Gotham the Series: A Review

Gotham has finally arrived.

At this stage of the game, web soaps are entering a new phase of existence that may give fans a true view of the potential of the genre on the internet. Starting in the late 90's with the groundbreaking web serial The Spot  to Karen Harris' ambitious Life in General and its actual-soap-within-a-soap "Greenville General" to the hilarious Wed-Locked to the wildly addictive Anacostia the Web Series to a brand spanking new radio-style serial called Out of the Gate, soap fans have seen a steady rise in the number of serial choices before them even while broadcast network television soaps are widely acknowledged to be in decline.

Unfortunately, the climb of web soaps to what their creators' hope will be creative prominence and hoepfully profitable enterprises has been more than a little rocky with web soap producers relying on barely-there budgets, actors and crew members donating their talents amid ever-shifting schedules, and a severe lack of marketing in what was once a pre-social networking world. However, thanks to Facebook and Twitter (with a distant assist from MySpace) part of the promotion issue is being addressed. Meanwhile, YouTube, Vimeo and other video sharing sites have provided relatively easy (and free) distribution exposure gateways to the masses. Lately something brand new and very important has been added to this mix to make web soaps more viable than ever: wildly popular current soap stars complete with built-in fan bases helming their own serial projects. This represents a major shift in the online soap paradigm where the engine driving these web endeavors are as famous (and often starring alongside with) the talent in front of the digital cameras. By enlisting their well-known and often beloved actor friends and colleagues as costars in lead and supporting roles, this new breed of soap has the potential to break free of the shackles of network broadcast television and finally prove web soaps viable.

On December 4, the most high profile of these efforts will arrive in the heavily hyped, hotly anticipated form of the lesbian-themed Venice, the brainchild of uber-popular Crystal Chappell (Carly, Days of Our Lives) piggybacking off the wildly popular "Otalia" fan base (no pun intended) from the now-canceled Guiding Light. Beating it to the punch is the New York City-based web series from daytime superstar Martha Byrne (ex-Lily, As the World Turns).

The first episode of Gotham finds Richard Manning (Michael Park, Jack, ATWT) driving through the streets of Manhattan listening to series of voice mails from, among others, his daughter, Richard's gravelly sounding mother, a giggly woman, and a man who is clearly not happy about something. Richard is apparently one of those Very Important People with whom lesser mortals have to insert themselves into cell phone photos. Manning is en route to a party, hosted by Catherine (Byrne) at the home of her best friend Tina (Anne Sayre, ex-Mitzi, ATWT). Also in attendance is Catherine & Tina's "gay," Jayqui (LaMont Craig) — who has an interesting tie to Tina. When Richard makes his entrance, he and Catherine lock eyes in a classic soap fade out moment. End credits.

The first thing that is very noticeable is that Gotham's premiere episode runs just shy of three and a half minutes. I admit to raising my eyebrows a tad because I expected more in terms of time, but I eventually wound up wanting more story because those minutes were used extremely well. If one were to subtract the slightly too long opening credits, there might have been roughly 2 minutes of actual story but Gotham manages to introduce us to characters we never even see on screen (Rachel, Richard's mother, and maybe Josh?) and get the ball rolling on or suggest a number of possible story lines (I counted about six possibilities), including Richard & Catherine's. That is what is known as economy of writing and directing and a couple of broadcast soaps could learn a thing or two from from it.

The second thing that stands out is while the production values may be uneven, the show looks as good as or better than both the much maligned former Guiding Light's production model and even much of As the World Turns' current location work, which says a lot given that even at their worst those shows had/have much larger budgets than Bryne's effort. There are a couple of spots in the video editing at the beginning where slow motion is used to unnecessary effect, the music track renders some of the dialogue unintelligible (I tried to listen to it through a variety of speakers) and the stock footage of New York City is badly out of sync with the filmed footage for the show. Those are minor nitpicks because there is some very nice camera work, closeups and interiors starting with that great shot ground level shot of a woman in black heels when Richard arrives. A strong sense of time, place and atmosphere is established quickly and believably. Despite the few aforementioned shortcomings, Gotham is off to a promising start in terms of production values. (continued...)


Member since:
7 April 2009
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3 years 43 weeks

"Venice" first episode debuts on December 4th, not November 27th as is stated in this article.

Member since:
18 October 2009
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3 years 3 weeks

It seemed more like a teaser than an episode. I found it a bit confusing, but at the same time I'm interested to see where it goes. I hope Liz Hubbard joins the cast at some point.

According to the official announcement, Venice debuts on December 4.

J Bernard Jones's picture
Member since:
9 September 2008
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3 hours 25 min

The information has been corrected guys, thanks.

Member since:
9 November 2009
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1 year 13 weeks

I'm impressed with the Gotham premiere. The opening and closing credits were way too long, so I agree it seemed more like a preview than an episode. While I'm looking forward to the longer-format episodes of Venice (6 minutes, I believe), I think if you deliver a well-written story without any filler in just 3 1/2 minutes it can work great. Who can forget those classic Taster's Choice commercials from years ago; they got us hooked in 30- or 60-second installments.

The opening with Richard listening to his various voicemails (recorded by "mystery" voices...did I detect a Paolo Seganti? Elizabeth Hubbard?) was inspired. Not only did it give us a hint about future characters in Richard's orbit, but the voice guessing-game strikes me as a great marketing ploy. The question is always: what's going to keep 'em coming back? Well, that worked for me.

As did the final, classic shot of Richard and Catherine spotting each other at the party. That was spot on. I can't wait to see their first conversation.

Of course, nothing's perfect. If I had to quibble, I'd say the opening New York sequence was too frantic. Some adrenaline is great, but I felt they were trying a little too hard, there.

And I'm absolutely fascinated to watch all these smart, creative people who love the soap genre "figure out" how to make these series work and eventually be profitable. It's like any other invention: everyone's working hard to try to invent the light bulb. There are lots of attempts, lots of failures, a little headway, and then more headway. And eventually, someone gets it, and invents the light bulb. Next thing you know, light bulbs are everywhere and we can't live without them. And we wonder why it took so long.

Good luck Martha, Crystal, Lawrence, Tristan, and everyone else out there being creative, productive, proactive!

Member since:
18 August 2008
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2 days 7 hours

I just bought a new big screen tv that can steam youtube videos, and Gotham looked great even on the big screen.  I agree it seems like a tease, and they have to do something about the sound quality, but it looks fun.

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25 February 2009
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1 week 1 day

Congrats to all involved.