Antiques Roadshow never has these problems.
I come to praise (some of) Gotham, not to bury it. The show, just announced for a full-season pick-up1 is on its way to finding a voice and a look. Maybe it’s moving too slowly in that direction for many. Maybe it really needs to decide what audience it wants on Mondays at 8pm before 142 or 123 or six4 of those episodes are revealed to be more of a waste of time than anything else. But it is moving, which is more than I can say for anything on CBS.
In the space between ‘still promising’ and ‘deluding oneself because one is emotionally invested in the concept’ Gotham‘s fourth episode – ‘Arkham’ – fell cleanly towards the former. It was a richer, fuller hour than the two that came before. Scenes tended to move at a clip. The visual style was thankfully distanced from the Bruckheimer blah that had begun to seep in like a candy-colored mildew. Prior to tonight, the second half of Fox shows had become the time where I washed dishes, or flipped over to Antiques Roadshow.5 Not this evening. Such activity was limited to commercial breaks, that traditional bastion of chore-doing and channel-flipping.
Not that I wasn’t tempted, particularly with the show being brought close to grinding to a halt any time the young Bruce Wayne was on screen. It’s not fair to lay it all at the kid’s feet. Gotham is falling prey to a common foible of character pieces by asking young actors to play world-weary and serious. It’s made much, much worse here because Bruce Wayne eventually equals friggin’ Batman and it’s harder to get more world-weary or seriouser than that. But Gotham is using young actors ineffectively far beyond stately Wayne Manor. Physically those scenes lack luster – see the (poorly framed) fight between Fish’s candidates, and the establishing shots of both girls prior. Beat-wise they lack oomph – see Selina Kyle being generally underwhelming next to Jim Gordon.
And it’s not fair to lay it all at the kids’ feet either. Ben Mackenzie’s Gordon and Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock are uneven as all get-out. Neither ruins a scene – they’re good enough actors and look enough like the archetypes they inhabit – but both are properly hard boiled one moment and wet noodles the next. You can see why both were cast – you can see why everyone on the show was cast – but they aren’t fully-formed performances yet.
Yet it’s probably unfair to lay it at the actors’ feet – while they settle into their roles the four episodes broadcast have had three different directors. And we can’t even fairly stop there – the four episodes have had at least three different writers, leading to constant missed opportunities to have characters develop while simultaneously advancing the plot.6 Cobblepot is the clear exception to this; would that the cadre of writers and directors could see that everyone being responsible for the story arcs means no one is responsible for any other story arc.
What I said the other week holds – everyone needs to get on the same page or this collection of winning elements will become an inedible mess. To mine and my dentist’s relief, though, Gotham isn’t (yet) prompting a gnashing of teeth as did early Sleepy Hollow. I don’t like the steps away from the pilot, but Gotham remains almost there.