Martin Carr reviews the forth episode of Gotham season one...
Gotham hits the ground running with low cost housing and clean water initiatives for Arkham Asylum seekers…
Expectations are fragile things. In life as in art we heap our hopes upon reinvention, transformation and the ideal that things can be made better. And when those thrice rebooted incarnations turn out to be disappointing vitriol can be a hard to contain.
Many have poured their venom, malcontent and disillusionment upon the latest Batman property dreamed up by Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon. The faithful have not forgotten what Cannon did with Judge Dredd and less still have forgiven. Stallone removing his helmet and proclaiming himself the law was not only a filmic travesty, but said much to those that cared about what this director clearly felt. So it was with trepidation that people approached Gotham not only because Cannon directed the pilot, but because he was also named as executive producer.
To begin with Gotham never made its intentions clear. Batman would not, as many fans had hoped, be front and centre. Instead this world revolved around James Gordon, ably portrayed by Ben McKenzie. With classic villains and a wealth of back stories this dissuaded no one. Surely this premise was ripe with possibilities, origin stories told from an unexplored angle and opportunities a plenty for this to be, if not a landmark series, then definitely something unique. What has revealed itself in the last three weeks is a completely different animal.
Those comic book stalwarts that have not camped outside Fox with their flaming torches baying for blood can be counted on one hand. What we have here is a procedural crime drama using good character actors, functional dialogue and thematic stereotypes. Given the Batman source material available it is overwhelming how simplistic some of these episodes have been. Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney sticks out like a sore thumb. Her characterisation seems at odds with those around her unless of course that is the point. Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin and Donal Logue who portrays Harvey Bullock are more interesting than Mooney, if only for comparison purposes.
Logue is given some horrendous dialogue and seems straitjacketed into an archetypal ‘dirty cop’ persona, which does him few favours. Taylor on the other hand has carved himself a niche opposite Mackenzie’s Gordon which may well grow to overshadow all comers. He combines frailty, cunning and moments of savage violence which make his take on ‘Penguin’ both fresh and original.
Corey Michael Smith as Edward Nygma has clearly watched Jim Carrey in Batman Forever once too often. Not only do the two look alike but Smith is signposting how things will go every moment he remains on screen. His is possibly the most comic portrayal and therefore least intriguing characterisation, yet another alongside Pinkett Smith who seems lost.
So my feeling on episode four which brings Arkham Asylum into play is one of disappointment. Not because Gotham has been granted twenty two episodes, or the fact that Channel Five have picked it up in the UK, but primarily due to a lack of firm direction. Neither comic book faithful, dramatically honest, or penned with originality, Gotham is entertaining but ultimately misguided. Before a programme can be anything it must decide what it wants to be. Trying to be all things to all people can only lead to problems.