Back when I did a post about Arrow and Agents of SHIELD, I commented that I was trying to round up all the superhero themed shows that we'd been watching over that season, to try and draw some final curtain around them. Which meant that I'd sort of forgotten that we'd been watching Gotham. Part of me feels like that could just stand as a review in it's own right. But Gotham is a strange beast, born from a strange concept. If Arrow is the show you get when you want to make a Batman show, but aren't allowed to, Gotham is it's Dark Mirror, the show you get when you don't want to make a Batman show, but feel obliged to have him hang around in the background.
Set sometime in the past, Gotham is the story of the young Jim Gordon, idealistic cop in a corrupt force, and his rise through the ranks to become Gotham's greatest lawman. Or is Gotham the story of the young Bruce Wayne, comming to terms with being a orphan, and Alfred, coming to terms with being a surrogate father. Or is Gotham the story of The Penguin, manipulating his way through the ranks of organised crime to take his place at the top table? Or is it simply a portrait of a city poised to fall from corrupt stabilty, in on itself, to a place of chaos that only a man in a Bat Suit can be the hero it both needs and deserves?
If you work out the answer, can you let both me, and the showrunners know, because none of us seem to have a clue.
It is fair to say that I found Gotham a frustrating series to watch. It's not without it's strong points, not without good ideas, some great casting, and interesting stories. But it's also at times a horrid mess, tonally inconsistant and full of winking, finger pointing call-forwards about characters it hasn't made us care about. It's both a good show, and a terrible one, sometimes within the space of minutes, and I think if it was one or the other I could have settled with it (or without it) but week on week I was left wondering just when this show was going to settle out.
So the good, first. The Penguin, and most of his story, is really great. As a fan on the Batman Year One era (especially the Jeph Loeb Long Halloween and Dark Victory) the idea of exploring Gotham's past, and the disintegration of it's mob control in face of a rising tide of craziness, is a solid one. Both Cobblepot and Fish Mooney are played at just the right level, taking the odd bite out of the scenery without ever falling into camp. Although Mooney clearly runs out of plot about half way through and her return does weaken her character a lot, sadly. Also standing out is Alfred, although he and Bruce always feel slightly tacked on, and a great turn for Harvey Bullock, standing in for every Gotham cop who is redeemably bent, as opposed to just flat out evil.
Sitting somewhere in the middle is poor Jim Gordon himself. It's a bit of a one-note role, sadly, as he starts with a riteous stick up his ass, and goes on a long arc which ends with him still having a riteous stick up his ass. The issue is really that there isn't much of a sense of why he's like that, not why his crusade manages to motivate anyone else rather than say, get him shot in the back at the first opportunity. Which is a shame really.
And there at the bottom we have some clunkingly mishandled elements. Top of the list is, of course, the awful, awful, Barbara Keen, a character who seemed to exist to make every other "girlfriend" character on TV look like an amazing portrayal of independant womanhood. Everything about Barbara is wrong, her background, dialogue, and both plot arcs she gets, and sure, the actor give it all she can, especially with the real crazy stuff, but I really don't know what the writers were thinking with her, to be honest. The other big losers are the parade of characters who will be famous later - The Riddler does get better, to be sure, but The Scarecrow arc is the worst run of episodes in the whole show, and the Joker episode - one scene notwithstanding - is a weak and generic origin for such an iconic villian.
All these elements, the good and the bad, swirl around each other and any particular episode can be grindingly horrid or actually rather good depending on how they combine. At this point I'm torn about picking up Gotham next season, as other shows clamour for my attention, but the good show is in there, a show I'd actually like to watch, and maybe that's what I'd get.