I’ve watched the first two episodes of the new tv series Gotham, and a few things spring to mind. Firstly, just how great the show looks, particularly in HD (people waiting for the inevitable Blu-ray box are in for a treat). Even today after so many quality tv shows, I always find myself surprised to see such movie-quality visuals and production values on a tv programme. I guess its impossible to shake of the memory of those cheesy 1970s shows I saw a kid. But yeah, the show looks gorgeous, from the sets and costumes to the cgi-augmented cityscapes (the city of Gotham has exteriors/skylines equal and even superior to what we saw in most of the Batman movies). I particularly appreciate that the production design nods towards Anton Furst’s wonderful work on Tim Burton’s Batman as much as it inevitably does towards Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Its got a nice pseudo-noir/1940s ‘look’ to the colour schemes of the various sets that Burton’s film featured.
Where the show doesn’t fair quite so well so far is in its storyline/general plot. It all seems overly familiar really, with a lack of real punch or surprise. Not formulaic, exactly, but I have to wonder even at this early stage how long the show will be able to sustain itself over a number of seasons. The series is basically a ‘prequel’ to the Batman saga of the movies and even (at a stretch) the 1960s tv show. It begins with Bruce Wayne being orphaned, a traumatic event familiar to comics readers and film-fans the world over, but instead of seguing a decade or so to when Wayne finally returns as the Caped Crusader, this show tells the story of those intervening years in Gotham, in which the young Detective James Gordon tries (and ultimately fails) to clean up the corrupt, crime-ridden city. Fine for one season, maybe two, but beyond that? I don’t know. Consider me sceptical at the moment. If, say, a period of time was clearly passing (that season two took place five years after season one, say) then yeah, I could see it working, as we would at least see Bruce Wayne changing as he drifted more towards his playboy image whilst gestating the Batman. As it is, he’s likely to be a rather irritating young kid for quite some time before he’s likely to become remotely interesting. Maybe a scene or two during the series, of the Batman years later remembering something that is elaborated back in Gotham’s own timeline over several episodes, would help (the Dark Knight walking through Arkham Asylum, say, and pausing at a villains cell before launching into the show proper, which elaborates on that villains background?). Well, this last point brings up something else….
Gotham is evidently more interested in exploring the origins of the villains than Batman, with a number of them already being featured, particularly the Penguin. Now, I’m no expert on Batman lore (I was more into Marvel than DC as a kid) but I thought the whole ‘twist’ about Batman was that it was the very existence of the Batman that seemed to bring about the rise of all those nutty Arkham residents. You know, this crazy billionaire dressed as a bat fights crime resulting in the criminals then behaving as crazy as he does (hence the Joker and the Riddler and all the rest). The very actions of the Caped Crusader creates and reinforces the crimes/actions of the criminals that he fights. This tv series seems to shake off that concept by bringing up the crazy super-villains long before the Batman comes onto the scene. Its as if its saying that Batman will one day be the cure, when really he’s part of the problem.
Oh well, we’ll just have to see how the show goes. Its certainly promising and has quite surprised me, for all its faults. When the show was first announced I thought it would be a disaster and I still think the jury is out on all these prequels (it certainly didn’t work in the case of Caprica, even though I quite liked that show, or The Terminator Chronicles). As it stands, I think had it been runs of ten or twelve episodes each year, akin to HBOs model, it may have had a very good chance of working. But 22 episodes a year? I don’t know, I thought that was a failed concept these days after how HBO had demonstrated such success with shows like Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones etc. Just how do you maintain a high quality over 22 episodes, over so much airtime and so many scripts? Can it even be done these days (God knows Marvel found it tricky enough last year with its Agents of Shield show)? Time will tell I guess.