Did Gotham live up to expectations? Given that the first series reached its conclusion this week, that question is on the lips of many viewers. Early episodes made it clear that is was not the gritty realism that we’ve come to know Christopher Nolan and Zack Synder for. It was lighthearted, fitting more with The CW adaptations of The Flash and Arrow than the DC films. At times though, it was goofy and cheesy, leaning more towards the days of Adam West than Michael Keaton. But, having been renewed for a second season later in the week, the indication would be ‘yes’.
But renewal does not always equal success. A series can be renewed despite low ratings because the channel hasn’t picked up enough new shows to fill the slot. Or it may appeal to a certain demographic that producers want to watch, yet draw poor overall ratings. If we were to measure success by ratings, Gotham would not come out smelling sweet. Gotham’s premiere drew a respectable eight million viewers. That grows to fourteen million when taking in DVR views. Looks good until you consider that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first season premiere was watched by twelve million, a number that reaches seventeen with DVR added in. The Gotham finale was just shy of five million viewers. That’s three million viewers who lost interest.
It is slightly unfair to blame the quality of the show. Audiences can lose interest simply because of work and social obligations. Life, and the unpredictability that comes with it, is the most common interruption of our routine. It may just happen that we no longer have time for that show that we once loved. Conversely, it may be a scheduling conflict with the network. Gotham had a pretty consistent airing pattern and even a early mid-season hiatus didn’t slow down ratings. A month long break from March until April did hurt the series though. That gap lead to a drop from six million viewers to four and a half.
So a drop in ratings doesn’t necessarily indicate that Gotham was no longer entertaining. In fact, those last few episodes were better written than some of the higher rated mid-season episodes. The focus, both of the show and Jim Gordon, on a recurring, despicable villain helped reinvigorate some characters who felt like they were constantly repeating the same moves. Milo Ventimiglia’s ‘The Orge’ serial killer was refreshingly down to earth compared to the wacky ‘Balloon-Man’ and ‘Spirit of the Goat’. This being a Batman universe, some wackiness is to be expected, but some of Batman’s best villains, such as Black Mask and Penguin, are very straight forward characters.
Speaking of Penguin, the season finale wins up with Maroni dead, Falcone retired and Fish Mooney presumed dead which leaves Penguin in charge. At this point in time, that feels rather premature. Penguin was revealed to have been in Falcone’s employ prior to working with Mooney and Maroni in the series but we’ve actually seen him do very little to gain any support. Even Butch, his right hand man, once worked for Mooney and was turned by Victor Zsasz under Falcone’s orders. Penguin is a master manipulator, even here in the early stages, but he has no basis or support to be the mafia crime boss. That may be the point. Claiming to rule and ruling are two different things and his struggle to assert his dominance will likely be a theme for next season.
If anything, I’d prefer for Gotham to dial back on how much screen time The Penguin and Bruce Wayne are given in the second season. I touched on this briefly in the Daredevil review. Between Jim Gordon, Bruce Wayne and The Penguin there’s little time to develop any criminals for Gordon to chase. There usually ends up being four stories running in any one episode: Gordon clashing with his bosses in the police department or having a relationship issue with Leslie Thompson, Bruce investigating his parent’s death or his father’s business, possibly including Selena Kyle, The Penguin almost being killed by Mooney or Maroni or caring for his mother, and the crime of the week. In the later half of the series Mooney also had her own story, a rising through the ranks of an odd frankenstein alcatraz, which often felt like a dull and random aside to the main stories.
Gotham is at its best when the story is narrowed in on one villain, such as the aforementioned ‘The Orge’. Unlike most villains in the series, Ventimiglia’s character was developed and pursued over the course of three episodes. In that way ‘The Orge’ came across as important and rounded as either The Penguin or Bruce Wayne which made the threat that he posed all the more formidable. While Gotham can’t devote three episodes to very villain, reducing the screen time of side characters would allow more time to develop the weekly villains so that they appear significant.
Bruce Wayne actually already pops up in Gotham much more than anticipated. David Mazouz is well cast and the role and I’m glad they’re making use of such a talented, young actor. However, Bruce is only twelve in the series. Even if he were to become Batman in his early 20’s, that’s a decade before we can see him don the cowl and cape. Imagining that the show can stay on air for ten years, Bruce is already displaying the intellect and deductive reasoning needed for his future detective work which means all he really has to do is learn to fight. And if the finale is to be believed, he just found the Batcave. Part of me wonders whether Gotham’s producers are so worried about being cancelled they’re rushing through these character’s overarching stories.
In terms of living up to expectations, I believe Gotham has done so. This first season has been a bit of trial and error and there is still room for improvement, but Gotham is entertaining. The writing is lighthearted and conscious of it’s audience, the acting is lively and engaging. If you can get past the more outlandish moments, you’ll find Gotham and it’s characters strangely endearing.