On Monday, the inaugural season of Gotham finally came to a close. Everybody who sat and snarked through it can raise a glass to this accomplishment. Everybody who tapped out early … well I can’t really blame you. Gotham was the least necessary comic book TV show in a crowded field because it’s the epitome of prequelitis. It has a solid cast (Robin Lord Taylor, Donal Logue, and Camren Bicondova are its MVPs) but the quality of its episodes yo-yos from scene to scene. It’s definitely not the complete trainwreck that many suspected it would end up, although that’s still damning with faint praise. Whether it’s the TV program we need or deserve, Gotham has already been renewed for season 2 because anything Batman-related is a license to print money (except Beware The Batman).
The upside to this is that the showrunners can look back at the entire first season and fix what didn’t work. SPOILER ALERT! There was a Batcave full of stuff that didn’t really work in Gotham. Nevertheless, Gotham still had enough charm that it’s worth salvaging. While I enjoy schadenfreude as much as the next misanthrope, here are ten constructive suggestions for how to knock season two of Gotham out of the park (because balls get knocked out of parks with bats. Do you get it? DO YOU GET IT?).
10) Remember Montoya And Allen Exist
Lots of fans were disappointed that we got an unnecessary prequel to Batman rather than a direct adaptation of Gotham Central. On the upside, Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen, two of Gotham Central’s main characters, still appeared in the pilot. Whereas Harvey Bullock is more ethically flexible on the show than the comics, this duo remains even more incorruptible than Mounties. They even saved Gordon’s ass from Mr. Zsasz when the rest of the force chickened out. So when Gordon needed more backup than Bullock, he called in …Harvey Dent, the Assistant District Attorney who botched the Wayne case so badly that Gordon got demoted. (He really wanted to usurp Laurel Lance as DC’s worst TV ADA.) Really, Jim? The fact that Victoria Cartagena and Andrew Stewart-Jones are credited for every episode makes Montoya’s and Allen’s disappearance from the narrative even more puzzling.
Season two needs to have plenty of Montoya and Allen to make up for this oversight. Not only do these fan-favorite partners provide much needed diversity, it just makes sense for Gordon to have them on speed dial. Jim Gordon went to the Ned Stark School of Lawful Goodness, so he really needs all the honest cops he can muster looking out for his neck while he weeds out corruption. Giving Gordon competition for “the smartest cop in the room” could help them all seem less stiff and the GCPD less incompetent. They’ve also become The Question and The Spectre in the comics, so they’d be the ideal way to introduce legit superheroes while we’re waiting on Bruce to finish puberty.
9) Commit To More Arkham Asylum
One of the most iconic elements of the Batman mythos is Arkham Asylum. It’s even got a popular video game series named for it! Reopening Arkham was as major plot point of the first half of the season, and getting Gordon demoted to a security guard there was a novel way to show us its inner workings. Unfortunately, this development lasted for only a single episode. Out of all the on-the-nose references shoehorned in, why didn’t they milk this one for all its worth? This type of setting worked wonders for American Horror Story and Hannibal.
Arkham is ripe to be mined for stories because it’s probably the only institution more corrupt and broken than the GCPD. Gotham bends over backwards trying to figure out how to introduce famous villains early when Arkham Asylum is the most elegant solution. It’s already canon that it employed such rogues as Professor Hugo Strange, Harley Quinn, Lock-Up, Scarecrow, and Black Mask II. How about showing how someone like The Ventrilloquist’s insanity actually became exacerbated thanks to the therapy of such esteemed professionals? They could do an episode about cops looking for escapees being lost in a maze of secret passages linking its cells that aren’t on any of the blueprints. Why not confirm that the Asylum is a nexus point for all the disturbed spirits that impair the mental health of the city’s inhabitants? Hey, if they’ve already done episodes on proto-Venom and Fear Toxin, I see no reason they should draw the line at the supernatural.
