Ah, yes, Gotham. How could I forget DC Comics and Warner Brothers big television adaptation of Commissioner James Gordon’s time in Gotham city prior to Batman’s arrival? It might be because I’m well and truly burnt out out from the squandering of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. potential last season. And I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong in hyping up the show. But I still maintain that it could have been better and that’s really not a feeling I want to have again with Gotham.
That’s not to say that I’m not excited for Gotham because I am. I would label myself as quietly optimistic. Part of that optimism comes from the fact that the show will air on Fox. As I explained in my pre-Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. blog post, Disney owns the ABC network as Warner Bros. owns The CW. It makes sense that when Disney have a big TV project based off of a film series they would air it on ABC, which is one of the big four American networks along with NBC, CBS and Fox. The CW, where Warner Bros. airs The Flash and Arrow, doesn’t pull in the same options. It shows an incredible amount of faith in the product to go the hard way and present Gotham to another network, rather than taking the easy route and airing it on The CW.
Of course, Warner Bros. are getting increased exposure in the deal. Not that they probably need to promote Gotham much. Batman has become such a badass icon to millions of internet users that they’d probably flock to a television adaptation. But creator Bruno Heller should be commended for not relying on the name value alone. In fact, it seems that Batman will probably not feature in the show constantly but more as a recurring character because the caped crusader is still a child at this point. It is an interesting concept to see Bruce Wayne become the Dark Knight through the eyes of James Gordon. Cop shows and nerd culture are the two big staples of modern television and Gotham manages to draw on both.
The question then is how does Gotham avoid becoming like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Actually, that’s pretty easy because Gotham has already evaded Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s biggest flaw: Joss Whedon. For the record, I like Joss Whedon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer defined a generation and formed a lot of the tropes that modern television series’ abuse. Angel was great too because for as much as it borrowed from Buffy it also carved its own path. That those were two shows that weaved seamlessly through each other. But none of Whedon’s other projects like Dollhouse or Firefly have come close to replicating that success and that’s really part of the problem; it feels like Whedon is trying to replicate Buffy.
So Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest burden was never going to be Gotham’s problem anyway. And not having a pre-existing legacy to live up to will allow Gotham to forge its own path. Heller’s previous works include co-creating Rome and his own solo creation, The Mentalist. His work on those shows reflects clear experience with unorthodox police procedural shows and programs with more highly sexualised and violent content. What really works in his favour though is that Heller is not a household name in the same way that Whedon is. Gotham could quite possibly put him on the map but few people are likely to compare Gotham to The Mentalist or Rome whereas everyone was comparing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the first episode was over.
It is unfair to nail all of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s faults and failures on to Joss Whedon and it is equally unjust to analyse Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. based entirely on its similarities to Buffy. That said, however, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t stand well on its own merits either. The show forces it does our throat that Chloe Bennet’s computer hacker Skye is special when she was really just annoying and stealing screentime from far more interesting and charming characters. Trying to intertwine the series with the cinematic universe utterly failed too. Rather than feeling rooted and connected to a wider world it felt segregated. And when it did tie into the films it was arbitrary and irrelevant, like ‘oh, look, we’re standing where Thor was standing.’ The response was a resounding meh.
Again, these are problems that Gotham should avoid by just being Gotham. As far as we know, this series won’t tie into the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice film, although who knows, maybe David Mazouz could grow up to be Ben Affleck. That could happen and it still wouldn’t affect the show’s ability to just be itself. And we know for a fact that James Gordon isn’t special so he won’t get the Skye treatment. He’ll rise to Commissioner but for Batman’s presence to be necessary in Gotham City, crime and corruption must continue to run rampant.
What might put people off Gotham is possibly the casting of Ben McKenzie in the lead role. Most people will remember McKenzie as troubled teen Ryan Atwood in The O.C. That probably isn’t the first image that comes to mind when you imagine Commissioner Gordon. However, he’s also had roles as a cop in NBC/TNT’s Southland and voiced Batman and Bruce Wayne in the animated film, Batman: Year One. It’s safe to say then that he has both experience and a familiarity with the source material.
At the end of the day though, it’ll come down to the episode to episode content and whether the writing and acting can draw the viewer into these character’s lives. This has all the makings of a great television show but I’ve said that before and been wrong. Still, it is hard not to be excited for this series and when September 22nd rolls around I will definitely be watching.