Four-Color Prime Time Reflections
Earlier this TV season I slammed Gotham as a lazy adaptation of the Batman mythos and yet I found myself watching each episode, because the buzz was growing. As the show heads into its winter hiatus, I thought it fair to go back and consider it a second time.
Given that none of the characters resemble anything from any incarnation of the comic book source material, I have accepted this. I disagree with it and feel the showrunners could have been more faithful and still told their story. I now recognize that Gotham is about Gordon versus Batman’s rogues’ gallery, setting the stage for young Bruce Wayne to become a Dark Knight protecting a vastly different Gotham that, in theory, won’t need him.
So, looking at Gotham as a crime show, I still find the writing particularly poor and the characters too broad or too flat without any real nuance. Working with weak material, the cast is doing better than one has a right to expect and they get kudos. Still, the show offers far too few surprising twists and turns.Bruno Heller keeps telling us things about the power structure without actually showing it. One episode says one notable member of society doubled his money since Thomas Wayne died, but it’s been mere weeks, raising lots of questions. Similarly, the power vacuum Thomas’ death created has been entirely dropped as an element while the corruption within Wayne Enterprises clearly extends before his murder making one wonder what sort of steward he was.
It’s interesting watching Bruce try a variety of things to make himself ready for the coming adult years and yet he’s floundering. Alfred is teaching him to fight but the rest will have to come through trial and error but it’s also clear his decade absence from the city is going to be ignored along with any semblance of the Wayne or Kane families influence over the manor, fortunes and company.
The power politics between Carmine Falcone, Fish Mooney, Sal Maroni, and the Penguin are lacking in wit, subtlety or surprise. I keep waiting for Lew Moxon and Joe Chill to make appearances but instead, we get a steady supply of cannon fodder and future super-villains.
Gordon remains the stoic, square-jawed last honest man in the city and that robs him of color and interest. And they have yet to figure out what to do with his fiancée Barbara but her former lover Renee Montoya’s acceptance of the rebound says more about her character than anything she’s done on a case.
I still find it a mess and wish it had stronger writing but at least its watchable.
I have been far less bothered by the adaptations of Arrow and Flash. They pay fidelity to the source material, adapting it for modern day prime time television audiences. They’re far from perfect series but highly entertaining and nicely serialized so you keep coming back. Flash nicely spun out of Arrow this year and revels in its super-powered glory while Arrow remains grounded in street-level intrigue. If anything, the only false step this season is the Hong Kong flashbacks. Once you take Ollie off the island and put him in Hong Kong he has no reason not to let people know he’s alive. It all seems designed to setup the introduction of Katana, one player too many in an increasingly crowded field of costumed characters. We already have Arrow, Arsenal, Canary, Huntress, Nyssa and Ra’s, Deathstroke, Wildcat, and the Suicide Squad. We also have Ray Palmer about to become the Atom. Enough.
Flash is almost too quickly building up other characters which could rob the show of its unique focus on Barry Allen. Firestorm is coming and others are hinted at. It also seems to be going through the DC Universe’s roster kind of quickly with Plastique, Simon Stagg, and Java coming and going in a matter of minutes. And while I still don’t like the Barry’s Mom is Dead gimmick Geoff Johns added in the comics, I adore the relationship between Barry and Detective West, something setting the two shows apart. (And please, Iris can’t be that dumb she hasn’t figured out Barry is the blur, er streak, er Flash—fix that fast.)
Constantine comes with a terrific pedigree, a brilliant comic book and expert television writer/producers in David S. Goyer and Mark Verheiden. But a show that should be steeped in atmosphere is shot like any other prime time series. It’s too bright, even in the shadows, and the color palette doesn’t help create mood. The stories have been interesting but after the rocky start transitioning from one leading female lead to another, any sense of growth was quickly arrested. Also, the watered-down version of John Constantine here just isn’t enough of a bastard nor do the people he interacts with suffer enough to feel right. I find Chas nowhere near enough of a foil to Constantine (that said, this version of the character works far better than his New 52 incarnation which is unrecognizable). The show is just getting its grounding so the news the first 13 are all we’re getting this season is a disappointment.
With more adaptations coming, from iZombie to Supergirl, one hopes there are producers and writers taking notes this season.