Gotham (Season 1)
Where’s His Mustache… And Other Tales?
I’m back pitches! After a long hiatus from writing, I’ve found a few moments to kick back, watch the telly, and catch up on the thousands of super hero shows gracing our planet with their godly moral & entertainment value. Ironically, the only reason I’ve got these moments of free time is because I’m trying to be a super hero myself, trying to work out and get in shape. Unfortunately I injured myself because I’m not a super hero, so now I lie in bed with a heating pad on my stomach, tending my strained ab (hey, at least it means I’ve got an ab! Next step, abs), looking up the difference between “lay” & “lie.”
It’s a beautiful world when I can spend all of my TV time solely devoted to shows based on comic books; this means I never again have to waste my time on meaningless drivel such as Lost or Sex in the City. With the new Supergirl show coming soon, you should be able to convince that lady in your life that the power struggle between Miranda & Samantha is nothing compared to Kara Zor-El smacking some sense into Cat Grant before shooting through the sky to beat the sense out of the Lumberjack!
Ever since Louis & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman I’ve been hooked on super shows. I even made it through all 10 years of Superman in high school (see Smallville). But now you can click through your remote (or Netflix cue) and find Arrow, The Flash, Daredevil, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Walking Dead, with a dozen more about to flood your small screen in the coming years. So let’s talk about the Batman one.
The simple basis for this show is a cop drama, even pulling in Ben McKenzie from TNT’s Southland to play the young, not-quite-grizzled version of soon-to-be Commissioner James Gordon. There’s a crime, a bad guy, usually a couple dead people, maybe a damsel (or a damsir?) in distress, the cops arrest/save/shoot somebody, then everybody goes home, sometimes in a body bag. One thing I’ve got to give this show credit for, as opposed to most procedural dramas, is the good guys don’t always win. The city is run by the mob, most of the cops are dirty, and the main villains have to live to fight another day because eventually they’re going to need a good ol’ fashioned bat-pounding (in 10 years). But the show still has the slovenly partner, the last minute rescues, and the boring personal lives of Jim’s fiancée sleeping with her experimental lady friend from college, Detective Renee Montoya.
There’s good, but there’s also very, very bad. The writing is pretty lackluster, timid dialogue and overcomplicated plot twists that don’t make sense and take a lot of steam out of the powerful characters. When it turns out Penguin has been playing both mob bosses against each other on the slim chance he’ll weasel his way out of an impossible situation, I shrugged. Gordon gets demoted to prison guard at Arkham Asylum (awesome idea to change the pace of the show for the second half of the season!), but it barely lasts an episode, and we all move on with our lives. However, when Penguin & Riddler meet for the first time, music building to an epic showdown, Penguin stares and mutters something about “respect” and Riddler barely asks a question, let alone a riddle, that’s when I threw up my hands and accepted this show for what it’s going to be: mostly a series of let downs.
I’ll be tuning in for season 2 though because, as pedestrian as a comic book TV show can be, this is still freaking Batman! There are a bunch of subplots outside of the cops at GCPD: mobsters fighting for territory, insane people planting the seeds for super villains (such as Poison Ivy & the Scarecrow), little love stories between Edward Nigma & Kris Kringle, and the coup de gras: Bruce Wayne & Alfred Pennyworth!
Example: little Bruce’s parents are gunned down in Crime Alley, so the kid is now totally bonkers in the brains. Alfred finds him burning his hand with a candle and standing on rooftop ledges to test his ability to be a badass. And I gotta give props to David Mazouz; for a boy, he’s doing everything he can to rep the big, black bat. And you’ve got the son the 3rd Doctor Who playing the B.A. British Soldier version of Bruce’s manservant. Honestly, I’m hoping they suit up as soon as possible, throw Alfred in the Batman costume, make little Brucey the boy wonder and we’ve got ourselves a full fledged Batman show!
But I digress. The example: Tommy Elliot (eventually to be the super villain Hush in the comics) is a bully at Bruce’s school who makes fun of the kid’s dead parents. Pretty messed up, right? So Bruce slaps him. He’s a little kid, it’s the biggest slap he’s got, but it comes across as little more than “I challenge you to a duel, sir.” So Tommy and his friends pummel Bruce. At home, Alfred asks black-eyed Bruce what happened and, without sounding whiney, Bruce tells him that the kid is a punk, so Alfred tells Bruce a nice story about Mr. Wayne and gives the kid his father’s watch. Cut to a little later, Bruce standing out on the street, holding his dad’s watch tightly in his little grip, and Al asks “Are you sure you want to do this?” Bruce nods and knocks on the door of the nearest house where Tommy Elliot (the bully) answers. This has all been set up so you think Bruce is going to have a grown up conversation with Tommy, explaining that he shouldn’t insult dead people and show how mature and collected Bruce Wayne is. Instead, Bruce’s knuckles go white, the watch in his fist becomes a chunk of metal and little Bruce Wayne beats the ever-living shit out of Tommy, yelling in a gruff voice betraying the eventual bat-growl “You don’t get to talk about my mother like that!” One of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in television history. Alfred comes up, is all like, “that’s enough, Master Bruce,” Bruce gets back in their limo, and Tommy starts crying like a little baby “he could have killed me.” Then Al gets right in the boy’s squirming little face and says, “Remember, I almost let him.” Seriously, makes all 22 episodes worth it.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, amazingly portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor. This guy steals almost every scene he’s in; he’s an incredible character actor that does the best he can with the slop he’s given. The moments where he has power, when he straight up starts shanking mofos, and the maniacal laughter make Penguin the star of the show. But the writers don’t give him much to play with. When he finally opens his bar (I think the night club is called Penguin’s Umbrella but eventually it should be the Iceberg Lounge), there’s this crazy, high-octane montage of him celebrating his upward climb through the ranks of Gotham’s ne’er-do-wells. It should be a Scarface style scene of quick-cuts featuring the Penguin bangin’ Gotham’s hookers on mountains of blow, but instead he drinks from the same champagne bottle over and over while resting his head on the bar and tapping it in rhythm to the music; super lackluster. But when they give the guy time to shine, he pulls out a Tommy gun and lets ‘em all have it!
They’re all trying to walk a fine line between an overarching, awesome comic book show, and episodic crime drama. They’ve saturated the field with teenage Catwoman (neé girl), a barely scarred Victor Zsasz, the parents of Robin getting engaged, and a maybe-Joker laughing after killing his carny clown family. They also killed(?) off their one original character, so we all kind of know what’s going to happen if we’ve read any of the comics. I mean, when Batman was originally introduced in Detective Comics #27, the story was told from Commissioner Gordon’s point of view, so I’m excited for what they can do with this story, but they really need to make it their own. Surprise us! Kill the Riddler, turn Harvey Bullock into Killer Croc, have Dr. Leslie Thompkins turn out to be evil (because Morena Baccarin can’t play a woman without crazy eyes), maybe even let Penguin be a hero. They have their own story canon, it’s time to fire it! Now to go practice riding a unicycle. Ya’know, super hero training…
Developed by Bruno Heller on Fox
DC Entertainment, Primrose Hill Productions, Warner Bros. Television
Batman Created by Bill Finger (& I guess Bob Kane)
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