Yay! I finally finished Gotham. …God, I’m behind on a lot. ….And I wrote those words weeks ago. Damn it!
I’m a huge Batman fan. Granted, I don’t read many of the comics, I’m more of a Marvel girl, but I love the 90s Animated Series and the DCAU. I grew up with them. I’ve seen all the good films, I’ve got all the Arkham games, and…well the other three animated series are on my Netflix Queue. Plus, I’m a big fan of crime dramas. So, a show that takes place in the Batman universe, prior to Batman, and is a crime drama? That sounds interesting. It helps that the main character is Jim Gordon, a character I’ve always liked.
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS FOR GOTHAM SEASON 1
A rookie in the Gotham Police Department, Detective Jim Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie, is assigned to the high profile murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne along with his more experienced partner Dt. Harvey Bullock, played by Donal Logue. After bonding with their young son Bruce, David Mazouz, now being raised by his butler Alfred Pennyworth, Sean Pertwee, he begins searching into their deaths. Along the way, he realizes their deaths are connected to the long time corruption in both the GPD and the City of Gotham itself, both of which are under the control of the mafia boss Don Carmine Falcone, John Doman. Particularly, Gordon becomes involved with one of Falcone’s underbosses, Fish Mooney, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her ambitious underling Oswald Cobblepot, Robin Lord Taylor, both of whom have plans for Falcone and for Gotham.
To say I was nervous when Gotham was announced is a massive understatement. Here’s basically where the concerns lies:
- Can an audience accept a Gotham with no Batman?
- Can they accept a story in Gotham where Batman is not the main protagonist?
- Can a show about the origins of comic book heroes and villains connect with a mainstream audience? And most importantly,
- Can FOX do this without strangling it in the crib?
Well, the answers were: Yes, yes but it helps that Bruce’s story is the B Plot, yes, and surprisingly yes.
While it does take place in a universe that will one day have super villains and heroes, it’s very much a crime drama at heart. This is probably why FOX, infamous for cancelling speculative fiction shows, like superhero ones, has decided to keep it around. Hopefully, it’ll join the ranks of X-Files and Fringe in FOX’s very short list of long running SF shows. …Why yes, I am still bitter about Firefly and Almost Human. Why do you ask?
Helping Gotham’s chances is the fact that it’s Jim Gordon who’s the main protagonist. First off, this is not Gordon’s first leading role. In Frank Miller’s ‘Batman: Year On’, he along with Bruce began their crime fighting careers at the same time and the story was told from both their points of view.. This is very similar to that. He’s a likable character, determined with a good heart who just wants to see the best in Gotham, but is surrounded by the worst. He has everything going for him, a fiance, a job, a good home, but risks it to clean up his city and he inspires others to do the same.
Harvey Bullock took some getting used to. Not because of the actor, he’s great, but because I’m not used to Harvey being so corrupt. I’m used to the animated series where he was a jerk, but had a good heart. This version ends up like that eventually, but it takes time to get there. It’s interesting watching Gordon do his work either around Harvey or behind his back, but the two really do make a great team when they’re on the same side. You get the impression that, as much as Harvey is out for himself, he really does care about Jim. He has his reasons for acting like he does and part of that is to make sure Jim doesn’t get himself killed.
David Mazouz is great as a young Bruce Wayne. You can really see the beginnings of the world’s greatest detective in every episode he’s in. I know with child actors it’s usually a huge gamble on talent, but Mazouz is genuinely good and I hope he gets his wish to eventually become Batman in the show though that would probably be the end of the series. Sean Pertwee as Alfred is caring, but stern, having to act as both a surrogate father and a butler to his young master and fills both roles perfectly. You can see the struggle as he wants to take care of this kid, but also has to follow his orders. Thankfully, Bruce is smart enough to take his advice and yield to his seniority when he needs it.
On the bad guy side, Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney was a shock to most. She’s an original character made for the show so we all know she’s not going to live or at the very least not stay in Gotham and was probably made to fill some sort of diversity quota, so why should we care? Well, she’s interesting. She’s conniving, intelligent, always has a plan, motivated. She wants to take over Falcone’s position as head of Gotham and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to do it. She has a loyal henchman named Butch who will do anything for her and who she cares for in return. You really get the sense she does care for those under her so long as they’re loyal. If not, they’re as good as dead.
