Luke Owen looks at the question on everyone’s lips… which is better, The Flash or Gotham?
It’s a brave new world for DC Comics. After the success of Arrow, the company has launched into the TV market with shows based around their popular characters. But while we wait for Supergirl to go into production and before Constantine hits the airwaves, we have a duo of new shows who have recently debuted on the idiot box. The “Before Batman” series Gotham and the Crimson Speedster’s return to television, The Flash.
But which was better?
Gotham‘s pilot was lambasted by the majority of those who saw it. Our own Anthony Stokes hasn’t been kind with his reviews and even penned an article claiming the show to be “pointless”. When speaking with other members of the Flickering Myth writing staff, the feeling seems mutual. Editor-in-chief Gary Collinson (who literally wrote the book on Batman) shot the show down for its casting, stating that all the characters are too young so that it doesn’t fit within Batman lore. Staff writer Scott Davis called it “boring”, co-editor and FMTV producer Oliver Davis was so ambivalent to it that a planned podcast review was never recorded.
But was it really that bad? As a pilot, it was hard to fault Gotham in setting up the characters, ascertaining the show’s tone and establishing the show-long storyline of solving the crime of who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Ben McKenzie is very serviceable as James Gordon and he is cast perfectly against Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock, who tells you everything you need to know about Gotham’s corruption in just the way he carries himself. Jada Pinkett Smith is touch and go for the most part, often coming across as dull when she isn’t chewing the scenery, but Robin Lord Taylor is great as the Penguin before he was the Penguin. There were bright lights in the episode, positing itself as CSI: Gotham and telling stories within the Batman Universe without the need to lean on The Dark Knight for support.
However, the pilot did have its fair share of issues, most notably in the writing which suffered from being far too heavy handed. How can we let the audience know that Ivy Pepper will grow up to be Poison Ivy? Stick her next to some plants. How will the audience latch to that fact that Selina Kyle will one day be Catwoman? Have her feed some cats. Hmmm, is it clear that Edward Nygma will become The Riddler? Just have Bullock call him out for his “riddles”, that should do the trick. Gotham thinks these are clever nods, but they just come off as insulting to the audience who can work all this out for themselves. It feels like the Gotham showrunners want to make a police procedural set within a pre-Batman Gotham, but studio overheads keep poking them to drop more Batman winks and nods in because that’s what “the fans will want to see”.
Despite the overwhelming negativity, Gotham was not as bad as a lot people made it out to be. It’s biggest crime was that it was merely “okay”, when all the early reviews from critics were praising it for how great it was. But, as a pilot, it did what it needed to do and outside of a couple of script issues, it succeeded.
So how did The Flash compare?
Unlike Gotham, The Flash has received a good amount of positivity from its premiere episode that aired last night. Our own Jessie Robertson (who also writes up great reviews of Arrow) said that it was “off to a good start” and praised its “incredible action and special effects”. Contributor James Garcia tweeted me earlier to say that he “couldn’t be happier” with how it turned out. So what did it do right with the public that Gotham did so wrong?
Nothing really, it just told a great story in a brilliant presentation. Like Gotham, the first episode of The Flash established our main characters, his superhero origin and set-up the season-long storyline of discovering who really murdered Barry Allen’s mother (sounds familiar eh?). Grant Gustin may not look like a leading man but he’s incredibly likeable as Allen and his friendship with Candice Patton’s Iris West feels genuine, to the point where your heart sinks when she shoots him down for “Detective Pretty Boy” Eddie Thawne. Jesse L. Martin has a lot to work with as Barry’s surrogate father and the cameo from John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s real-father is a touch of class.
But, of course, the show was not without its faults. Some of the dialogue exchanges were a bit naff and the STAR Lab “helpers” Caitlin and Cisco are nothing more than Fitz-Simmons rip offs, with the former even looking remarkably like Elizabeth Henstridge. And like those slices of “comedy relief”, it may take some time to warm to Carlos Valdes’ Cisco, a character that appears to be the product of a computer brain who churned him out after the writers put in words like “cool” and “hip” into its systems. And despite its origins being based in Arrow, it has more in common with Smallville than anything else, even down to the Monster-of-the-Week being created by the particle accelerator just as the meteor rocks did in the early adventures of Clark Kent. Not that a comparison to Smallville is a bad thing, but The Flash should aspire to be something more than a show that was essentially Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The X-Files.
So, which show was better? Well, The Flash obviously.
Gotham was not a bad pilot and it did everything it needed to do, but The Flash did all of that and so much more. Not only that, but The Flash managed to do in one episode what Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. struggled with the first half of its first season, it formed the show’s conceit of a Monster-of-the-Week motif by giving us a bad guy who can control the weather that our newly found hero promptly defeats. The show’s promos have given us a glimpse of Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold and we know that his Prison Break co-stars Dominic Purcell and Robert Knepper are set to feature as Heat Wave and Clock King respectively in future episodes. It all seems exciting. The Flash fans are already fingering Thawne as Professor Zoom because of the comic book on which its based, but the show cleverly teases the possibility that it’s Allen’s own friend and mentor Harrison Wells. Furthermore, the show somehow squeezed in a whole load of story into its 45-minute runtime without feeling crammed or rushed. Gotham didn’t have any of that. Even the promos for upcoming episodes don’t invoke any excitement outside the novelty of seeing characters you’ve loved in comic books in their formative years, in the same way that Muppet Babies was fun for a bit.
Which did you think was better? Gotham, or The Flash?
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.