alfred a story, which would be new and interesting (so long as it's not his story from Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader!). The looming gang war that will blow off the doors of Gothams genteel corruption and let in a new breed of costumed nutjobs is a good idea for a running arc that could play through several seasons. Much of the casting is good and the direction is solid if unspectacular.

So the question is can Gotham sort itself out? Its already picking up a bit of a vocal gallery of detractors that it's falling short of expectation, something that damaged the equally flawed-but-promising Agents of SHIELD last year. As it stands, there is more good than bad with the show, but I can imagine it getting frustrating if some of these flaws don't start to vanish or worse, start to expand, but we'll see. I'm certainly on board for another three or four episodes as it stands.