Second episodes are tough nuts to crack in the writers' room, so I won't condemn GOTHAM outright, this early, but my gut says it's a show I won't be reviewing weekly. Reviewing cop procedurals is dull work at the best of times, and Gotham's positioning as a Batman prequel already feel like more trouble than it's worth. I don't get goosebumps when someone compares Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Lord Taylor) to a penguin. It doesn't excite me that teenager Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) prefers to be called Cat. The fact young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is naturally light-footed doesn't strike me as clever foreshadowing. And I could do without the random teases that so-and-so could become The Joker, like when someone angrily refers to Detective Bullock (Donal Logue) as a "clown".
Creator Bruno Heller talks a good game (which is part of his job as a showrunner in charge of a multi-million dollar television drama that needs people to have faith and watch), but a Batman prequel without Batman still feels stupid to me. It's a persistent frustration they've chosen to make this version of a Batman TV series, when The CW's Arrow is doing a much better one with lesser-known characters.
Does anyone seriously care about seeing super-villains like Poison Ivy and Catwoman when they were cute kids, or The Riddler and The Penguin when they were in their twenties? These Bat-villains existed to hold up a mirror to the hero's flaws, challenged his own skills, and had opposing traits, but without Batman around they're just walking brand names.
Gotham does have its merits. The production design's good (I particularly like their take on the titular city, which feels very '80s), Southland's Ben McKenzie is a fine choice as lead, and supporting actors like Jada Pinkett Smith are giving things some much-needed flavour, but it doesn't excite me. I don't feel myself caring about anything it's doing, or will be working towards, and the connection to the venerable Batman mythos actually feels like a weakness. Mainly because it would feel more dangerous watching a 'one good cop in a bad city' drama without the constant tipping of hats to DC Comics icons. Especially knowing the Bat-villains aren't at risk of dying and, thus, failing to fulfil their destinies. Like all prequels, too much is set in stone already. Unlike most prequels, nobody seriously craved a 'Young Commissioner Gordon' TV show.
Incidentally, I have no idea what they're going to be doing with young Bruce over a theoretical five-year run; but they must have some kind of plan, because why cast Sean Pertwee as butler Alfred and waste two of the franchise's biggest names?
This second episode—misleadingly entitled "Selina Kyle", whose role was minimal—concerned a pair of weirdos (Lily Taylor, Frank Whaley) snatching kids off the street as part of a human trafficking business. It wasn't a very original idea for a story, but no worse than the kind of thing Arrow would come up with—only without the things that help pulls Arrow through generic storylines (a fun ensemble, actual superheroes, impressive action, humour, witty dialogue.)
Gotham instead has weird bursts of surprisingly brutal violence (Cobblepott stuck a broken bottle into someone's neck!), which are there to make the show feel dark and gritty… which is cool and appreciated, to a point. But beyond those isolated moments (which still cut away from showing blood and gore), the majority of the show isn't particularly sinister or adult in tone. It's a weird mix. I wouldn't be surprised if some overseas purchasers of the show edit content, so they can show it earlier in the evening.
Overall, I'm not saying Gotham can't find its feet eventually, and overcome some of the 'prequelitus' issues that are bugging me right now, but success feels like a long way off. I actually prefer the scenes between the mobsters than Gordon and Bullock's 'good cop/bad cop' interplay, and let's hope the writing eases up on the moments when everyone makes open references to the city's police force being dirty. Why on earth is the Captain (Zabryna Guevara) condoning kids getting beaten up, and raising an eyebrow at Gordon wanting to do things by-the-book? It doesn't work for me. By all means have the place full of bad eggs and bullies, but don't have this corruption so out in the open. I want to at least believe the GCPD isn't beyond redemption.
written by Bruno Heller • directed by Danny Cannon • 29 September 2014 • Fox