I have issues with Gotham. Yes, the show is still young, but I refuse to clear the room no matter what Fish Mooney says. I'm not scared to look into Richard Kind's beady eyes and tell him what's up. Trust me, I won't be swayed. I'm like "Saint" Jim Gordon in that way. Just call me Saint Nick.

The show is just getting its sea legs, and I'm going to try to respect that, but there are a few things it's going to have to start doing—and quickly—in order to pass my administering of the TV.com 4-Episode Test. Gotham is a ship that can be righted, but first it must get out of its own way. Here are six ways it can do so:


1. Find a balance between camp, cartoon, and pulp

MaryAnn touched on this in her review of Episode 2Gotham is trying to walk a fine line between being gritty and airing at 8pm so that six-year olds in Batman footie pajamas can witness the rise of Bruce Wayne. However, I'm not sure many parents were happy to see a man's bleeding eye socket after he was attacked by a post-tween, or the child version of a hero engaging in self-harm (Alfred even referred to the pop culture darkness that is "cutting").

I'm suffering a bit of tonal whiplash due to the placement of the gore and morally tense scenes—Cobblepot being led down a pier so he can be sacrificed is heady stuff—alongside the campier stuff, which includes almost everything Fish Mooney does. Jada Pinkett Smith has been watching Scandal and taking notes from Joe Morton on how to chew every scrap of scenery. But she certainly isn't the only contributor to Gotham's campiness, which also stems from the show's casual sociopathy, quirky villains, and bold, widespread corruption. We understand that Gotham City isn't a town full of do-gooders, but did we need the one-off cop extorting protection money from local businesses? Is Jim Gordon really going to be the only person on the show who's not a crook? Developing the characters and the city will help resolve some of these issues (providing a better sense of their motivations will dial back the unintentional comedy in their over-emoting and tedious exposition) but the show needs to pick a mood and stick with it.



2. Read the dialogue out loud before approving the script

Before you let me have it in the comments, I know that there are multiple times during the pre-production process, from pitch to table read, where the script is read out loud. But it doesn't seem like anyone on Gotham is saying anything. While the dialogue was better in Episode 2 than it was in the pilot—I was embarrassed that Donal Logue had to actually say those lines out loud—the show needs to make sure that it's working within the confines of television. What works on the comic page for character interaction doesn't necessarily translate to the screen.


3. Don't rest on the laurels of the comics

Unfair though it may be, I can easily imagine a situation where Gotham depends too much on our collective familiarity with Batman and his nemeses to inform each character's motivations. Ed Nigma is probably the best current example of this; I know who he becomes and you probably know who he becomes, but what about the person who doesn't necessarily understand why the GCPD's forensics guy has to phrase everything in the form of a question, or why he has to be so over-the-top weird? 

Meanwhile, while Episode 2 was called "Selina Kyle" and offered a whiff of backstory about a "dead" mom (Selina's quotes), it didn't say much about her unless you already know that she grows up to be Catwoman. Though, how could you not, since every move she makes is so ridiculously feline that I expected her to cough up a hairball while she was making her deal with Jim Gordon (did you catch her playing with the locket like it was a ball of yarn? Yikes). Point is, the show needs to do some actual character-building instead of just burning through a bunch of pre-established traits and plot points and expecting viewers to connect the dots.

Same goes for the city of Gotham. From the many iterations of Batman that we've seen and read over the years, we know that "Gotham City" is synonymous with "criminal's paradise" and "institutional corruption." But I'm looking forward to the show breathing life into this city as a character. So far, it's been very tell, not show. Let's start looking into the lives of the citizens who aren't future baddies. Why do people stay here when there are so many clean-cut street urchins committing petty crimes all over the place? How do Gotham's residents deal with living in a town that's so obviously run by organized crime and vengeful sociopaths that it touches their lives pretty much every week? If that means we lose touch with Cobblepot for a few episodes while he's off running his kidnapping racket, I'm okay with that (see below). Gotham needs to build out its story world instead of using the mythology as a crutch.



4. Trim the character roster

I like recognizing names of future Batman villains and players as much as the next guy, but the cast is already getting unwieldy. Between the Major Crimes unit and its interactions with Barb/efforts to chase down Cobblepot, the weekly visits with Bruce Wayne and his newfound interest in speed metal (???), Fish Mooney and Gilzean, the mayor, the chief, the detectives, and the baddie of the week, there's a lot of going on at once, which puts the show at risk of diluting several of its storylines. I understand the desire to pack in a bunch of references and characters in order to set tables for later in the season or series, but I'm hoping to see some focus on Jim Gordon and his day-to-day.


5. Watch a noir movie

So far, the dialogue and detective procedural elements of Gotham have been less Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep and more Toby Cavanaugh in the "Shadow Play" episode of Pretty Little Liars. The show's desire to be gritty is palpable; there is, in fact, a war veteran coming home to play detective in a corrupt town. The show's cause isn't helped by its kid-friendly timeslot, but one of the reasons the original noir pictures are so special is that they flirt with nihilism, which as far as I know, isn't part of the Nielsen ratings system yet. Gotham needs to learn what makes a film noir tick, and that'll be a good place for the heart of this show.



6. Really sell that Jim Gordon/Bruce Wayne relationship

If we're going to continue to follow Gordon as he drops in on Lil' Bruce like a beleaguered Danny Tanner checking in with his damaged, borderline-deranged teen and tween girls, that chemistry is going to need to happen quick. Smallville was able to do something similar between Lex Luthor and Clark Kent early on, and they built a good rapport. While there are plenty of reasons for why Bruce has a connection to Jim, I find myself rationalizing their connection rather than feeling it on the screen. Gotham needs to invest some actual quality time in that relationship. 

Also: Are we just going to watch Bruce find new ways to test his fear, resist pain, and cultivate a sense of vigilante justice in every episode? Because that approach has a limited shelf life. In every other medium, Batman becoming Batman is usually reduced to a montage of some sort; if we see him make weekly gains on that front, he's going to be donning the cowl and cape by Season 2.


I know it's early and we're just watching this baby horse stand up. Maybe it's a little unfair to call out its wobbly knees, but sometimes the only way to fix a problem is to address it head-on. And call me an optimist, but I'm hopeful that Gotham will start to follow the directives listed above as it progresses. I'm looking forward to seeing what the show can do.


What are some of the things you're hoping Gotham will turn around sooner rather than later?