Good people of fanboy/girlnation there is a deep, deep divide that has been growing in our culture. Like a sinister shadow creeping in at the edges of the well-lit, comfy, closed in screen porch of our community; this split in our opinion makers threatens to shatter the relative lazy-Sunday-afternoon-with-a-Zima, a-bag-of-cool-ranch-Doritos-and-a-good-graphic-novel peace of our world. This dark debate might cause the dozing cat of our fandom to wake-up in a haze and groggily amble over to ANOTHER windowsill where the grim shade of division hasn’t yet reached.
Yes, it’s that serious.
“Oh no, I don’t want to upset the cat!” you say out loud as you read this at home or on a mobile device while on public transportation. “I know this is all metaphorical but I’m creeped out by how the cat’s tail twitches for, like, a full five minutes after it goes to sleep again!” Sweat beading on your brow. “What is this horrible schism that threatens my community at large and what can I do to stop it?” You feel your lip tremble as you envision either the total collapse of the fan culture you are deeply, hopelessly invested in, or a fuzzy tail flip-flopping (seemingly of its own will), depending on what makes your lip tremble more. “Is it the constant, emotionally charged debate over the increased presence of cosplayers at conventions?”
“Is it the rat’s nest of personal vendetta, unprofessional journalism, opportunistic charlatans, and internet trolls that has led to a pronounced dip in the quality of video games in recent years?”
“Oh, well, how ‘bout the growing pains experienced when a culture such as ours hits mainstream saturation and the new etiquette and expectations that come with a diverse demographic?” as discussed previously in this very column featuring these two porn stars…
“Ah… JJ Abrams directing Star Wars VII?”
Um… didn’t even think of that one…
We’re about 98.5% on the same page there.
“Yeah, you’re right. Well what is it then? My metaphorical Zima is reaching room temperature, and I’m sure the tail twitching indicates the cat is dreaming of killing cute little birdies. WHAT are we talking about?”
You take an angry swig from your Zima, stare coldly at me (in my imagination) then growl under your breath… “Yeah, I’ve DVR’d it, haven’t watched yet though… not sure I’m gonna.” Then go back to reading and trying not to think of dead birds and penguins.
This is the problem; Gotham seems to be divisive. Those who haven’t watched it yet feel caught between the two camps of “it’s great!” and “it sucks ass!” and being a fan of Batman in specific and comics in general you know you’re gonna be upsetting one side or the other when you finally DO watch it and have some sort of opinion. This is the downside of being part of a sub-culture; disagreements seem more personal. Your choice will have ripple effects in the community from people vehemently disagreeing with you, to people disagreeing with you slightly more vehemently. Comments will be posted, insults will be tossed around, maybe even be some blocking or unfriending will happen. But whereas saying you didn’t like “Guardians of the Galaxy” is obviously wrongheaded and deserves shunning, there is no clear popular opinion on Gotham. Its split down the middle so there is no safe popular opinion to find sanctuary in. But don’t worry I have a solution for this conundrum you, as a fan, face. But you gotta go through to get to the other side.
Of course a good deal of what I just said isn’t true. The first being that geek culture is a sub-culture. When a major network sinks millions of dead prezs’ and huge resources into, for all intents and purposes, a prequel to “Gotham Central”, a comic series that lasted three years and rarely if ever cracked the top one hundred sales charts, that says that geek culture IS mainstream culture. Fox did order the series from Warner Brothers and not the latest iteration of “Hot doctors bone sexy lawyers”. Ripple effects will be minimal and local and if nothing else will provide a new discussion topic while standing around in your comic shop not wanting to go home to a sink full of dirty dishes and an empty bed. I don’t think friendships will be broken or blood spilled over this but there is a pressure to feel you are on the RIGHT side of this argument. Primarily because saying “I told you so” is a powerful aphrodisiac. Finally, you’re allowed to not like “Guardians of the Galaxy” but you’re still wrong.
Some feel that the specter of Batman looms large and heavy over the proceedings and they wouldn’t be wrong. The mere presence of most of the characters from Gordon to Renee Montoya invoke the Bat in one way or another. That weight, the argument goes, drags down everything in the show because, ultimately, there is a Batman-sized hole that can’t be filled. Once again the argument isn’t, per se, wrong, and that is probably the most difficult hurdle show runner Bruno Heller has to clear. Gotham (the series) wouldn’t exist without Batman.
Consider this, though, the seedy, corrupt back alleys of this city, indeed the whole myth and mystique of Gotham itself, can (and logically must) exist before Batman. There is no Batman without Gotham. That is fertile territory to mess around in and if the show is playing the Bat-card heavily at the onset that’s probably because everyone is hedging their bets. The publicly stated “Which of these guys is the Joker” game is a good example of how they are playing that card; which is clever and shamelessly manipulative at the same time. Not to say the specter (the metaphor not the comic character BTW) will ever go away but as the show progresses a better balance will be struck.
