Somewhere around the point that a band of insane criminals dropped a bunch of bodies from the top of a building so that they spelled out MANIAX on the ground below, I realized I was going to watch every single episode of Gotham this season, after bailing shortly into season one. The sequence was utterly ludicrous, devoid of anything like realistic human behavior. It was the kind of over-the-top we long ago agreed to relegate to the 1966 Batman series and whatever Joel Schumacher was up to in his '90s Batman films.
And I've talked to a fair number of critics who are slightly agog that Gotham has chosen to go this route in season two. Lots and lots of us gave that pilot solid reviews (including me), but the first season very quickly revealed that it was too many shows at the same time, unable to focus on any one thing.
To be sure, I agree with the prevailing sentiment that the best course of action was probably to tell some sort of police procedural in a superhero world. But once the series decided it wanted to incorporate baby versions of seemingly every major Batman mythos figure, its fate was sealed. It was always doomed to be half a Batman show, neither satisfying those who wanted the full Batman experience, nor those who were interested in exploring other corners of the world of Gotham City. It was always a halfhearted effort, and by the end of season one (so I hear), it had completely spun off its axis.
The problems with Gotham are so endemic to its premise that it probably can never be a great show. It's always going to be an ungainly beast. So in season two, it's decided to simply be as entertaining as humanly possible and hope that will pay off. Nothing makes sense any more, the show doesn't bother with getting anywhere close to psychological realism, and the plot careens along like it's going to fly over a cliff.
But it's FUN.
I think the reason I've glommed onto Gotham and The Strain this season has been that both don't seem to be taking themselves too seriously. To be sure, there are genre shows where I love that nobody so much as winks at the camera. (I think Fear the Walking Dead is turning out to be surprisingly terrific, and that's a show where nobody bothers to crack a joke ever.)
There's room for a wide variety of tones in genre fiction, but in recent years, TV genre tales have too often gone in for being dark as a matter of course. Tonal variance is a big part of why I still watch American Horror Story, for as much as it's burnt me in the past. And it's a big part of why I can tolerate the stupid storytelling decisions in some of these other shows.
I'm not saying anything new here. We have a tendency to believe that something that's self-consciously "dark" is somehow more "real" than something that's more fun. But life encompasses a wide variety of emotions, not just the despairing ones. Life is dumb and goofy and occasionally campy, and sometimes, the only thing that makes sense is to watch criminals throw people off a building to spell out the name of their criminal gang.
I think there's an art to good stupid TV. By that I don't mean a show that is "so bad it's good" or anything so hackneyed as that. I mean a show that realizes the story it's telling is kind of stupid and decides to just sink its teeth into it. Not everything needs to furrow its brow and try to be important. We live in an era when genre fiction has taken over film and TV. We can afford to be a little silly now and again. Is Gotham great television? No. But it knows how dumb it is, and sometimes, that's even better.
I seem to have trouble completing this when I'm traveling. I'll be sure to better let you know when I'm on the road in the future!
Episodes is published daily, Monday through Friday, unless I don't feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.
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