A full retrospective on the first season of Fox’s Gotham!
Now that the season is over I want to take a few minutes and look at the season as a whole. Episode to episode my thoughts and feelings on ‘Batman before Batman’ fluctuated wildly. With the whole thing done I can look back at the show’s first season and decide that overall it was good, but needs to do a few things to be great.
The show is supposed to be a vehicle for Jim Gordon. A fantastic character in the comics, cartoons, and videogames, that casual Batfans may not think much of. Gordon’s partner, Bullock is also a familiar name for comic fans. Bullock is known entirely as a corrupt cop. The series lets him do that for all of twenty-five minutes. A young Bruce Wayne is ever present in the show along with a more rough and tumble version of Alfred than we’ve ever had on screen. The inclusion of Bruce Wayne, while necessary, is also my biggest issue with the series. The show is Batman before Batman. The writers need to acknowledge this. Including Bruce Wayne to establish a timeline and for story reasons was fine but should either be embraced or left alone. The show tries to do both. Bruce Wayne is a main character yet only glimpses of him becoming Batman are shown. You don’t become the world’s greatest detective and a phenomenal martial artist by training for two years. If the show insists on having Bruce around all the time, he should be obsessive about it. He is far too balanced about his parent’s death while nothing is really going on to move him forward. Alfred helps him learn to box once and he faces the board of his father’s company at a point. That’s it.
The villains are the most interesting part of Gotham. Fitting since the rogues gallery is what makes Batman one of the most interesting superheroes/comic books/ etc. The Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Falcone, Harvey Dent, Poison Ivy, Tommy Elliot, Scarecrow, and supposedly The Joker (with a new origin story) have all made appearances in the first season. A couple new crime bosses were created to rival Falcone and show how Penguin gets his start.
Gordon is portrayed by Ben McKenzie who got his cop acting chops in the gritty show, Southland, and also voiced the Caped Crusader in 2011’s animated feature Batman: Year One. Gordon is a step up from a rookie. He is a boy scout in a corrupt city in a corrupt police department. The lines are very black and white as the series starts but Gordon learns that he can’t stay completely clean and still exist in that world. His character arc is well written in that he bends his rules but never breaks his resolve. He gets his hands dirty without becoming corrupt. A nice reflection of the man who will one day assist a technically outlawed vigilante in his fight to save the city.
Bullock is played by the ever prevalent and extremely watchable Donal Logue. Logue may not be a name you recognize but the actor is definitely someone you’ve seen before. He has had varying roles in over a hundred projects. Logue does a good job but the script feels inconsistent with his character. He starts as Gordon’s partner and mirror. A very corrupt cop who is swayed into the greater good pretty easily. The corrupt is abandoned pretty clearly. I feel like this was done to give Gordon an ally and because the actor is likable. Both of these reasons, if true, are weak. Gordon shouldn’t have an ally. Gordon decides to help someone as mentally disturbed as The Batman because he has no one else, no choice. Also, an actor acting outside his usual comfort zone is infinitely more entertaining than seeing someone do the same schtick they always do, even if they do it well.
David Mazouz plays the highly intelligent, sad, and morally strong kid who will one day be one of the most iconic heroes in pop-culture history. Everything Mazouz is given to do, he does well. The writing for him seems unsure about how much to engage the character and how much set up they should be doing. The show needs to stop walking the line with Bruce Wayne. They either need to let him fade into the mythology and not be part of the show or go the other direction and show his obsessive unyielding drive to get educated, strong, dangerous, and effective as a crime fighter. We either need the Batman without Batman we were promised or Gotham done Smallville style. Sean Pertwee plays more of a street smart, tough guy Alfred. He is an engaging character but needs to follow in the same path I feel Bruce Wayne needs to. More involvement, or far far less.
Robin Lord Taylor steals this show as Oswald ‘Penguin’ Cobblepot. A low life wannabe who gets passed around to all the mob bosses as a plaything that doesn’t get a single ounce of respect until he demands it. He surprises everyone, in the show and audiences alike, at how conniving and effective he is. The actor sells every scene and sells the physicality of the role. The origin story is largely created for the series but in my head it is proper canon. This penguin is the best ever on screen and one of the best that I’ve seen even coming from print. With that in mind, it may seem counter intuitive that Penguin needs to take a back seat in season two. His character is on his path, time to let someone else get on theirs.
Cory Michael Smith plays a fun early version of The Riddler who should be a larger part of season two. Toward the end of the first season he’s given a great story arc to put his character on the appropriate path. Probably the best example of future promise for the series going forward. Riddler should get the attention in season two that Penguin got in season one.
Selina Kyle was a character that everyone knows, but many don’t know they know. Nolan’s Batman universe went a long way to educate more casual superhero fans on who Seline Kyle is. With some nice nods to her future as Catwoman the street smart, street urchin, street tough girl is only a couple years older than Bruce Wayne and has been a nice compliment to Bruce’s education that doesn’t come out of a book. It’s nice to set up the relationship for the future characters as well. However her character seems like a sidekick to Bruce. I’ve already made my feelings on Bruce’s involvement in the show clear a few times throughout this write up so, like Alfred, Selina should probably fade to the back more in season two.
One of the biggest characters created for the series is that of Fish Mooney. Played intensely by Jada Pinkett Smith. Mooney proved time and again that she was not someone to cross or question. She is physically small but commanding. Her character was very interesting and without her there would be no Penguin. I am guessing she was named Fish solely for the fact that Penguins eat Fish. Not the most subtle hint, and I guess something of a spoiler, but everyone knows The Penguin as a rogue, no one knows Fish Mooney. Mooney had some cool scenes and some real fun on screen but her character can’t be long lived since we know where the series ends up.
The set pieces of Gotham are fantastic. It has the same timeless vibe as Batman: The Animated Series. TAS is the best television Batman we’ve had and ever will have, at least for the foreseeable future. Gotham city looks like it’s own organism. The Warner Bros movies are well known for filming largely in Chicago and Philadelphia but Gotham always had a mid 80s era New York City feel to me. The show captures all of these and more to make it it’s own unique place.
The tone of the show is great. Network TV generally can’t push the boundaries as much as premium cable or Netflix in today’s day and age. Gotham isn’t as dark as Marvel’s Daredevil; but as a cop show it is far more watchable than the by the numbers week to week shows where a case is solved every 44 minutes with commercials, tropes, and familiar characters.
All things considered Season 1 has had it’s ups and downs but is a very solid effort at doing something fairly new with the Batman universe. The actors are very well cast and the direction is solid. Gotham needs to tread carefully into its second season, but not timidly. They need to put their feet firmly where they want the show to be and stop trying to tow the line. