As we wait for the Fox series Gotham to return from its midseason hiatus on January 5, 2015, I thought now would be a good time to address a number of issues that some viewers (including myself) are having with this Batman prequel ten episodes into its run.
Since the show's premiere back in September, Gotham has performed pretty well for Fox, earning a full season order of 22 episodes, up from the original 16. And with Fox's current ratings woes across the board, Gotham seems pretty likely to earn a Season 2, provided it can finally stop the gradual decline from the 8.21 million viewers that tuned in for the pilot to the 6.05 that watched the midseason finale "Lovecraft."
The thing is, though, in our new Golden Age of Comic Book Television, Gotham finds itself competing for attention with The Walking Dead, Arrow, The Flash, Constantine and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and often comes up lacking by comparison. There are enough talented actors and the production values are pretty top-notch, so there's simply no excuse why this series can't be considerably better than it is. With all this in mind, here are six suggestions of mine to help Gotham become the Batman prequel we deserve:
1. This isn't 1966 anymore, so lose the camp -- While Gotham is obviously a huge improvement over the Adam West Batman series, it feels like some actors are deliberately hamming it up just to make their characters stand out more. Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney is a perfect example of this, overreacting to practically everything and delivering her lines as if she's a modern-day Eartha Kitt. Donal Logue's Harvey Bullock isn't much better, shouting his disapproval of Jim Gordon's moral stances just about every chance he gets or exaggerating Bullock's streetwise nature into a cartoonish buffoon.
2. Develop Barbara Kean into an actual character -- If there's one regular character you wouldn't mind being killed off, chances are pretty damn good that it's Erin Richards' Barbara Kean. That's nothing against Richards -- she does as good of a job as the writers allow -- but her character is so tragically one-dimensional that all you can do is shake your head every time she's on screen. All Barbara seems to be good for on Gotham is lounging around the penthouse apartment all day drinking wine or smoking pot offscreen and waiting around for former/current lover Renee Montoya to tell her how horrible Gordon is just for the sake of getting back into her bed. And since Barbara is the future mother of Batgirl and James Gordon, Jr., she probably isn't going anywhere, so let her help Jim with research in his battle against police corruption or put her to work at the Wayne Foundation -- anything that gets her out of that damn penthouse.
3. Embrace the dynamic of Gotham Central -- When Gotham was first announced, Batman fans were hopeful that we would see a reasonably faithful version of Gotham Central, the police procedural comic book series from Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark exploring the world of the GCPD. And to some extent, we've gotten that, with Gordon and Bullock investigating some unusual crimes. However, while Gotham Central featured a wonderfully diverse cast of characters interacting with one another as a surrogate family, Gotham focuses primarily on Gordon and Bullock, with Major Crimes Unit detectives Montoya and Crispus Allen serving as antagonistic douchebags, and Captain Sarah Essen constantly looking confused or incompetent.
4. Amp the changes to Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne up to eleven -- One of the good things we're getting from Gotham now is the gradual shift from Gordon being a naive goody-two-shoes into a determined crusader against police corruption and Bruce Wayne taking his first awkward steps on the path to becoming Batman. When Gotham first started, Ben McKenzie was a bit of a bore as Gordon, but is finally starting to show the edge his character desperately needs. David Mazouz, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise when displaying young Bruce's emotional detachment, obsessive tendencies and resentment towards his helplessness during his parents' murder. But we need MORE of this.
5. Take the time to focus on neglected characters -- Yeah, Barbara Kean certainly falls into this category, but so do other characters -- Edward Nigma, Sarah Essen, Crispus Allen and Ivy Pepper spring to mind. We get little glimpses of them here and there, but don't really know them all that well because we need to focus on Gordon, Bullock, The Penguin, Bruce and Selina. One of the things The Walking Dead does so well is mix their big cast episodes with smaller, more personal stories focusing on two or three characters at a time. It makes the storytelling seem less repetitive, while giving neglected characters some time in the sun.
6. Kill off someone fans would never expect -- One of the biggest structural flaws in Gotham being a prequel is that you know that Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, Alfred Pennyworth, Jim Gordon, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward Nigma, etc. will never be in any sense of real danger because they continue to exist in the adult Bruce Wayne's life as Batman. Killing one major character who shouldn't be killed may piss off a few diehard comics geeks, but think of the story advantages to be gained by making the show that much more unpredictable. And hey, if you ever need to bring the character back, just introduce the immortal Ra's al Ghul and his Lazarus Pits the way Arrow is currently doing.