8) Wayne Enterprises Shouldn’t Be Just Banally Evil
Bruce Wayne and his tragic gravitas have been snooping around Wayne Enterprises for connections to his saintly parents’ homicide for almost a whole season without making much progress. Its Board of Directors (including the improbably named Bunderslaw) is shown to be up to no good. A lazy show would tie the two together by making the Board have put a hit on his folks so that it could continue its illegal side ventures in peace. The show is heavily implying that’s what went down, but that’d be lame. If Bruce discovers his folks were killed by the Board, it’d shift his vengeance crusade to stamping out corporate malfeasance. Nobody wants to see him grow up to fulfill his life’s mission with lawsuits instead of Batarangs. If the Board did it and Bruce didn’t figure it, out it’d be an insult to his future reputation as World’s Greatest Detective. (I’m certain Alfred gave him a coffee mug with that written on it.) So the real culprit should remain a third party that Bruce can never directly avenge himself upon.
Aside from that, the Board needs to distinguish itself from other evil corporations. If it’s manufacturing the precursor to supersoldier steroid on the sly just to generate slightly more income than they do legally, that’d be both clich? and dull. The conspiracy has been built up too much to make that a satisfying payoff. Nobody wants to hear “It was just business, Bruce.” As Gotham is set in a comic book inspired world it has extra leeway to eschew Occam’s Razor. So how about Wayne Enterprises is secretly a front for the Order of St. Dumas and it wants to perfect Venom so it can make the ultimate Azrael? (Think Assassin’s Creed before Assassin’s Creed. In a parallel universe DC licensed Azrael as a successful video game franchise.) Seeing a live-action Azrael in full regalia with flaming arm blades would definitely give this show a visual jump start it desperately needs. Oh, and the Board could also be trying to summon the demon Barbatos Doesn’t this dead-end subplot sound marginally interesting now?
7) Make The Women Matter
The focal point troika of Gotham has been Jim Gordon, Bruce Wayne, and Oswald Cobblepot. This isn’t surprising, given that it’s inspired by the male-centric Batman. It’s no excuse, however, not to provide meaty parts for actresses that will resonate with viewers. Unfortunately Gotham didn’t do so well on that. The writers didn’t know what to do with Barbara so she cycled through bland, nagging, victim, hot mess, and psychopath. Nobody minded when she was missing, and she was her most compelling when she had a meta moment of clarity about how much the universe hates her. Crime boss Fish Mooney was a love or hate character based on her unabashedly campy delivery (I support anyone who vamps like Eartha Kitt) and ability to make everybody else in the room spontaneously lose sixty IQ points. She’s now out of the picture since she’s served her purpose as a glorified stepping stone on Cobblepot’s rise to power. Dr. Leslie Thompkins is fine since she’s competent and helps move plots forward, but it still seems insulting that the show decided the best way to include Batman’s surrogate mother was to make her Gordon’s girlfriend. (I guess if she were Alfred’s girlfriend instead Bruce would never become a vigilante because his homelife would be too stable and loving.) Captain Sarah Essen is a bit part because she’s not Gordon’s second wife in this continuity … yet. Kristen Kringle exists solely to spur Edward Nygma into becoming the Riddler.
The best woman on the show is Selina Kyle. They’ve captured her flippant, amoral personality perfectly so she really does feel like a younger Catwoman. She plays off young Bruce excellently without being tied to or defined by him. (It helps that both are too young to hook up so we’re saved from the version of their relationship where Batman gives her a pass on all her crimes just because she puts out, which does neither of them any favors.) Teen Catwoman already being an acrobatic cat burglar explains her criminal prowess much better than the Year One origin. Selina is able to effortlessly slink in and out of different subplots, but I’d love to see her be upgraded to a major player with storylines of her own for season two.
So the women in this series need to be more like li’l Catwoman. It’ll help if they’re written consistently (Gotham has come dangerously close to Heroes-style character assassination) and given worthwhile things to do. How about Thompkins and Kringle team up to expose Nygma for a forthcoming crimespree? I don’t know if Barbara is returning as a series regular, but she’d be more fun to watch as an unrepentant villainess. Renee Montoya needs a girlfriend who’s not a flake. Maybe some flashbacks could flesh out Martha Wayne so she’s more than just a pearl necklace married to the world’s noblest dad. How about introducing Cassandra Cain? It’d be way too early for her to become Batgirl, but a mute ninja teen looking for redemption is already a great character hook by itself.
