This is Gotham!

October 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

Image credit: DC Entertainment/Warner Bros

With ten films slated between 2016 and 2020 and three television shows this autumn, DC and Warner Bros are taking the fight to Marvel and Disney; clearly hoping to kick the post-Nolan lull. Arrow, The Flash (both to air on Sky 1) and Gotham (a coup for Channel 5) are DC’s small-screen contenders and the latter proved a mild hit, pulling in over two million viewers – big numbers in our age of multichannel Valhalla.

Gotham – you know it: the Waynes are shot, to begin with. Deaths that somehow provide the catalyst for the totemistic, monickered villains to supplant the old crime families who a run a city so corrupt that Sodom and Gomorrah would petition for twinning with it and, of course, only one man to save it. Enter James Gordon. Yes, for this is a prequel (think Smallville without the wholesomeness) and although Bruce Wayne does feature he has yet to don a cape – or learn how to shave.

A mere detective rather than a commissioner, Gordon (ably played by the ever-brooding Ben McKenzie) must walk a moral tightrope as he strives to avenge the Waynes and keep his conscience, not to mention his hands, clean on the job. The programme is a pleasing mix of police procedural and escapism; and though it can’t quite decide which one of these masters to serve, it functions well as entertainment.

The whole thing looks sumptuous and you can read more about that in The Atlantic here, but I must heartily second the suspension of disbelief required to believe Gordon could live in the sort of penthouse typically frequented by wolves of Wall Street, presumably his pot-smoking smoking-hot girlfriend is footing the bill. Furthering the cause of incredulity is the corruption of the entire city, at every level of administration and right down to the chaos on the streets – wouldn’t someone intervene? I don’t know if the federal government has the power to shut down entire cities, but surely the FBI would have some interest.

And if so corrupt, why do the police bother trying to solve any crime at all? Self interest – or self protection, at least – would be the answer of Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Donal Logue as Bullock is at once amoral and merely a gruffly charming detective who could serve as the definition of ‘hardboiled’, but is he a good guy or not? It seems to change scene by scene and this is hardly a format that provokes grand ethical conundrums. But, as they say – endlessly – ‘This is Gotham.’

The ensemble cast is surprisingly lacking in ham for a sci-fi show (I refuse to allow that ‘superhero’ is yet a television genre) – with the dreadful exception of Jada Pinkett Smith as mobstress Fish Mooney. It’s partly the fault of the script: Fish seems to spend most of her time standing around in a nightclub that does no business, grandly announcing, with each fresh arrival into her lair, things along the lines of ‘Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old friend…’ But she can still afford to take some of the blame – if only she’d take some direction.

However, three comic-inspired television series seems like small fries considering that Marvel is preparing at least five new titles; and in the meantime they still have Agents of SHIELD (Channel 4), which is popular with pinheads the world over. The first season was an egregious shambles and a chillingly cynical showcase for the wider range of products available in what I gather is known as the ‘Marvel cinematic universe’; but the second season is, well, rather better.

This can be attributed to a range of factors: firstly, the (presumably temporary) sidelining of Brett Dalton’s traitorous Agent Ward – a lack of personality does not enhance good looks, good looks are not a substitute for convincing character, no matter how terrible your childhood; secondly, Dr Whitehall is a much more pleasingly sinister head of Nazi splinter group Hydra than the previous bozo, who was happily disintegrated at the end of the last season; thirdly, there is much less of the folksy, fanboy ‘banter’ – dialogue which I can only describe as ‘Well, you know how things work in the real world? Yeah, well this is how we do it at SHIELD’, etc; and finally, that SHIELD, as an organisation, is now an underdog with its tail between its legs means that enjoying the show feels much less like supporting the ideals of 24-esque neocons.

Oh, and one more thing: Kyle MacLachan. Enough said, as they also say.

Jacob Knowles-Smith

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