Gotham is a Lazy Adaptation

Gordon and BruceOne of the things that really irked me while I was working at DC Comics was when an artist needed a collection of villains for some story and rather than check to see which ones were available, he’d merely thumb through his set of Who’s Who and cherry-pick whoever he wanted to draw. The editors usually let things slide so by the time the story saw print, it fell to the fans to point out which ones could not possibly have been on hand. It made the creative team and edit look ineffective.

Fox’s new series Gotham feels that way. After three episodes, it’s clear that the producers are not beholden to any one version of the mythos and populate the show not with the characters as they are currently depicted in the comics but merely grab familiar names that seem and stick them on new personas so viewers watch and scratch their heads.

When I first heard about the premise, I immediately saw the flaw: if Bruce was 8 or 12 when we start and the show already has adult versions of his rogues’ gallery, then by the time he donned the cape and cowl, they’d already be passed their prime and nowhere near the threat they should be. Now that I’ve seen the show, those fears remain intact with the exception of Selina Kyle Camren Bicondova), who is a mere year older than Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).

In the comics, Bruce was 8 when he lost his parents and was fixed on the face of Joe Chill, the man who pulled the trigger. Here, he’s 12; an arbitrary change. While much is said about the significance of the Wayne family to Gotham City, he appears to be the last of the line with Alfred (Sean Pertwee) his legal guardian. Which of course begs the question of who is running Wayne Enterprises and who will run it for the next decade-plus? In one story, he wants to buy clothing for the homeless teens just rescued but the machinations of such largesse remain unknown.

gotham-carmine-falconeWayne, of course, is meant to be a side story with the focus on Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). This is not the cypher Gordon of the first four decades, nor is he the Year One Gordon who arrives in Gotham from Chicago under a cloud. This Gordon has deep ties to Gotham including a now-dead father who was a great district attorney and friend to mob boss Carmine Falcone John Doman). Our Jim is the tight-lipped, emotionally withholding straight cop in a whirling cesspool of corruption. Rather than be partnered with the more appropriate foil in Frank Miller’s Flass, he’s immediately paired with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), a lousy cliché of a character rather than the more subtlety designed persona under Doug Moench or Greg Rucka.

Similarly, the producers took Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara), the source of Gordon’s ultimate temptation, and used the name for their current squad captain and she appears just as corrupt as Bullock and doesn’t seem to know what to with Gordon.  One wonders where is Gillian Loeb, the commissioner to precede Jim Gordon–that would be interesting foreshadowing.

gth_special_seg4_640x360_320634435504Gordon doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. When he’s forced to kill Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), he fakes the man’s death (which we all see coming back to bite him, and fast) the word is out that he’s now one of “them”. Rather than use it to his advantage, he lets it gnaw at him. He refuses to share with his fiancée, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) and here, the producers appear to have added one supporting player too many. After three episodes, we know so little about her and she seems to serve no purpose other than to look pretty. The one interesting thing about her is her former affair with Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena).

gotham-s01e01-renee-barbaraMontoya, and her partner, Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), also appear to be straight cops but rather than say to Gordon, “hey, we’re clean, too, we should watch one another’s backs”, they believe the rumors and try to derail him with Barbara. Sloppy and lazy writing, especially in the pilot which had flat or corny dialogue scattered throughout.

The pilot was filled with “look at all them Easter eggs” with so many future villains introduced it was overwhelming. With even more promised in the first sixteen episodes, we settle once and for all the question of who came first, Batman or the crazies.  Why was Ivy (Clare Foley) appended to the lowlife Pepper (Daniel Stewart Sherman)?

The show’s big villain, for now, is Falcone, and he had the best lines in the pilot and has since been reduced to a clichéd mob leader. He sees the balance of power shifting with Thomas Wayne gone but again, we’re constantly told this without being shown what this really means. In the comics, there have various well-established families with offspring that have come to plague Batman but Gotham seems to be avoiding that. What might be interesting was if Lew Moxon’s daughter, Mallory, was set up as one of Bruce’s friends, which gives us an immediate early triangle with Selina.

FishFalcone, and now Sal Maroni (David Zayas), have arrived as cardboard capos, neither one with any original, distinguishing features. In fact, the series seems to be avoiding making any of these characters fresh and vital with the exception of Alfred who comes off as a feisty Brit and one that has annoyed the fans (despite his acting pedigree).  The addition of Fish Mooney, a little too on the nose of a name, improves the male/female ratio but she is also a stock character without much to differentiate her although it is interesting to see Jada Pinkett Smith play against type.

We’ve had a few new opponents introduced and they both had that “freak of the week” vibe that plagued Smallville’s first season. The teen kidnapers demonstrated just how inept Gotham City’s government employees are while the Balloon Man was not much of a threat at all. None help define the shifting alliances Falcone and Mooney keep talking about.

So, Gordon remains the seemingly lone voice of reason in a city spiraling around the drain. He tells young Bruce that there is always hope and their budding relationship will inevitably lead the detective to figure out who the new dark knight is 13 years from now. The series, to be successful, has to tread that delicate line between utter defeat making Batman a necessity and Gordon a failure. It’s early to tell, but as we near the one-quarter mark, I am not yet filled with confidence the production team is up to the long-range task.

2 comments

  • The main problem is, this is a police show, with Batman themes. Seriously, rename the characters, it’s the same show. Bruce is basically a jerk. He’s coming across as motivated both by survivor’s guilt, and need to improve. As he blames himself for not fighting back against Joe Chill.

    I guess you can say, this show is average. The main characters are average versions of themselves. Doing just enough to wink and say hey I’m future character. Doing just enough to pass off as credible. It needs more Batman to it. It’s like the first few season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Just a people in space show, using Star Trek themes.

    Balloonman was anything but a threat. The people saw him as a hero, with one women all but hiring him to kill her landlord. On Flash or Arrow, he’d be the guy at the opening, whom the hero quickly defeats before the opening, and we pan to a shadowy person watching, and knowing it’s the ep’s Big Bad. His plan was defeated in the end by a gun shot to his balloon. That’s it. Surely somebody on the street was packing heat. And did we really need to kill a woman with a plummeting dead body?

    It’s a nice show, but all fluff. I don’t see this lasting. Maybe it’s just Batman’s world before Batman isn’t very interesting. Most likely, these people aren’t the characters we know and love. With Cobblepot killing anyone calling him a penguin, are we seriously to believe he’d adopt it as his motiff in a few years time? I bet we don’t even get a foreshadowed comment from Allan indicating he’ll one day be Spectre. Not even a Gee, I really wish to enact vengeance on these criminals.

  • Grant Schreiber

    What we have here is a failure to collate. In other words, comics are not TV shows, or movies, but they can influence both. GOTHAM is not without flaws, but to expect it to fulfill your expectations of a Batman comic book is missing the entire premise of the show. What is it about Gotham that produces such colorful characters?

    Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Cobblepot, is currently the most compelling reason to watch GOTHAM, and that is a problem since Jim Gordan isn’t really very interesting. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying the interactions between Bruce and Alfred, and seeing the little influences that give Bruce almost no choice but to become Batman.

    If you’re really only interested in seeing Batman, then there’s always DVDs of Batman The Animated Series, which remains the best Batman on any screen.

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