6) Up the Anarchy
The culmination of the long-simmering mob war ended in spectacularly anticlimactic fashion in the season finale. Maroni is dead, Fish is probably dead, Falcone is retired, and Oswald Cobblepot is Gotham’s self-proclaimed King of Crime. After Gordon made a big deal about saving Falcone as the necessary evil to keep order in the city, Gordon has become pretty blas? about how the whole situation panned out. (He also forgot that he wanted to put Maroni behind bars about a dozen episodes ago.) Actually, this episode’s resolution would’ve worked well as a series finale because most of the characters have picked the roads they’ll be on by the time Bruce becomes Batman. The problem is you can’t leave that kind of level status quo so far in advance and still expect audiences to be excited about what’s to come.
Season one should’ve ended on a note of chaos. Just because Penguin says he’s won, doesn’t mean any of the more established crimesters will support him. Won’t there be even more contenders come scurrying out of the woodwork? Who’s going to take care of the GCPD’s graft now? How will Gordon keep himself safe now that Commissioner Loeb knows he was involved in this debacle? Will the streets of Gotham be overtaken with a record crime spree now that it’s every crook for themselves? Maybe Gotham’s civilians really were safer before Gordon unilaterally decided to throw a spanner into the works of corruption without regards to the consequences. This is the sort of frenetic paradigm shifting action that needs to set season two in motion! If Gotham City feels too safe then it doesn’t need Batman.
And since Gotham is about as subtle as a 100-foot-tall neon sign that says “SUBTLETY!”, they might as well throw Anarky into the mix. (The angry teen activist version, not the Joker dressed as Moon Knight one.) It’ll be hamfistedly topical.
5) Proper Pacing Is Paramount
Executive producer Danny Cannon explained “Once the ball started rolling on all these characters, and Commissioner Gordon’s journey and Bruce Wayne’s journey, once we figured that out we spread it out to fit those 16. If they were to change the order, we would have an emergency meeting.” Guess which show got a pickup for twenty-two episodes?
To say Gotham’s pacing was all over the map would be an understatement. Early case resolutions were rushed in single episodes, making them feel disposable rather than intriguing. Barely any time was spent at Arkham Asylum. Irrelevant subplots were tacked on to tread water. The season-long build up to the gang war was perfunctorily settled in the season finale. They even had a two-week time skip within that episode to avoid depicting it in any sort of exciting detail! Meanwhile, we had a three episode arc devoted to the Ogre, a grab bag of TV’s least interesting serial killer clich?s!
Gotham would work better as a tightly plotted series with fewer episodes than a typical network show. Unfortunately it looks like Fox will be ordering a standard twenty-two episodes for next season too. At least the writers should know this going into season two and should be rigorously mapping everything out. They had better have learned their lessons about wasting viewer’s time on bland stuff and whizzing through the things they’d want to see. Figure out where Gotham’s awesome is and allot ample screentime to it. In other words, don’t devote multiple episodes to Gordon changing phone companies and only two minutes to Basil “Clayface” Karlo rigging the set of The Gray Ghost with booby traps in an attempt to kill and replace star Simon Trent.
4) The Villains Should Stand Out
Batman has THE BEST rogue’s gallery because his obsessive villains have unique MOs that hold up a mirror to Batman. Gotham wasted no time cramming a bunch of notorious crooks into its first episode, but because this is set about two decades pre-Batman they couldn’t be fully formed supervillains. So how do you have the GCPD defeat notorious newbie ne’er-do-wells without making Batman look unnecessary? The mob war running throughout the season was the most consistently good storyline, although mobsters aren’t that exotic on TV. They’ve had a few one-off gimmick villains that were bland (mostly because they weren’t given enough time for characterization), which is exactly what you don’t want in this city. What’s the point of adapting an obscure foe like the Ogre if you’re not going to give him an ape sidekick with a penchant for graffiti?
