The first season of FOX’s Gotham just came to an exciting end, and with a second season already confirmed, I thought I would talk about how it has progressed throughout its first year, as well as what I’m looking forward to going into season 2.
Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead
Long before Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) took up the mantle of Batman and began protecting Gotham city from villains such as The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman, he was just a little boy trying to get over the death of his parents with the help of his butler/mentor/friend Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee). It’s during this period in the Batman timeline that FOX’s Gotham takes place, spending a lot more time exploring the origins of the villains Bruce will one day face than the young man himself. With Batman years away from coming into existence, it falls to rookie detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) to defend the city. Aided by his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and young forensics specialist Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) the morally upright Gordon will have to face the various mob bosses, corrupt politicians and lunatics that make up the criminal underground of Gotham city. Said criminals include Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), an up-and-coming criminal seeking a place at the top of the criminal food chain and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) an established mob boss and club owner who has the whole city under her thumb.
I have to say, I was a little sceptical about this show before it began. After all, who wants to see a Batman show without Batman? But Gotham quickly proved itself to be an incredibly entertaining, if not slightly disjointed, show that does a great job providing background for the villains and side characters that make up the Batman universe. Let me be clear, if you’re a Batman purist then you will find a lot to complain about here and if you try and make sense out of the chronology you’ll just give yourself a headache. According to the show, almost every villain Batman will fight is at least 10 years older than him, if not more so. But if you can just accept that this is an alternate universe, completely separate from any other Batman property, then you’ll have fun. The show is also not trying too hard to take itself seriously, it realises that it exists in a comic book world and has a lot of fun with it. Gotham resembles the original Tim Burton Batman movie a lot more then the Nolan trilogy.
At the beginning of the season, Gotham was primarily a police procedural with Gordon and Bullock tackling a new crime each week. However, as the season progressed, we spent a lot more time with the criminals and the impending mob war that becomes the main focus of the season finale. Another welcomed change was the decision to spread the procedural cases throughout multiple episodes. Doing this allowed more time for all the non-police storylines to breath, as well as make the cases and one-off villains feel more important and threatening. One stand out episode is “The Blind Fortune Teller” which simultaneously introduced us to the Graysons (parents to Dick Grayson, AKA Robin) and the kid who will become The Joker. Not all villain introductions are as well handled. The episode featuring Black Mask is pretty weak, and the show’s version of Harvey Dent seems to be a little too crazy at this stage in time.
There is one clear shining star in the cast, and that’s Robin Lord Taylor, who’s portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot (AKA Penguin) is equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Every aspect of Taylor’s performance gives him the appearance of a penguin from his looks to his limped walk. One of the major drawbacks of this being an origin story is that we know that a lot of the characters in the show aren’t going to die. Jim Gordon isn’t going to be killed before Batman appears, and neither is the Penguin. Because of this, anytime Cobblepot is in a life threatening situation, there isn’t much suspense. But the joy is not in wondering IF he survives, but HOW he survives. Cobblepot makes a lot of enemies and manages to talk his way out of pretty much any confrontation he’s put in. He’s a lying little weasel but damn if he ain’t entertaining to watch. He’s the kind of villain you love to hate. The only other actor that comes close to stealing Taylor’s screen presence is Pinkett-Smith, who’s clearly having a lot of fun playing a larger than life eccentric mobster. Finally, the decision to make Ed Nygma, a purely sympathetic character in the first season makes his inevitable transformation into Riddler a very interesting process. I was actually rooting for him to take revenge on the brutish cops who tease him.
Another highlight is the relationship between Bruce and Alfred. In all the many versions of Batman that we have seen (comics, film, television, games) there is clearly a deep connection between both men that goes beyond the master/butler facade and Gotham does an excellent job of outlining the evolution of this relationship. Instead of making Alfred a polite snobbish butler stereotype, the writers turned him into an ex-military badass who helps Bruce take his first steps into heroism. It’s Alfred who begins to instruct Bruce on how to fight in order to defend himself from bullies and it’s Alfred who teaches Bruce the moral lessons that are so important to the character of Batman. Alfred is also a father figure to Bruce and tries to preserve Bruce’s childhood innocence for as long as he can which, in Gotham city, is not very long.
If there’s one big problem with the show, it’s that there are just too many characters and the show constantly introduces new ones every episode, causing some of the secondary characters to be put out of focus. Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) is the best example of this. Bicondova does a capable job in the role and possesses all the athleticism we’d expect from a young Catwoman, but the character seems a little crow barred into the plot. With so many interesting characters and storylines, I couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed when we came back to her mainly because she’s inconsistent. One episode she’s playing with Bruce and acting like an average little girl, the next she’s helping criminals and committing some pretty heinous acts. I get that Catwoman is supposed to be a conflicted character, but seeing as how this is supposed to be her origin story, I would have liked to have seen why she became that way. She also never has her own independent storyline, instead serving as a plot device for other characters: To Gordon she’s the only witness to the murder of the Wayans, to Bruce she’s a first crush and to Fish she’s a pint sized pawn used to further her criminal agenda.
Another character that was poorly handled is Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Jim’s girlfriend at the start of the series. The writer’s were clearly trying desperately to give her an interesting story, but for the bulk of the season failed miserably. She’s involved in an adulterous relationship with an ex-girlfriend of hers (a plot line that goes nowhere) and is then absent for the whole middle of the season, replaced with the much more likeable and interesting Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). It’s only in the last two episodes that the writers finally found a compelling angle for the character: Make her bat sh**t insane! And you know what? I’m actually looking forward to seeing how that plays out in season 2.
All in all, Gotham does a great job of providing interesting and exciting origins for most of the rogue’s gallery of villains in the Batman cannon (with a few exceptions). While the overcrowded cast causes some characters to be ignored for large chunks of the season, I am extremely excited to see where the writers will take them next season. I have a feeling that, like Smallville (another superhero origin show), we won’t be seeing Bruce putting on the Batman suit until the last scene of the series finale, but I’m having too much fun seeing the insanity and chaos that will cause Gotham city to need him to care.
Final Grade: 8/10