in Television

Superhero Showdown: Gotham, The Flash, Arrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

After a couple weeks where Gotham and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. waged an increasingly uneven battle for the Shiva of Superhero TV, this past week saw the return of one superhero stalwart in Arrow, and the arrival of its cheesy, goofy cousin, The Flash, spicing up the competition. We were also rewarded with some of the first details on Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil, making me that much more excited for the dark take on Hell’s Kitchen.

4. Gotham (FOX)

It’s been three episodes and I’m already tired of talking about Gotham. The show feels increasingly wrong and broken, with “The Balloonman” standing out as its worst offender.

Gotham can’t use any legitimate villains, because they want to slow play the evolution of every single character on the show, leaving us with an hour to watch in-stasis cliche characters. God forbid they actually introduce the Dollmaker; Gotham acts like a mere mention of him is cooler than actually seeing him in episode 2. This is an entire show predicated on the belief that we as a superhero lovin’ society prefer prequel/origin stories than ACTUAL stories, a worrisome and stupid assumption. We’re all tired of origin stories. Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie full of unknown characters, yet Marvel didn’t feel the need to saddle each character with a half an hour of pre-adventure drivel (save for Star-Lord’s Daddy/Momma drama). We got to know the characters in action. Any action on Gotham is too ridiculous to enjoy and stunted by so many stereotypes that makes Gotham feel like a parody of CSI, rather than a living, breathing cop drama. “The Balloonman” posits a vigilante (Dan Bakkedahl) who kills the corrupt members of Gotham society by attaching them to weather balloons. In Gordon and Bullock’s laughable investigation, they’re actually asked: “Do you know how balloons work?” And not only did Bullock have no idea…I’m not entirely sure Gotham does either.

Instead of doing police work, Major Crimes Unit partners Montoya and Allen act on gossip and sneer at their contemporaries, hoping their dickhead antics will lead Gordon or Bullock to reveal something for them. Montoya and Allen were two characters I was excited to see in the pilot, but they’ve become a drag. They show up to make callow insults (“You stink like the sewer”) and egg on characters to do their work for them. Why not INVESTIGATE Jim Gordon or Oswald Cobblepot’s disappearance/death?

Captain Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) is even worse. As Bullock and Gordon’s boss, all she does is rant and complain, telling them to FIX IT. She’s like J. Jonah Jameson without any semblance of humor or back story. She’s just another thing for Gordon to roll his eyes at. After three episodes, Gordon might be the only competent PERSON/cop in Gotham, and even that comes into question in this episode. He’s catching the disease of futility from everyone else around him. We’re supposed to revere Gordon for being a lone wolf of justice or something, but Gotham is so laughably corrupt and “evil,” that it all seems pointless. The “city is sick.” The only thing sicker than Gotham is this show (or network TV in general).

Meanwhile, Alfred and Bruce Wayne enjoy a borderline abusive relationship, though I’m not sure in which direction. Bruce refuses to eat for some reason, which pisses Alfred off, leading the brash, cockney Alfred to hitting Bruce with canes (play-acting as swords) to get his attention. After this week’s episode, this is a Gotham where a vigilante named “The Balloonman” is the first of its kind in the corrupt city, one who caught a young Bruce Wayne’s attention. The fucking Balloonman is what gives Bruce the first inkling of vigilantism in the first place; of course, thanks to Alfred and Gordon, he learns along the way that killing is bad. Yes, the Balloonman inspires Batman; this isn’t the Gotham any of us signed up for.

balloonman

Gotham is more cartoonish and amateurish than practically every Batman animated series (even non-Bruce Timm division). Poor Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney is so over the top Adam West’s Batman might have trouble taking her seriously. Penguin returns to Gotham, securing a job at Sal Maroni’s (David Zayas) by murdering a cook who just happens to have his same shoe size. Because while Cobblepott is game to murder his way into a job, LIKE HELL is he going to go to a Payless Shoes.

Gotham is this year’s Almost Human; a show with wasted potential that I loathe but won’t stop watching, because of this column I’m really now just curious if the show is really this bad.

3. The Flash (CW)

Over the past three months since I’ve seen the Flash pilot at Comic-Con (review here), I’ve grown from the cranky annoying guy who wants to lower the expectations of a show everyone is excited for, to basically realizing that there’s much worse (see above), and willing to accept the flaws that Flash will undoubtedly have: uneven SFX, running puns, a cast with characters I’ll hate, and some mediocre acting.

But the upside is there. Grant Gustin is perfect as Peter Parker Barry Allen, and Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti’s track record on Arrow inspires optimism. Arrow is a show unafraid of change, and is keenly aware of its fanbase, willing to alter the show’s fabric based on word of mouth. Flash will benefit from having fans as writers, and will learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t. Right now, a lot doesn’t: Cisco Ramon, Iris West, Iris’ Boyfriend and the “hero is born” crap. The latter won’t go away, but everything else very well might, or at least get altered (think Laurel Lance’s justified descent into supporting character-dom as a possible template for Iris West, if they can’t figure her out), when it’s not.