Towards the season’s end, Edward Nygma was set on the path of becoming the Riddler when he stabbed the his unrequited crush’s abusive boyfriend to death in a fit of pique. Barabara Kean became 1,000 times less boring when she became stab-happy too. (“Psychotic bisexual ex-girlfriend” is tropey but I’ll allow it because he character was pointless before and anyone who’s seen her episode of Misfits knows Erin Richards plays homicidal well.) The problem with these developments is we’ve already got Oswald Cobblepot sadistically shanking anyone who provokes him. Mr. Zsasz excels at both stabbing and shooting folks too. Both gunplay and stabbings are so common in both reality and TV that Gotham doesn’t stand out by making its antagonists fit the same profile found in countless police procedurals. It should be taking advantage of its roots by making them unlike pedestrian perps and unique from each other.
It’s not as if the show doesn’t have any experience with this. My favorite example of them getting it right was the Balloonman, a disheartened social worker who killed people poisoning the city by handcuffing them to weather balloons. Now plenty of people outright hated this episode, but it seems like they missed the point. The Balloonman felt like a goofy Silver Age villain taken to his logical, horrifying conclusion by having his victims freeze to death in the atmosphere. Now that’s a novel means of murder! (How the balloons stayed in orbit over the city for days is a different issue.) Not only that but his cynical vigilantism was a dark reflection of what Gordon and Bruce Wayne could be. Even if I still haven’t convinced you he was a worthy villain you’ll have to concede he’s at least a memorable one.
So, let’s see the Riddler’s next crimes be less rage murders and more calculated mind games. How about finally giving his assistants, Echo and Query, some mass media exposure? The next time Penguin skewers or shoots somebody it should be with an umbrella. Kingsmen: The Secret Service reminded folks how cool tricked John Steed brollys could be, so don’t leave Cobblepot in the lurch. To make Barbara more compelling, give her a more idiosyncratic insanity. I wouldn’t even mind if they redeemed two birds with one stone by making her the genderswapped version of Killer Moth, Crazy Quilt, or Spellbinder. If they apply themselves, the writers can even transform Barbara into a top notch supervillainess!
3) No More Exiles To Dumb Subplots
One of Gotham’s most egregious faults was schlepping characters off to dumb subplots just to pad out the season. There were literally entire sequences with main characters spread across multiple episodes that could be cut completely without negatively affecting the story. That they happened to both of the main female characters makes it even worse. (Penguin’s beer run and Bruce wasting everyone’s time with a hiking misadventure without falling into the Batcave were rare and shorter exceptions to this gender disparity.) In the case of Barbara, she just gets rejected by various loved ones while the A, B, C, and D plots chug along. None of the characters, especially ex-fianc? Gordon, care about her travails so why should the audience? It does hint at Barbara killing her parents later, but so little time is spent making her intriguiging that it’s still irrelevant.
As an original character, Fish Mooney was a solid villainess for the show…or at least she was until she fell into the dumbest subplot. Whilst fleeing the city after her coup backfires, she’s shanghaied to Dr. Francis “The Dollmaker” Dullmacher’s (Barton Mathis didn’t have enough nominative determinism) island to be used for spare parts. I can buy Fish as an established mob boss, but the way she easily asserted control in her new situation broke even the flimsiest suspension of disbelief the show had left. Dollmaker gave her a job in his black market medical spa for the wealthy (why can’t they afford to visit a licensed one?) after she scooped out her own eye and stepped on it for spite. It was a fun scene to watch, but it made no sense from a leverage standpoint since he has a whole basement full of people with eyes and he doesn’t need her alive to harvest her other organs.
She alternates between betraying and rescuing the other unwilling donors, then she escapes while appearing to be fatally shot just so that Penguin could personally kill her in Gotham City. Dollmaker, who’d been foreshadowed as a major player since episode two, doesn’t tie into the finale, so the entire escapade just made people mad Fish hadn’t been several killed episodes sooner. The show actually makes more sense if you fast forward through all the Dollmaker island bits.
Dear Gotham writers, a subplot is dumb if it meets most of the following criteria: a main character is completely isolated from the other main characters; the scenario is boring or unbelievable in real life; the scenario isn’t creative in the context of the fictional universe; consistent characterization is absent; it exists primarily to fill airtime rather than drive character or plot; and it doesn’t directly or thematically tie into the overarching plot in a substantial way. I know you’ve got a big cast, but it’s better if you don’t waste our time cramming all of them into each episode if you can’t think of something meaningful for them all to do. Now don’t let it happen again.
