Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Gotham Season One review

    Gotham is a series I have taken perhaps longer to review than I should have because I really wanted to love this series and I would have liked to have been able to hate it. Instead, my feelings regarding Gotham are that it's a series which is very-very good in some ways and mediocre in others.

    It's never outright terrible but I do keep on thinking this is a series which could be much better too. It's the Gotham City series for a public who are familiar with the Bat-franchise but not the deeper levels of the canon while also being one which is more firmly in the surreal otherworld of comic-book logic versus reality. It's not a realistic take on Gotham City like the Nolanverse Batman but it's not quite in the comic book reality either (though it gets better the closer it heys to the latter).

    The premise, itself, is one which leaves me interested but cautious. It is, as so many other fans have put it, "The Batman series without Batman." Taking place immediately after the assassination of the Wayne family, we have roughly a decade in-universe before even the earliest incarnation of Batman can hit the streets fighting crime. Instead, it follows the adventures of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he attempts to ice-skate uphill to bring order and sanity back to Gotham City.

Catgirl is a fun character. Much more so than I expected.
    Gordon's quest is doomed from the start due to being a prequel to the Batman franchise. Gotham City will remain a wretched hive until the time it produces a Batman who will do his best to sort it out. Despite this, there's plenty of stories to be told and just because you can't win against the system, doesn't mean you can't fight against it.

    Watching the character of Jim Gordon and his more cynical partner Bullock (Donal Logue) struggle against cartoonish levels of corruption is actually quite entertaining. We also get the addition of more characters than I ever expected such as the Falcones, Maronis, and a breakout role for the underused Penguin (played by Robin Lloyd Taylor). Gotham City begins as a Noir city where every Detective story ever takes place but begins to collapse on itself into a black hole of evil which produces its first supervillains as a response to the corruption.

    If there's anything I love about the series, it's the timelessly weird universe the show creators have constructed. It feels like the Thirties, the Forties, Sixties, Nineties, and the Modern Day all wrapped into one. People still use old-time typewriters, wear old clothing, and act like its Prohibition while using iphones as well as talking about developments in bio-genetics. This is as close to a live-action version of Batman: The Animated Series' Gotham City as we're going to get on a television show budget, which is arguably more "real" than the Tim Burton one.

I like the portrayal of Bruce as a troubled boy-genius.
     I like the parallel developments between Jim Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot which makes up the basic plot for the first season. Jim Gordon tries to become the honest cop in Gotham but is forced to make compromises while Oswald Cobblepot wants to become the King of Gotham but secretly desires a friend along the way.

    Oswald's depravity will allow him to succeed while Jim Gordon's nobility won't, but maybe he'll win in the long run. The fact they even develop a kinda-sorta one-sided friendship is also something I'd like to see further developed in the second season but I don't think Gordon will ever view Cobblepot as something other than a person to be loathed.

    The relationships between the characters is really the heart of the story and seeing how the cast of Barbara Keane (Erin Richards), Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), Selena Kyle (Camren Bicondova), and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) interact with one another is really what keeps this show going. One thing which is rather annoying is the writers are always tinkering with the characters and their relationships. As such, I was really disappointed when the characters of Rene Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart Jones) effectively disappear from the show midseason.

    Really, with the exception of Penguin, I think the show does a better job with its original characters versus the foreshadowed ones of the Batman Rogues Gallery. Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley) is a wonderful young actress but I don't think there's a pressing need for an adolescent Poison Ivy before her femme fatale or bio-terrorist leanings. Then again, I never would have thought myself as interested in the adventures of Catgirl (the aforementioned Selina Kyle) as I am. Watching her and Bruce Wayne interact is one of the more pleasant surprises of the series for me. But yes, the series does best with characters like the Balloon Man and their take on the Electrocutioner.

I was hoping Barbara would become Batwoman. No such luck.
    I'm torn on Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney as a character who I think is well-acted and interesting but still overexposed on the show. Part of the problem is Fish Mooney is a two-dimensional psychopath in a show full of surprisingly well-rounded individuals.

    Fish doesn't care about anything but becoming Queen of Gotham and lacks even Penguin's humanizing moments. The most interesting she becomes is when she becomes the defacto boss of a hellish prison and, even then, it's possibly only for her own self-interest. Given the amount of screen-time she gets versus more rounded characters, it's kind of hard not to resent her at times.

    There's some great plotlines in the storyline like Bruce and Gordon investigating the Wayne family murders as well as Barbara's bonding with Selina. Unfortunately, these plots get dropped or insufficiently resolve themselves. Also, some of the actors clearly don't know how to handle the material like Penguin's mother (Carol Kane) going way-way over-the-top when everyone was handling it just slightly so. Other stories exist to give actors something to do even when they prove ultimately inconsequential to the larger narrative. Gotham is a DC comics-themed soap opera, really, and doesn't have quite the level of melodrama necessary to pull it off. I will say, it definitely improves the further it gets to the finale.

I like Jerome way-way more than I should.
     Of all the episodes in Season One, I'd have to say the ones I enjoyed most were the Barabra Keane/Ogre ones. Despite being a character who did not elicit much sympathy in the early season due to her somewhat vapid personality as well as betrayal of Jim Gordon, Barbara's whole story arc there was surprisingly interesting. I also like how it actually built upon the larger story arc established throughout the rest of the season. The fact it incorporated later-addition, Doctor Leslie Thompkins (Monica Baccarin, who I could watch eat fruit), made it one of the few set of episodes I'd give a ten out of ten. I also enjoyed "The Balloonman", "The Blind Fortune Teller", Electrocutioner, and "Red Hood" episodes. This is, sadly, a selection from a twenty-six episode season.

    In conclusion, Gotham has a lot going for it but it also has plenty of mediocre episodes too. There's plots which go nowhere, character development which turns out to be irrelevant, and big changes which feel like rewrites. On the other hand, I think the show is still mostly entertaining and something which DC comics fans should pick up. If you want to get your Batman fix then you should just watch the Burton, Nolan, or Dini incarnations. It's entertaining but the Bat-shaped hole is a bug not a feature.


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