From its earliest episodes in 2014, Gotham has been on the borderline.
The first season of Fox’s Batman prequel saw solid ratings shrink in the face of a dull and dark procedural format. And while it improved in fits and spurts across its sophomore year, the DC Comics drama failed to draw the kind of passionate fan base that its superhero counterparts on The CW universe had whipped into a frenzy. When Gotham’s third season wrapped in the spring, the series was on the bubble for renewal – squeaking through primarily due to the promise of future syndication even as it delivered a finale meant to serve as a potential series ending.
Along the way, Gotham has been a creative mess. Week to week, it swings from the inspired lunacy of its best performers (villains Penguin and Riddler are at the top of the list) to the gruesomely bland turns of its core story (anything involving Jim Gordon) and from occasional flashes of fun fan service (waves of oddball guest stars and character cameos) to bewildering breaks from basic canon (Bruce Wayne as a straight-up killer).
If you’re still following the series into its Season 4 premiere on Thursday, you’re likely conflicted about whether Gotham is worth another 22 hours of your life. But all hope is not lost. If the series is able to hold on to its better demons and unleash the charms of its blackest humor, it may give us reason to tune in to its new Bat-Time of 8 p.m. Thursdays.
Below, CBR counts down five ways the producers can tweak the show to deliver the Dark Knight TV series the city deserves.
Give Up the Pretense and Go Full Cartoon
Gotham has sometimes been described as a mash-up of the 1966 Adam West Batman series and Tim Burton’s 1989 film. If only that were true, the series would be in great shape.
In truth, despite some killer production design Gotham has tried too hard to veer away from the madcap tone of those stylish Bat stories. Instead, the series has grabbed onto bland melodrama again and again. There was the Season 1 plotline about Barbara Kean’s alcoholism. And that was outdone by Jim Gordon’s repeated attempts to comfort the orphaned Bruce Wayne when the cop rarely portrays more emotion than a pile of gravel. Even when legendary performers like Carol Kane get roped into would-be tearjerkers, stories like the death of Penguin’s mommy dearest packed all the punch of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.
Whenever Gotham tries to deliver “serious” drama, the results are always flat and forgettable. So why keep trying? The show is at its best when it’s a showcase for scenery chewing. The otherwise-interminable romance between Gordon and Lee Thompkins rose from the grave last year thanks to the wacky twist of a “darkness virus” that made everyone wear to much eye makeup and talk in slow phone-sex voices. That kind of pure genre-celebrating strangeness is the only time this show feels like the Batman projects we remember and love, and Gotham would be well advised to own those influences above all others.
Hell, even Bat-nipples would be a welcome wink to the audience at this point. But leave the attempts as genuine human drama to HBO.
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