2) Don’t Go Grimdark!
A common complaint about the first season was its tonal whiplash that ranged from grisly to campy. Picking a single tone would seem like an obvious solution, and based on the popularity of Frank Miller’s comics and Chris Nolan’s movies, the public responds well to Batman stories that are dark and serious. Netflix’s Daredevil wowed everybody with its gritty street level superheroics, and even DC’s neophyte shared-movie universe appears to have a one-way ticket to Dour Town. So Gotham’s second series should be serious business, right? WRONG!!!
The fact that Gotham was off-kilter from what the public expected of a modern Batman show is one of the key factors that makes it endearing. When The LEGO Movie perfectly skewers Batman’s brooding image, you know that a grimdark tone is completely played out. Gotham City is a weird town full of weirdos, and the show is at its most interesting when it highlights this. It’s not the kookiness that was undermining Gotham but the lazy writing underneath it.
Gotham’s hit and miss scripts would be utterly unbearable if the show took itself too seriously. Even Nolan’s Bat-films become insufferably pretentious when they refuse to embrace the absurd. So take a page out of The Joker’s book and embrace the madness! It comes with Julian Sands nefariously stroking a pig in broad daylight!
Just look at season three of (Green) Arrow for an object lesson in not going full grimdark. What used to be dynamic escapism is now a morose slog to sit through. You really don’t want to watch Gordon constantly brood about the futility of his efforts for twenty-two episodes. If that happens you won’t be sipping booze to help the snark flow. You’ll be guzzling it to black out before an angst-ridden Gotham makes you clinically depressed.
1) Know When To Break with Canon
So far Gotham has introduced us Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Barbara Kean, Sarah Essen, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward Nygma, Carmine Falcone, Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, Alfred Pennyworth, Ivy Pepper (ahem, Pamela Isely), Sal Maroni, Leslie Thompkins, Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Victor Zsasz, Gillian Loeb, John and Mary Grayson, Jack Buchinsky, Aaron Danzig (Helzinger in the comics), Jonathan Crane, Tommy Elliot, Arnold Flass, and Lucius Fox. What do all of these characters have in common besides their hometown? They’re all supposed to be active by the time Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, which should be in about twenty seasons. (The foreshadowing on The Flash’s future newspaper doesn’t look so agonizing in comparison.) So it’s going to be tough to make an engaging show when so many characters have plot armor for the duration. Granted Maroni has already been snuffed out before he could scar Dent, but he’s not irreplaceable. So either Gotham has to take lots of liberties with these characters’ lives or introduce a boatload of brand new characters with which to screw.
Gotham has to feature lots of Batman mythology to keep fans interested this far in his past, but the premise of the show prevents it from just being about Batman fighting crime in costume. This was also Smallville’s major shortcoming. But, despite what all the marketing would have you believe, does Gotham necessarily need to be an elongated origin story? I mention “canon” frequently in this article, but this is DC Comics were talking about here. They reboot continuity more often than my cat licks itself. So why play it boring and safe? Normally I’m a staunch advocate for slavish adaptations, but since there’s never a shortage of Batman mass media I’ll make an exception. Most hardcore fans and critics hate it already, so it’s not like it’d really hurt. They might even win a few back by having the gumption to do something new.
Of course the tricky part is knowing which aspects of the mythos to play around with. Changing Poison Ivy’s real name doesn’t really affect the narrative, but it’s also an incredibly pointless change that just draws attention to itself. Ditto removing the mustaches of many of the characters because not shaving is such an exciting character moment that can’t be blown prematurely. The last-scene reveal of Thomas Wayne already having a secret cave sanctorum beneath his mansion could go either way depending upon how much agency it removes from Bruce. What if next season Bruce gets squashed by a giant penny leaving cantankerous Alfred to don the Batsuit? Nobody would see that coming! Is that taking things a bit too far in the opposite direction? Okay, how about the city is invaded by the extradimensional forces of Zurr-En-Arrh with Martha Wayne’s long lost Man-Bat formula the only key to salvation? That might just be crazy enough to work!
You may remember Matthew Catania from such Daily Lists as
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