Earlier this week, Fox TV Show Gotham reached its mid season conclusion. The show, which details the events of Detective James Gordon in the crooked police force prior to the arrival of Batman, will return in January but, thus far, prospects are looking good. I was being cautious in my optimism when I previewed the show back in September, given that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasted what I felt was vast potential. Of course, it still got a second season and it’s not really close to getting cancelled so it wasn’t that bad.
In regards to the numbers, Gotham is beating Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the ratings by virtue of about two million viewers. That’s actually a bit misleading though. When compared to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first season, Agent’s tenth episode actually did better than Gotham, though not by much. It might be worth noting though that Agent’s fell further, having drew over twelve million for the pilot before dropping to about six million for the mid season. Gotham started lower, at eight million but quickly leveled out to somewhere in the region of six million.
What that suggests is that Gotham has managed to hold on to most of it’s initial viewers. Two thirds of the viewers who tuned into the pilot are still hanging around to see the adventures of Benjamin McKenzie as Detective James Gordon. But it’s also useful in predicting the future by suggesting that by this time next year when Gotham is in its second season, it may have shed a further third. But that doesn’t necessarily matter. If Gotham goes to Netflix in the interim between seasons, it could pick up a strong online viewership and following that could keep it afloat despite fletching ratings, or could even help to improve ratings. Netflix was a big reason for Breaking Bad’s surge in popularity.
Ratings are not a reason to watch a show, however. Gotham’s premise is strong and it allows for some good stories. The story of Detective James Gordon coming up the ranks and cleaning up the police force in the years prior to Batman draws from the comic book arc ‘Batman: Year One’, written by Frank Millar, but with one notable change. No Batman. So often in Batman films and programmes and comics, we are told that Gotham is corrupt and needs Batman. Gotham presents that city and we begin to see how much it needs Batman’s intervention as Gordon struggles to enforce justice, constantly taking one step forward and falling two steps back.
Part of the problem I had with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was that it never truly detached itself from the wider universe. The team would spend episodes going on cool sounding missions but those missions always had something to do with Extremis or they would talk about Thor and Captain America, basically reminding the audience of the more exciting things going on that this team isn’t a part of. It was like someone wrote a fanfiction where they and their friends were friends with the Marvel superheroes but the superheroes never show up. It gets boring when you’re watching a show for it’s special guest appearances.
As I said in my preview, Gotham avoids that issue by virtue of just being itself. Gotham can actually give us Batman, albeit the innocent boy version but that’s an interesting story in of itself. Viewers know the story of Bruce Wayne training to become Batman, but Gotham explores how seeing his parents murdered drives the boy to become a crime fighter. How did he become the world’s greatest detective? Gotham shows him poring over police files and analysing crime scenes. When did he begin to develop his physical strength and ability? Gotham reveals that Bruce was bullied and asks Alfred to teach him to fight. It’s very compelling to see Bruce Wayne growing into Batman.
The actors themselves are great, with David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee and Robin Lord Taylor as the standouts among the cast. Mazouz plays Bruce with surprising deftness considering his age and Pertwee manages to strike a well maintained balance of mentor, authority figure and servant which draws audiences into scenes without stealing the spotlight. Taylor too is truly creepy as Oswald Cobblepot, already known as The Penguin. Outside of those three I have seen praise for Jada Pinkett Smith and criticism of Benjamin McKenzie. My feelings are to the contrary. Personally, I believe McKenzie brings an earnestness to the role that makes him genuine and sympathetic. Furthermore, the show hasn’t given him much range to display other than gritted determinism and frustration. Pinkett Smith, on the other hand, often comes across as over the top.
That might be a problem with the tone of the show rather than the fault of Pinkett Smith’s acting. There is an issue in that at times the writers want Gotham to be gritty and realistic, like the recent Christopher Nolan trilogy, but then it veers towards Adam West territory by introducing villains such as ‘Balloonman’ who kills his victims by strapping them to weather balloons. It’s true that Batman has his fair share of silly villains and comical stories but they generally vary from writer to writer, not from scene to scene.
So far Gotham has been enjoyable to watch. There’s an obvious shelf life on the story, given that at some point Bruce Wayne has to disappear for training. If he waits too long, characters such as Harvey Dent and Edward Nygma, who are already several years older than the boy, will be old men by the time he takes up the mantle of Caped Crusader. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the journey and look forward to the change of scenery as Gordon takes up a security position in the newly opened Arkham Asylum.