New Show Check-In: Jury’s Still Out on “Gotham”

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By Josh Axelrod

If you’ve noticed, this site recaps pretty much every major live-action superhero show: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.l.D,” “Arrow,” and “The Flash.” Conspicuously absent from that list is “Gotham,” FOX’s attempt to create a show in the Batman universe with Jim Gordon as its main character.

Photo courtesy of PMC Variety

As of this week, FOX has aired four episodes of “Gotham.” Usually, four episodes into a new show, you can get a sense if it’s worth sticking with or not. Said show should have either found its footing by now or at least established an identity and confidence. There are exceptions to this rule: Two of the shows listed above (“S.H.I.E.L.D” and “Arrow”) took much longer to become consistently entertaining, but the increase in quality was worth the speed bumps along the way.

This is why I’m still not ready to render a verdict on “Gotham” yet. The show is bursting with potential, but there are certain elements right now that just aren’t working. “Gotham” doesn’t need as drastic an overhaul as something like “The Mindy Project” had to go through in order to become one of TV’s funniest comedies. But something just hasn’t clicked yet, and it really needs to reach that point ASAP in order to keep me watching.

Through four episodes, the show has adopted a strategy of throwing every Batman character it can think of at us to see what sticks. So far we’ve met some major Batman players, including Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) and more. We’ve even gotten allusions to the likes of Poison Ivy and The Joker.

And a lot of the characters I just mentioned are only in the background so far. There’s Jim’s partner, crooked cop Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue); his strangely moody wife Barbara (Erin Richards); minor crime boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith); major crime bosses Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas); Gotham’s Mayor Aubrey James (Richard Kind); AND I COULD GO ON BUT I WON’T.

There are so many characters on this show it’s hard to remember who we’re supposed to care about sometimes. This gets even harder when you realize that Gotham’s Police Department is hilariously corrupt. Seriously, these “officers of the law” pick and choose what cases they think are worth looking into and are basically wrapped around the crime lords’ fingers. You wonder why any citizen of Gotham would ever trust a cop when they’re just as likely to screw them over as a petty thug.

The show is set up as a crime-of-the-week show with a bigger conspiracy going on involving the crime families, Arkham Asylum and the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. So far, our villains have been nothing more than low-level criminals or assassins. Though there was one dude who killed people by tying them to balloons and letting them float to their deaths. That was entertainingly brutal.

The performances are okay. Jim Gordon is by far the most boring character on the show, though that’s not Ben McKenzie’s fault. He just happens to be the most straight-laced person in a city full of crazy people. But he doesn’t have Agent Coulson’s sense of humor, Barry Allen’s whimsical streak or Oliver Queen’s general badassery. He’s just bland.

The standouts so far have been Taylor’s take on The Penguin and Logue’s Harvey Bullock. Oswald Cobblepot is a sniveling rat who also happens to be a homicidal maniac and a master of manipulation. His body count is the highest on the show so far, and some of his kills have been brutal by network TV standards. Taylor plays him so that you can tell underneath his demure exterior lies a power-hungry psychopath.

Bullock appears to be the only “good” character on this show who really understands how to play the game. He’s as crooked as they come, but he is usually trying to do the right thing. Bullock has also saved Gordon’s life on multiple occasions, which has to count for something. You can tell behind Logue’s eyes that Harvey wants to be a good cop, but he also has no problem getting dirty for the greater good.

So to recap: We have a freshman case-of-the-week crime show with a bland hero, way too many characters and a comically corrupt police force that is playing with a lot of good ideas and two genuinely fascinating performances by Taylor and Logue. And the show hasn’t even introduced its take on Harvey Dent and Victor Zsasz yet. Oy vey.

I really want to like this show, but I’m not ready to go all in on it yet. I’ll check back in four more episodes and let you know if it’s worth a look or not. For now, if you’re looking to check “Gotham” out, just know that it’s a frustrating show with the potential for greatness. It just needs to figure out what it wants to be.

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