‘Gotham’ Should Embrace Its Campy Side
This past Friday night, I may have overindulged myself slightly – at least enough that on Saturday morning I found myself laying in bed with no real motivation to do much of anything but lay in bed. That morning, IFC was showing a mini-marathon of the ‘Batman’ television series from the ‘60s, and threw a combination of curiosity and resignation, I watched. And I watched. And I watched.
Here’s the weird thing: It was pretty great.
In the past, I had a complicated relationship with this show. In the early ‘80s, ‘Batman’ was syndicated on a local independent television station and was played so often that it felt as if it was on a never-ending loop. Oh, I watched. Of course I watched. It was Batman! But the problem was that, for fans of the comic book, we yearned for a little more serious take on the subject matter. (That last sentence feels dumb to type today.) And ‘Batman’ was anything but serious. Sure, it was colorful and certainly entertaining, but ‘Batman’ traded in cheese and wasn’t shy about that currency.
And at the time, that’s all we had. Watching Tim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’ today, it really feels a lot more whimsical than it felt upon its release, because, then, the only thing we had to compare it to was the ‘60s television series. In comparison, Michael Keaton’s Batman seemed as serious as ‘Othello.’
(‘Batman Forever,’ for better or for worse – and I will still defend it as a fairly entertaining movie -- wanted it both ways. ‘Batman and Robin’ is awful.)
We live in a different world now. I can’t imagine any serious Batman fan feels underrepresented. Now, watching the ‘60s ‘Batman’ series, it all seems really, I don’t know, fun. Hey, I know that I can watch ‘The Dark Knight’ any time I want. I don’t feel like the camp is being forced on me, it just seems like an option now. And with so many dark and depressing superhero movies, it’s kind of nice to see something so lighthearted.
And then there’s ‘Gotham.’ Oh, brother.
I had no real plan to watch the first episode of ‘Gotham,’ I just happened to be home when it started. I mention this because maybe I feel a little Batman-ed out. I don’t have a strong desire to watch what is being advertised as a dark television series about Batman’s hometown, only without Batman. Chronicling Bruce Wayne as a child seems very ‘The Phantom Menace.’
When ‘Gotham’ opens, poor Thomas and Martha Wayne are offed yet once again. I will never understand this decision. Here’s a show where, at least theoretically, we learn about Bruce Wayne’s childhood, so why couldn’t Thomas and Martha have been around for, say, the first season? Maybe the season ends with their death, after we learn to care about them as characters. Nope, we spent more time with the couple in ‘Batman Begins’ then we do here, where there is infinitely more time available. (I can only imagine the actors hired showing up for their first day of filming, “Oh, we die in the very first scene. I just assumed there’d be a little … Oh, I see, the very first scene. Well, it was nice working with you.”)
I suspect Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders are to set the tone that this is a dark show. Because that’s what the world needs, another “dark” take on Batman. Everyone is trying to out “dark” each other. Enough, already. The problem is, ‘Gotham’ thinks it’s a dark show, but it’s just as cheesy as the ‘60s ‘Batman’ television series, but it doesn’t realize it’s as cheesy as the ‘60s television series. It thinks it’s being brooding, but instead it’s buffoonish.
Casting Ben McKenzie as a young James Gordon just seems off. It feels like McKenzie is on a different show than all of the creeps and crooks he meets along the way. Oh, and speaking of that, somehow in the first 30 minutes of the show, James Gordon meets pretty much every future criminal mastermind of Gotham City. It’s like there was a direct order, “We must introduce every character immediately.”
At one point, we meet a man name Oswald (Robin Lord Taylor) who is carrying an umbrella. This is obviously the Penguin (even though he looks a lot like Todd from ‘Wedding Crashers’).
Another man teases him by calling him “Penguin” – as if there were any doubt – and Oswald gets mad. This scene is corny. The scene in which we meet the future Riddler is corny. The scene where we meet a young girl named Ivy who likes plants is corny. ‘Gotham’ is a corny show but it doesn’t realize it’s a corny show. ‘Gotham’ thinks it’s a serious show. This is a problem.
All of the dialogue is like this. I joked on Twitter last night that I can envision a scene in which James Gordon is playing catch with Bruce Wayne and tells Bruce, “Grab a bat, man.” Only this will be played as poignant moment instead of winking at the camera. At this point, just go “all in” and wink at the camera. Own who you really are, ‘Gotham.’
It’s been almost 50 years since we’ve had a truly cheesy Batman. I’m not advocating that ‘Gotham’ start adding illustrated “Pow!” and “Bam!” word balloons, but if there’s going to be a show in which we meet younger versions of all of these colorful characters – which is a stupid premise to begin with – why not make it fun? Or at least embrace the fun. If I need dark Batman, I have Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, and we have Ben Affleck coming us as another surly Batman. If ‘Gotham’ stops trying to be something (A) it’s not and (B) something it can never be, it could corner the market on something we haven’t seen done well since the ‘60s.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.[googleAd adunit="cutout-placeholder" placeholder="cutout-placeholder"]