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'Gotham': 7 ways it could be better

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GOTHAM FISH MOONEY

Gotham is easily one of the fall’s best new shows, but it’s not perfect. The sets and costumes? Gorgeous. The acting? Frequently quite good for a comic-book drama (granted, that’s not a high bar). The action? Surprisingly engaging even without the Bat. And yet, when constructing this big of a bold comic-book universe in primetime, there’s always going to be some elements that could be better. Here are my suggestions:

Dial back the overacting: This is the most shout-y show since The Goldbergs. Why is everybody freaking out so often? It’s like the GCPD’s coffee pot is spiked with Bane’s ‘roid rage venom. I can’t imagine Ben McKenzie wants to spend every scene looking like he’s having an anxiety attack. Donal Logue isn’t being used as well as he could be — he’s a great actor, with a potentially fine character, yet frequently comes off cartoonish. 

Let characters escape their play-sets: Is Jim Gordon’s girlfriend Barbara trapped in their penthouse living room? She’s there pretty much every episode, looking supportive by firelight. Same with Bruce Wayne in his study (with another roaring fire!). And Fish Mooney in her club. I know it costs money to build new sets, but it’s getting downright weird that these characters are almost always in the same room every week. The other side to this coin is—

Quit putting every actor in nearly every episode: This element actually improved last week, which saw a couple characters benched, and I hear Gotham gets even more focused tonight (no Fish). But Gotham has often felt a need to check in with every significant character in its large cast in every episode whether they’re integral to the plot or not. It’s a very producer-y concern — you’re paying these actors, you better give each something to do. As an audience, we don’t care. Focus on telling the best story, ditch the obligatory appearances.

Introduce new iconic villains slowly: Gotham rightly received criticism for jamming too many big name villains into its pilot. Thankfully, there have haven’t been any new ones since (not counting the routine bad guy of the week). But we’ve now heard about plans for Mr. Freeze, Harvey Dent and Harley Quinn coming soon-ish. As excited as I am about Quinn, I’m wary overall because we barely know the villains already in the show. Each gets only a few minutes per episode. What’s the rush? (And please don’t bring in the Joker this season).

Sex, perhaps?: Does anybody enjoy sex in Gotham? Or even have a strong romance going on? Fish Mooney is the only character who seems to have a functioning libido. The Barbara/Montoya ex-lesbian lover thread feels unconvincing. Jim and Barbara seem to have post-work meetings, not a love life — are they ever actually affectionate? And frankly: Does the Penguin have a penis? Or is he asexual? Maybe I’m getting ahead of things here as we’re only a month into the show.

Less procedural, maybe: Gotham has done a surprisingly good job of inserting case-of-the-week stories into a serialized-ish show. The cases tend to echo beyond their single episodes and impact characters in notable ways. This is a really tough balancing act to pull off. But as viewers, we don’t need a case every week.

Stop preaching about The Battle for Gotham’s Soul: Heavy speechifying about the how the city needs salvation is fine for a two-hour movie or the show’s pilot, but it’s not something you can indulge in every week. Let’s never again have a line of dialog like this one from Bruce Wayne: “My parents believed the new asylum would bring hope to Gotham.” Did they? Did they really? Not jobs or an NFL franchise or an In-N-Out Burger, but a mental institution?

Destroy canon: Okay, this last entry makes this post eight ways to improve the show instead of seven. But you’re not the blog police, right? And this is a biggie. This would really make the entire Gotham audience lean in: Kill an “un-kill-able” character. Not right now. Maybe in the first season finale. Because the assumption is — and the producer seemed to agree this assumption was accurate — that most of the characters on Gotham can never die. That’s a problem in a dark show with life-and-death stakes in every episode. For instance: Because Batman eventually fights the Penguin, Jim Gordon cannot kill the Penguin (note: I’m not suggesting killing the Penguin). I loved showrunner Bruno Heller’s dry reply to this concern at press tour last summer: “It’s a sad thing when you can only build tension by killing people.” It’s an excellent point. But most successful dark serialized ensemble dramas have a “no one is safe” policy (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, etc). And Gotham tries to generate suspense in every episode by putting iconic characters in danger. If this show were to sacrifice one of them, fans would flip out, and it would send a clear signal to the audience: You think you know how this story goes, you are wrong.

Hey, let’s do a poll, get some of your feedback. Which of these seven eight points do you most agree with? You can pick up to TWO choices.

UPDATE: Interestingly, tonight’s episode seemed to improve upon several of these notes. “Spirit of the Goat” was less shout-y, more focused on one character (Bullock) while omitting others (Fish). Barbara and Bruce were both in their playsets (with Bruce getting the roaring fire this week), but Barbara also escaped for an additional outdoor scene. And I realize the poll shows that few seem to agree with my “sex, perhaps?” note, The Penguin declared he doesn’t date before he took his creepy mom-bath, so we’re making some inroads on that front too. There was, however, at least one line about how The City Needs Saving.