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‘Gotham: Season One’ – TV Review

There is a featurette on the Gotham: Season One DVD called “Fractured Villains of Gotham.”  This word, “fractured,” turns out to be an accurate description of almost every aspect of the show, both in front of and behind the camera.  It is this schizophrenic nature that informs both its strengths and its weaknesses.

The conceit behind Gotham is equally fascinating and perilous.  Take some of the most recognized villains of all time and attempt to construct fresh origin stories for them.  And, in doing so, create a new angle on the story of one of the most iconic heroes of all time . . . Batman.  It’s an inherently difficult and potentially thankless task.

On top of all of that, Gotham is a story about failure.  It will ultimately track a downward spiral to a place where there is no option but to turn to a savior who embodies fear and vigilantism.  Jim Gordon, at the center of this whirlpool, has a story arc that has to address both his development as a moral cornerstone and his ultimate failure to save the city for which he’s fighting.  There’s a lot of potentially interesting and complex ground to cover here.  Will Gordon do more good than harm?  How much collateral damage will be get comfortable with?

It takes the whole first half of Season One for the writers to start to find a footing in this perilous storytelling landscape.  At its most problematic, the writers don’t seem to know how to move past the caricatured physicality of the characters to create deeper layers and compelling motivations.  They are attempting to fashion menacing characters by focusing on tics, mannerisms, and disfigurations.  In doing so, they have left intelligence and subtly on the cutting room floor.  They can’t decide if Penguin is a clever con artist or just a lucky bungler.  Fish Mooney spends most of the season mired in transparent planning and poor decisions.  They overshoot the reveals of both Two Face and Joker, letting them drop into their fully developed alter ego mannerisms at premature and unearned points in their stories.

Likewise, the whole season suffers from severe pacing problems.  This is a show that should hinge on the careful development of characters on their way to becoming seriously bad people.  That kind of personal growth takes time; however, the writers seem to delight in leap frogging us immediately from initial catalyzing event to full-blown villainy.  The most obvious example of this for me was Selina’s jump to gleeful Fish Mooney henchmen in the final episode.  Even though she’s certainly progressed to a new level of criminal behavior over the course of the season, her attitude in this episode is a disconcerting change in personality that makes me wonder what room the writers have left themselves to work with over the course of the show to come.

Gotham is at its best when it is at its darkest and creepiest.  As it matures into the second half of the season, it starts to find a good balance between the campy character depictions and the increasingly gothic and violent stories.  As soon as the doors to Arkham Asylum open up, we start to meet some of its most interesting villains: The Ogre; The Electrocutioner; Gerald Crane; and The Dollmaker to name a few.  With these characters, the show finally starts to fully commit to the dark psychological horror so vital to the Batman franchise.  The caliber of these “side” stories has greatly contributed to the overall quality of the show, elevating and providing much-needed help for the story arcs of the main characters.

Visually, the show is a great mix of slick production values and gritty set design.  Gotham is depicted as a place both recognizable and foreign, old and new, modern and antiquated.  Again, I felt that the show runners really started to carve out a unique world as soon as we reached the Arkham Asylum stage of the show.  The set design goes a long way in maintaining a nice a balance between the grim, psychological horrors we encounter and the overall cartoonish tone of the show and characters.

By the end of these 22 episodes, I am starting to feel at home in Gotham.  I’ve collected a group of characters of whom I’m quite fond and am excited to see where the show takes them: Harvey Bullock; Leslie Thompkins; Edward Nygma; Bruce; and Alfred.  I’m predicting that we will see Fish Mooney back and have hopes that she will reach a new level of maniacal villainy that will finally give Jada Pinkett Smith something to really work with.  I can’t wait to see more from Jonathan Crane and his ever-present hallucinations.

In recent weeks, I’ve found myself immersed in the Batman universe.  This is a new circumstance for me and hasn’t been something I eagerly sought out in the past.  I’ve always been fascinated by Batman himself but generally found the bad guys surrounding him to be more laughable than menacing.  From playing LEGO Batman 2 to my recent viewings of Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and now Gotham, I find myself greatly inclined to explore the more traditional canon further. 

So, nothing wrong with a show that makes you hungry for more.

Additional Thoughts:

  • Please, more Carol Kane in everything.
  • Did a not-so-subtle happy dance when Morena Baccarin showed up.
  • Alfred seems to have been hired out of a Guy Ritchie movie.
  • Lili Taylor . . . ditto note about Carol Kane above.
  • More hilarious one-liners for Harvey Bullock, please.  And, a love interest.  May I suggest Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones, so we’ll have someone around to say, “You know nothing, Jim Gordon”?

Claire Thorne, Fanbase Press Contributor



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