After Gotham’s sloppily-delivered, ill-conceived season finale, I was pretty much certain I would not be tuning in for season two. The entire first season was a stitched-together run of half-baked ideas, cringe-worthy dialogue, over-the-top (and not in a good way) characters, and explosions of needlessly graphic violence. (Fish Mooney gouging out her own eyeball topped the chart of instances where violence meant to shock only came across as a pathetic attempt to keep the audience engaged.)
Not to say the entire show was horrible, but rather for every good episode there was at least three bad ones. That’s not how you lock down viewers, and definitely not how you tell a compelling story. The concept of Gotham was both intriguing and potentially ingenious. The delivery was anything but. What could have been a solid season of character development and gripping narratives was quickly squandered by cheap stunts and exploitative storytelling. The creative team wants us to believe the show is exciting and daring, but what really comes out is a kind of desperate ‘look at me!’ type of childishness. Look, we have blood and guts! Temporary lesbians! Batman villain cameos for the sake of cameos! Elaborate setups we don’t think you don’t have the patience for so we’ll make them real quick!
Which is a shame, but I think the very first episode laid out the foundation for the entire show. Whereupon we meet the Penguin, a bottom scraping but ambitious gangster who betrays his boss Fish Mooney minutes after we meet them, gets his legs busted and then is dumped into the river via a saving grace from Gordan, a good cop in a bad city.
Think about it: that could have been the premise for the entire season. We could have watched the Penguin simmer in envy and humiliation while learning all he could about the business from Fish before hatching a scheme to get her out of the picture. We could have watched Gordan actually gain some semblance of character as a frustrated cop trying to do right in a city gone wrong. Something other than the grimace actor McKenzie is forced to don in every scene, which seems more indicative of his frustration with the script than anything else.
I hate to compare Gotham with Daredevil (because that would be entirely unfair to Gotham) but Daredevil clearly laid the blueprint for how to develop a show about heroes and villains. We clearly understood what made both Murdock and Fisk tick, what demons haunted them, why they chose the similar but different paths they traveled. We got to know the supporting characters equally well. We understood that the violence in the show worked to interpret the characters, and had real consequences.
Gotham doesn’t appear to be interested in any of that. They appear interested only in flinging everything at the wall and focusing the camera on what sticks. They were obsessed with the character of Fish Mooney, whose usefulness to the story died out around mid-season. They wanted to show every card in the deck, all at once, never minding the time and work of developing a story that made sense. A story focused on the rising paths of Penguin and Gordan could have worked well had that been what Gordan wanted to be about. But it feels like the writers are scared stiff that the viewers will be bored stiff if not bombarded with schlock and gore every week.
Which brings us to the Season 2 premiere, which I viewed with low expectations. I wanted to see if the creative team would fix at least a couple of the major mishaps that crippled the first season, and present a passably cohesive premise for the second arc.
I couldn’t even finish the episode.
More hammy acting. More horrible dialogue. More over the top villain mugging and sensitized, blood-spattering violence. And repeats of the same story we already saw in the first season: Gordan gets demoted, again. Gordan makes a deal with the Penguin, again. Gordan gets his job back, again. Selina Kyle inexplicably gains the trust of sitting in the inner circle of a criminal organization, again. Gordan apologizes to Bruce, again. Barbara is force-fed to the viewers as a valid character, again. And what’s with Nigma? I though he was a cunning genius, not a schizophrenic manic. Ok, whatever. Oh look-there’s the future Joker, who acts a lot like the Joker, only much less interesting.
Man, I’m bored. What else is on?
Look, I realize the show has its fans. The cast is spot on, and Robin Taylor makes his every scene hard to tear your eyes from. Too bad both the talent and potential are essentially wasted in the mire of hasty and lazy screenwriting. You can almost see the writers throwing darts at a plot target to see what they’ll write next episode. Which is a shame, because Gotham has solid production, costuming, cinematography, and cast. It deserves better than this. And so do the viewers.
I really wanted to like this show, which is why I’m bothering to take the time to write about it. I thought it could have been great. Instead, I’m bidding it adieu. Better to break up now than to linger on in frustration and discontent before an even more painful divorce. So goodbye, Gotham.
I barely knew ya.
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com