I’ve got to be honest – I really don’t like either Gotham or Flash. I really wanted to when I began watching both programs, as their first seasons popped up on my Netflix homepage. Gotham had a very strong first half of its first season, hinting at key Batman personalities without jumping the gun. Flash was a welcome bolt of hopeful superhero antics, amidst a crowd of brooding violent anti-heroes. However, now that I’ve completed the two completed seasons of both shows, I must confess that I can’t stand either. They serve as examples of how you shouldn’t write a superhero show – hell, how you shouldn’t write ANY show. But while both shows have their critics, there are still plenty of others who love one or the other, and they will likely make their feelings known to me in aggravated Facebook comments. So is one definitively worse than the other? Let’s examine what each get right, and what they get so very, very wrong.
AND TO BE CLEAR, SPOILERS FOR BOTH SHOWS ARE COMING. SO BEWARE.
Both shows fell from what worked in their first seasons this year. Gotham decided hinting at Batman villains wasn’t enough, so they had to put them all in the show – and I do mean ALL of them. Mr. Freeze, Firefly, Azrael, Clayface, Hugo Strange, even the Joker – well, maybe. Flash, on the other hand, handicapped themselves by doing essentially the SAME plot at season one. Supposed ally turned super villain speedster who kills an Allen parent – that’s both Harrison Wells (I mean Eobard Thawne) and Jay Garrick (I mean Hunter Zolomon). Gotham’s major story struggles stem from running out of material, while Flash fails to keep up its pace and decided to just copy-paste its season.
Neither of the shows’ protagonists are all that compelling, either. Jim Gordon keeps yelling about how he needs to be the one stopping evil, but he also keeps yelling about how he’s got to do bad things to do it. Flash’s Barry is well-intentioned, but rather than struggling with a grim demeanor like Jim, Barry’s pretty dumb. He just gives Zoom what he wants every time – INCLUDING his speed, the only thing that gives him a chance at defeating him. And then this season’s finale highlighted his stupidity – Zoom killed his father, the metal-mask-man turned out to be a doppleganger of Jay Garrick/his dad, so with all this dead dad stuff haunting him, Barry goes back in time to save the life of his… mother? Wait, as in stopping the incident that made him the Flash? And the moment he finally found peace with in the one good episode of this season? Ah well, Kevin Smith/Zach Stentz, you tried. But Flash needs you two on every episode from now on to save it.
On the topic of writing, neither show seems all that capable of writing good female characters. I could go on and on about how bad of a character Caitlin Snow is (and I have), but none of the show’s female characters are well-defined. While the Iris-Barry train is back on track, Iris has spent most of the show popping in just to tell Barry he’s being stupid about something or other. Barry’s girlfriend Patti was set up as interesting, being a cop who lost her father to supervillains, but then Flash decided that she was TOO interesting for a female so, boom, she was written off and was sent away to Police School. Gotham at least wrote Lee off this mid-season before she could become as pointless as Iris – though her stressed importance feels strange. Lee pestered Jim about staying on the moral high ground, but never managed to stop him making his darker choices. And for a real life couple, Gotham found a way to strip anything resembling a spark from Ben Mckenzie and Morena Baccarain’s relationship.
One of the most infuriating things both shows have now done is their resurrection of characters. Flash has alternated from bringing in character dopplegangers to inventing some nonsense called “time remnants,” where speedsters just have carbon copies to chill with & kill. Thanks to Hugo Strange’s laboratory antics, Gotham oversaturated the show with its entire rogues gallery, and took away the legitimacy of death. Theo Galavan should have stayed dead, but instead he became a weird medieval ninja. Fish Mooney should have stayed dead, but instead she became a fish-powered (?) grilled-cheese-loving wacko. And who knows what’s happening with Jerome, aka maybe-Joker. Perhaps Gotham thought its teasing Joker would be a cheeky avoidance of doing every villain at once, but it was a pointless gesture that didn’t add anything new or interesting. And now reports say they might bring him back for season three? That’s idiotic.
While the two shows suffer from many of the same problems, Gotham seems to be the worst offender of bad writing/directing. Flash had some repetitive stories and horrendous dialogue, but Gotham didn’t even have the interesting Earth-2 interactions to help it. The Theo Galavan character was interesting, but all the Azrael/Strange/Freeze plots felt stupid and silly. The show’s trying to coast of Batman legacy and its Tim Burton-knockoff environment, along with some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it seems everyone was told to deliver their lines by either screaming at the top of their lungs, or belabored sentences ripe with odd pauses.
That being said, while I think Gotham is the lower quality show, I’m more disappointed with Flash than I am with Gotham. Being on the CW, the network quickly becoming the superhero channel, I know so many people who love Flash. They love the camp, they love the cheerier vibe compared to its sister show Arrow, and I guess they love that it’s trying stories about alternate earths and, presumably, Flashpoint next season. However, those general elements don’t excuse all the glaring writing faults this show has, and it makes me more discouraged. Gotham I can watch and laugh at, but Flash just makes me want something more.
Moral of the story? Gotham is garbage. Flash had better get good soon. And everyone should just watch Jessica Jones instead.