HBO Max’s Gotham Show Needs to Avoid the SHIELD Potholes

Wait, is this one actually about Batman or nah?

When news broke last week that HBO Max would be producing a new series focused on the Gotham City Police Department and set in the same universe as Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman, it immediately set off a few skepticism triggers.

Most notably, it seemed very similar in concept to “Agents of SHIELD,” which debuted in 2013 and is in the midst of its final season. Like the proposed Gotham PD show, the pitch sets up a show that exists alongside the movie, exploring more of what life is like for the police officers and detectives who operate in the same city as a bat-themed vigilante. Similarly, “SHIELD” offered audiences the chance to follow along with the missions of the spy agency that occasionally assisted the super heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When “SHIELD” was being promoted and through its first couple seasons, the connective material between the series and the movies was plain to see. Not only did it feature the return of MCU’s favorite supporting character Phil Coulson but several stories followed plot elements initially set up on The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark WorldI and others. As the series went on, though, it seemed to take fewer cues from the MCU, in part because it seemed to get hard to plan a TV show around the big events depicted on the big screen. Some connections remained, but the final separation seems to have occurred when the show had to largely ignore the events of Avengers: Infinity War and the Thanos snap that wiped out half of life in the universe.

The Bomb Marvel GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

“SHIELD,” as an ongoing TV series, was telling a serialized story. The problem emerged from the fact that the MCU films were *also* telling a serialized story. And it’s hard to keep two simultaneous ongoing narratives going when they are intended to be complementary. Just ask anyone in the comics industry, where creators have to make sure they’re not using a character in Book A that is in the middle of a totally different thing in Book B, or that crossovers feature accurate versions of the characters as they exist at the moment. They can feed into each other every now and again, but more often than not it can be jarring for the reader when the Iron Man who shows up in an Avengers book is drastically different than the one seen in his solo title because two different writers are telling two different stories.

It’s hard to imagine the Gotham PD show won’t run into the same problems. It may start out with the best of intentions and some solid plans to keep the story flowing in both directions, with the promise of appearances by Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon and the like, but it’s going to be hard to maintain. Actors will come and go, producers will realize that the story arc for a character doesn’t get her where she needs to be for the next film’s planned events. Or the monumental events of a movie will be nie impossible for the smaller scale show to accurately deal with.

Again, “SHIELD” provides an instructive lesson here. Almost as soon as the show left the gate, the very premise was blown up because of what happened in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While it successfully kept going, that development cut out an important piece of the series’ foundation, and a lot of time was spent explaining those ripple effects and establishing a new footing for the characters.

There’s a lot of great potential in a Gotham PD show. That was clear in “Gotham,” which started off a bit unsure of itself but found its groove when the creators leaned into the insanity of the rogue’s gallery of villains populating the city. They told some big stories very well, but they also didn’t have the burden of trying to tie into anything else. Heck they didn’t even have to worry about Batman himself, who didn’t appear until the last moments of the show. A more straightforward police procedural could be just as interesting, but like “SHIELD” it will have to come up with one reason after another why the police are dealing with the problems they have and aren’t calling in the help of their local vigilante.

Season 5 Fox GIF by Gotham - Find & Share on GIPHY

In a best case scenario, the show becomes a hit on its own and a powerful part of the brand identity and marketing machine of the films. Consider me interested enough to see how this turns out

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