For the first half of this season of Gotham, I wrote a weekly post (at my former employer) listing how many times I laughed out loud during the previous night’s episode. For ten episodes, Gotham was the most unintentionally funny show on television. I swear I wasn’t “hate watching,” because I genuinely enjoyed watching Gotham. It made me laugh! Who doesn’t like laughing? And early in the season, I wrote that I wish Gotham would just embrace its campy side and own it – because, at this point, haven’t we seen enough serious adaptations of Batman? (No fan of “serious” Batman feels underrepresented in 2015.) Gotham could have been something different.
The point of all of this is that the plan was to continue that “times I laughed out loud” feature today, but last night’s episode, “Rogues’ Gallery,” was devoid of laughs. This is not to say Gotham is all of a sudden good, it’s just the one thing that made it watchable (at least for me), its unintentional hilarity, is gone. Gotham is now just a boring show that wants to be taken seriously, but doesn’t know how.
In “Rogues’ Gallery,” Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has been reassigned to Arkham Asylum and stumbles upon a mystery. Someone is attacking the prisoners and Jim must discover the culprit – and he does this by leading an investigation that finds him interviewing all of the staff members and inmates (in a tone-deaf montage that highlights each of their mental illnesses). Then the show ends with a mob boss shooting another mob boss in what felt a poor man’s rip-off of The Sopranos, with blood all over the car window and everything. Remember, this is a show that in the third episode featured a villain named Balloonman. Also: remember, this is a show that is supposedly about Batman.
OK, right, it’s not about Batman. And, yes, Jim Gordon is the main character. I get it! Oh, trust me, I get it. But here’s a series that’s using Batman’s peripheral characters, yet an actor who is 13 years old plays Bruce Wayne. Why couldn’t Bruce have just been a little older? I get they wanted to play up the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne (poor Thomas and Martha), but if from there the show jumped forward a few years to when Bruce were, say, 16 years old, maybe we could watch him train to become Batman … or at least watch him do something interesting like take his drivers test, or something. Who wants to wait three more years for this to happen? (For the record: the future Batman didn’t even appear in last night’s episode.)
The failings of Gotham get exacerbated when compared to another DC property that’s being handled well, The Flash. You see, the showrunners of The Flash didn’t decide to do a show about what The Flash was like when he was going through puberty. There’s no moment when we meet a little kid playing with ice or messing around with mirrors and think, “Someday that’s going to be a super villain. I bet someone will enjoy watching that one day.”
Instead, we get a show about what the The Flash is like when he’s The Flash. And, you know what? It’s fun! I actually can’t believe how much I’ve been enjoying The Flash. It’s everything Gotham should be: Light, entertaining, intentionally funny at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously, has interesting and likable characters, knows what it wants to be, and actually features a superhero.
(At this point, how does any person in a position of power at a television network or a movie studio listen to any pitch that starts, “You know that character that everyone loves? So, in my idea, he’s a little kid.” Honestly, how does that sentence not get someone escorted out by security?)
At this point, my best hope for Gotham is that it just becomes unintentionally funny again. At least that was an enjoyable experience. What we have now is a show that so desperately wants to be taken seriously, but in the process lost the one thing it had going for it: its ludicrousness. Now, Gotham is just boring.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.