Today, I will be exploring Fox’s Monday night drama – Gotham. The show is yet another drama adapted from DC comics. It’s a wonder the show isn’t airing on the CW, given that they are leading the DC television universe with Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and The Flash – all shows that owe their creation to the Smallville phenomenon which proved how commercially successful a comic adaptation could be.
Gotham is currently wrapping up its 2nd season (as I wrote this), and, unlike the other shows dealing with DC iconic characters, Gotham doesn’t feature any superheroes. That’s right comic fans, if you were expecting a television show delving into the nightly adventures of the Caped Crusader, then you are sure to be disappointed. This is not the story of Batman. Indeed, Bruce Wayne is only 13 and is relegated to a supporting character. Instead, Gotham’s narrative is set-up like a police drama, focusing on Detective James (Jim) Gordon and his idealistic quest to weed out corruption in Gotham City.
The premise of the show is straightforward. It begs the question: how can a city get so bad that it will one day need a vigilante (Batman) to bring about order and justice?
The first season charts the city’s gradual descent into madness, following the horrific murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Detective Jim Gordon alongside his wise-cracking partner, Harvey Bullock, is assigned to the case. With each episode, the two detectives become embroiled with Gotham’s criminal underworld as they hunt down the killer. The murder of the Waynes sparks a series of gang wars between the Falcone and Maroni crime families while a young upstart criminal, named Oswald Cobblepot (the Penguin) rises in power.
As you can imagine, the show mostly serves as an origin story for the more iconic villains of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. Characters such as Mr. Freeze, Hugo Strange, Scarecrow, a young Poison Ivy, Two-Face, and a young Catwoman have already made an appearance. The idea of the show is interesting, but it’s central narrative has one major flaw: Jim Gordon, the show’s main character, is doomed to fail. As any comic fan will tell you, Jim Gordon is not the savior of the city – that title goes to Batman. Thus, it’s hard to root for Gordon to clean up the city when you know all his actions are, to some degree, futile.
It also makes the idea of following a young Bruce Wayne more appealing. Bruce Wayne’s childhood, beyond the murder of this parents, has never been explored onscreen or in the comics. Usually, we are given only snippets of information via flashback in the comics about Bruce’s younger years before returning to the narrative where Bruce is already fully grown.
As a viewer and comic fan, the ability to watch Bruce’s transformation from a traumatized child into Batman is vastly more interesting than chronicling the adventures of Jim Gordon and the GCPD. Thus, the show’s creators have unintentionally split the focus of their narrative between Jim and Bruce and not in a cohesive manner.
The show has other problems as well, notably tone. The show regularly oscillates between gritty realism and over-the-top camp (I’m talking to you Fish Mooney). The villain of the week story structure also becomes tiring after a while. This type of serial structure is handled much more effectively in Law and Order or Bones. Often the cases that Jim and Harvey encounter only provide a way for Gordon to get into trouble.
Quite frankly, Gordon’s inability to learn from his mistakes frustrates me to no end. Gordon’s idealism leaves him static, a terrible thing for a show’s main character. There are very few layers to the ‘white knight’ detective – he wants justice and truth. That gets boring real fast. Gordon simply isn’t the badass cop that I remember from the comics. He’s not alone either. Many characters are drastically changed (not necessarily for the better) from their comic alter-egos to the point that they become completely unrecognizable to comic readers such as Barbra Gordon – cough- I mean Barbra Keane.
Why I Watch It:
Despite the show’s problems (and there are many beyond what I have named), I still tune in every Monday. Why?
The answer is simple: I love all things Batman, Zack Synder’s BvS notwithstanding, and being able to watch a young Bruce Wayne grow into his cape and cowl is something that I cannot pass up. Even if he only has about 15 minutes of screen time each episode. David Mazouz, who plays Bruce, is simply fantastic for his age, and I really believe in his version of the character; he handles the anger, the pain, and idealism of Bruce Wayne perfectly.
Also, the look of the show is stunning. Every time I see the Gotham skyline I’m struck by the awe-inspiring power of film; the sets of the show and images of the city really pull me into the world. It’s exactly as I imagine the city when I’m reading the comics, creating a more realistic setting than even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
The OTP: “Bat/Cat”
I must admit, however, that my biggest reason for watching Gotham is a fandom reason: I love watching a young Bruce Wayne interact with a young Selina Kyle. Batman and Catwoman are my OTP (one true pairing). What, you may ask, is an OTP? It’s a fandom term used to describe a fan’s intense attachment to a romantic relationship between two characters in a given text; it’s an extreme version of supporting a fictional romance (a practice known as shipping).
An OTP is a couple that a fan or group of fans prefer over all other “ships.” Canon i.e. the original meaning of the source text and logic do not necessarily apply regarding a fan’s One True Pairing. In fact, common OTPs disregard sexual orientations of characters and are paired with members of the same sex – for instance, a major pairing in the Gotham fandom is “Jim/Oswald.” The fact that Jim has a girlfriend and that neither of the characters is gay doesn’t actually mean anything to the fans.
Be warned, once a fan has proclaimed they have an OTP, no amount of reason will dissuade them from thinking that these two characters belong together. I’m guilty of that myself – no matter how many relationships Bruce Wayne entertains in the comics, I have always hoped for him to end up with Selina Kyle. As you can imagine, I was filled with unabashed glee at the end of The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce and Selina ran away together.
In Gotham, the emotional through-line between Bruce and Selina is actively encouraged by the narrative. Rather than scaling after her across rooftops during his nightly patrol as Batman, the orphaned billionaire meets Selina when they are both in their early teens. Accidentally stumbling into the alley behind the theater one night, Selina Kyle (a street kid and thief) is the sole witness to the murder of the Waynes.
Feeling sorry for the orphaned boy, she keeps an eye on Bruce Wayne from a distance, and their paths inevitably cross as he conducts his own investigation into his parents’ deaths. They become intimately connected with one another, blurring the lines between friends and the possibility of something more (keep in mind they are still young, so they are not quite a couple).
Though their relationship serves only as a subplot of the show, their interaction is the main reason I stayed glued to the TV on Monday night. It’s not logical, I know, but that’s a fan’s life for you.
Would I recommend it?
Overall, the show is entertaining if nothing else. But for those Batman lovers out there, this might be right up your alley.