At some point in this review, I will say a few words in specific regard to last night’s episode, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon.” It won’t be for a while, though, as last night’s installment continued the show on a path of dullness that enraged me, and shattered the dam that had been holding back my ocean of frustrated words for weeks.
Gotham desperately wants to be hip. From its vintage-inspired set and costume design, to the occasional punch of rock music, the show reeks of a need to be seen as cutting edge. But, it isn’t. What it is, is stale. It’s not a brand new set of world-class cutting knives, but instead a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs your parents have acquired over the years from QVC. Not ideal, but better than nothing, I guess.
It’s whole existence has been built on this idea of freshness. It was supposed to be a new take on old characters, showing viewers infamous DC Comic faces in a way they’d never seen before. And it is doing that, to a point. Technically, what we’re being given week in and week out are new stories, and glimpses into these characters’ lives before their relationship to Batman defines them, but as a television show Gotham is woefully stuck in a rut. Save for a few exceptions, much of what Bruno Heller’s series has given us in its first dozen-plus episodes is a collection of frustrating hours that fail to deliver on their promises. Even in its higher moments, such as “Penguin’s Umbrella,” which inspired me to declare that the writers know what they’re doing, the show has been only slightly above average.
Gotham certainly has potential, and that’s why so many people were brimming with anticipation upon its arrival this fall. But it has fallen victim to too many characters, too little substance and, worst of all, the inability to deliver more than a handful of compelling stories. It’s often hard to keep in mind that it’s still the first season, and often shows don’t figure out what they are until sometime in the second season. Gotham has the elements of an interesting show, but has failed to put them together in a compelling way. It could be a gritty cop drama, or an insane comic book show, but currently it hovers awkwardly somewhere in between. I’ve written before about Gotham’s tendency to mix camp with disturbing violence, and that issue continues to hang over the show. The violence is particularly troubling, both because it has escalated in recent weeks, and it serves almost no purpose other than to shock. Second to being hip, Gotham desperately wishes to be seen as high drama, but it lacks the quality to do so, and often the outbursts of bloodshed feel like a weak attempt to elevate its stature.
The cardinal sin of this show, of which I’ve slowly come to the realization, is that it has failed to instill any sense of care in its viewers. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I find it hard to believe that most of those who watch Gotham have strong ties to any particularly character, and thus care what happens to them. There is no one I’m rooting for in Gotham. I suppose I lean on the side of Jim, but that’s more from years of reading comics and failure on my part to disassociate the character I know him to become from the character he currently is, than it is due to anything he’s done on the show. Maybe others are able to gleam enjoyment from simply watching a story unfold before them but, as a viewer, I need a vested interest. I need to care for someone, to worry about his or her future, to fear the next threat around the corner. At this moment, anyone on Gotham could be put to bed at the bottom of the river and I would not bat an eye. This is due to several things, including poor character development and subpar storylines, but also to the fact that I already know what happens. In the grand scheme, that is. That was always the inherent danger of a prequel, that the show would struggle to carve out its own place in the Batman mythos, and it has thus far struggled mightily. There is still time, especially given the show’s renewal, but if it continues in the same direction, Gotham will only be a blip on the radar of Batman’s history, one short-lived and long forgotten.
If the fact that I only mentioned last night’s episode directly in a handful of the previous 700 words hadn’t clued you in, I did not care much for episode 13. It wasn’t the worst hour I’d witnessed, just routinely mediocre. Gordon took a big step in taking on a crooked cop, thus sending a message to the GCPD that he won’t play the game they way they have for years. Fish was tortured, escaped, and chased by Zsasz. Selina made Bruce cry and claimed she didn’t see who killed the Waynes. And Nigma made yet another move on Kristen Kringle, who, this time, chose to be a decent human and not treat him like a total ass. These might seem like large, important moments for the show, but the manner in which they were delivered had me struggling to pay attention. I’m at a loss, really. My brain can’t comprehend why Gotham fails to draw any sort of excitement out of me the way The Flash might, or even Arrow and Constantine. The pacing isn’t awful, the writing is serviceable, the performances are too big for my taste, but just fine overall. So what is it? Besides a lack of satisfying escalation and true climax that many of Gotham’s episodes have struggled to find, I don’t really have an answer. The show just bores me.
?If it weren’t for my writerly investment in Gotham, this episode would have been the one I marked as my breaking point—the final moment when I decided that my time was better served watching reruns of Property Brothers then continuing on with this new show struggling to find it’s way. Weeks of stories that continually failed to pique my interest have worn me thin, and the short-lived rejuvenation I felt with Gordon’s reassignment to Arkham was ripped away as quickly as it was given. For now, I am out of words. Until next week, you can find me at the support group for those who care too much about television and feel personally hurt when it’s terrible.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.