Others are excited by the interpretations or fleshing out of famous characters; believe it or not Donal Logue is the first live action version of Harvey Bullock ever. Robin Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot is dead on creepy and “the man who will be the Penguin” origin is a great example of how to ground a commonly silly character from the rogues gallery. Imagine season three (usually the season where a TV show starts hitting all cylinders consistently) and Gotham introduces The Ventriloquist and Scarface to seriously creepy effect! It’s been done quite effectively before…
If you haven’t seen this, watch it. If you have, watch it again cause its F’n AWESOME!
There is debate on whether the grinning forensics expert Edward Nygma is a good move. Personally I love the idea of The Riddler being former CSI and how he joyously makes every statement a question. Which then irritates the crap out of everybody. Ham-fisted? Meh. I chuckle when he pops up. I asked my friend J.K. Woodward what he thought about Nygma as a CSI (as much as he’ll deny caring about anything J.K. is a serious Batgeek; he dressed like the Joker for his own wedding which is, by turns, awesome and demented). He said he loves it but he had to reconcile the fact that this is a whole different continuity first. Such toying around with the mythos plays more as an Easter egg to fans and utilizes the above mentioned bat-specter to good advantage.
Or you’re pissed because the cherished continuity is being borked and it doesn’t make any sense to you that all of these villains are occupying space at the same time. “Bruce Wayne was EIGHT, not twelve when his parents got ganked! I saw one complaint on twitter (I paraphrased the ganked part). Or if something like Selina Kyle going by the nickname “Kat” drives you bat-sh*%t crazy because it SO on the nose.
Once again valid points for both sides (well, the 8 or 12 thing is too wound up to be healthy).
Opinions differ on the writing as a whole also. Some of the writing is quite good; pulpy and terse with layers of paranoia and some humor too. Then there are scenes like the exchange between Montoya and Barbara in the pilot; awkward and wasteful. Not because of the lesbian element but because the exchange was sluggishly written and would’ve been awkward if it was between a man and a woman, a man and a man, dog and a cat, or Mork and Mindy. Once again the term “ham-fisted” comes up. Wasteful because a (failed) romantic triangle and the reveal of Montoya’s sexual orientation (even though known to comic readers) could be teased out over a longer period of time. A glaring mistake especially with the soapy pretensions Gotham seems to have. I think the miscalculation comes from making the show primarily about Gordon, at least seeing things through his lens instead of committing to the ensemble dynamic. It could (and probably will) be an aspect of the show that gets jettisoned when the creators figure out what works and what doesn’t.
There is even disagreement on the acting; critics are split on the level that some of the actors are performing at. I read the onion AV club reviews for both the “pilot” and “Selina Kyle” and the critic went from calling Jada Pickett Smith’s performance the best thing in the show (Pilot) to “gonna get old real fast” (Selina Kyle). That’s a whiplash inducing turn. Also, inexplicably, some critics don’t like Donal Logue as Bullock. They say the dynamic between his character and Gordon isn’t as well developed as promised. Because all that character development and relationship problems should be out of the way by the second episode, I guess. Logue freaking OWNS the screen whenever he’s on it, yes, eclipsing Ben McKenzie somewhat. But Gordon is the straight man and naturally not as boisterous by definition. McKenzie holds his own regardless, and most importantly you believe him as Gordon. As for Logue I can finally, in my mind, replace that crazy taxi cab character from 90’s MTV he used to do.
So with all this where do I fall in this debate? Do you care? I assume if you’ve gotten this far you do. Here goes…
Gotham is pretty good. The show has some work ahead of it but the foundation is solid and if the show gets the chance to find its footing us, as fans, will be talking about this show for a long time to come. If you are one of the folks that is twisted because of the re-interpretations and liberties the show is taking with your favorite characters, go with Woodward’s advice; consider it an entirely different continuity. If you just can’t do that then go back to your DVD collection of Batman the animated series, or the Batman 66 TV show, or Tim Burton’s Batman series, or Nolan’s take on the series, or read All-Star Batman, or any of the thousand other interpretations of the iconic seventy five year old character out there. Hope someday that somebody will do a non-Batman show vaguely hinting at Batman the way YOU’D do it.
Don’t hold your breath though.
If you like it, good for you, because there is every indication this show is only going to get better but it may take some time.
If you are on the fence and still wary of expressing an opinion here’s a great feint I came up with for discussions…
Pretend that Gotham has nothing to do with Batman or more precisely pretend you don’t know that Batman will spring from Gotham. If you do that you suddenly have a beautiful looking, well-acted, (mostly) well written police drama completely populated by weirdoes and nut jobs. Without Batman as part of the equation Gotham is a hyper-real, mentally unstable spin on the police procedural and organized crime shows. That alone makes Gotham stand out from the rest of the TV fodder. Gordon is restraining a dark side that gets harder to contain the more he deals with a corrupt-to-the-core city. Cobblepot is a freak that’s capable of anything. Selina is a street smart kid with a penchant for hanging on rooftops. Bullock is rotten and corrupt, but he’s likeable and still works off a fuzzy code of right and wrong. And Bruce Wayne is a scared boy that seems to be on the road to becoming a psychopath and only the guidance and help from a few concerned individual people can stave that off. Try that thought experiment and watch Gotham free of the expectations and burdens of yet another Batman story.
Then form an opinion.