But the big breakout of Gotham was Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin. This a guy on the lowest run of Fish’s staff who’s bullied by the others for his limp, thus his nickname Penguin. This is the ultimate bullied victim playing the long game, sometimes a few steps behind others but adjusts to make it work for him. He wants revenge by overthrowing those who bullied him and showing everyone what he can do. At times you both sympathise and despise him. On the one hand, you feel bad for what he’s suffered, but he can be such a conniving prick that you just wanna slap him. This is what makes his portrayal so memorable. This is probably the biggest Penguin’s gotten outside of Batman Returns. Again, not a DC fan so correct me if I’m wrong.
Surprisingly, Gotham actually has two of these sympathetic villain, but one’s not a villain. At least, not yet. That’s Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma, here as a forensic specialist for the GPD who works with Gordon and Bullock on a regular basis. Seeing it is actually pretty strange because you know he’s going to be The Riddler one day. You know he’s going to become a villain, but here he’s a geek with a love of riddles and a crush on a co-worker. He’s socially awkward, his co-workers get annoyed with him, he can’t seem to get his crush is not that into him and sees him as weird, you can’t help, but feel sorry for him. He’s also pretty cheerful and oddly funny so you end up kinda liking him.
There are too many other great characters to talk about, most of them female: Morena Baccarin, of Firefly fame, as Dr. Leslie Tompkins, Erin Richards as Gordon’s fiancee Barbara Kean, Zabryna Guevara as Captain Essen, Camren Bicondova as a young Selina Kyles, Rene Montoya, etc. From keeping Montoya’s sexuality from the comics in tact to Captain Essen’s growing support for Gordon (not just her, but most of the department), Selina helping Bruce find his parents’ murderer, and even two surprising twists for Tompkins and Kean, especially if you’ve read the comics, but that’s in spoiler territory. There’s also Nicholas D’Agosto as a pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent, but it appears he’ll get much of his development in season 2. Though there are some small signs of his eventual persona shown.
The show is littered with a lot of nods to the Batman comics, earlier version of characters, more obvious ones like Poison Ivy and Victor Zasse and ones less so like Hush, introducing Arkham Asylum, Dick Grayson’s parents, etc. The show really is the best of both worlds. It keeps Batman fans entertained while at the same time presents an interesting mystery and crime show for the mainstream. If I had to pick a villain origin that was disappointing it would probably be the possible origin of The Joker. I’m not gonna give anything away, but I know people who have had problems with it and there’s some debate as to whether or not he’s actually the Joker. I know he appears in season 2 so we’ll see how it goes.
The only real problem with Gotham is the earlier episodes when it’s a ‘bad guy of the week’ show. New shows often fall into this trap as a way to get people hooked before the mid winter hiatus and slowly integrate the main story or arc that’s the focus of the whole show. So, yes. The show has a slow start, but it got better over time. You care about the characters and want to see them succeed. Even the villains.
The setting is great. If you’ve ever read a Batman book, seen a movie or show, or played a videogame, you will not be disappointed. The city looks just like Gotham should: big, dirty, teeming with the homeless, cons, druggies, and crooks. The time placement is a bit weird from an aesthetic angle. Everyone has a cellphone and you can tell it’s the 21st century, but at times it has a sort of…last century type feel. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it. I mean, it’s not Batman: The Animated Series where they had police zeppelins, but you sometimes get the feeling you’re in the 20th century especially with the look of the GCPD’s computers. It’s kinda odd. But, maybe that’s just me.
Personally, I recommend this show to any crime drama fan. You’ll love it. If you’re a Batman fan, I really hope you like Commissioner Gordon cause he’s most of what you’ll see. The ‘bad guy of the week’ formula is a bit annoying, but the show makes up for it with a great cast, a good mystery with twist at every turn, wonderful characters, and I really hope this gets a 3rd season. The first season is currently on Netflix so go watch it and catch up!
(Photo via FOX)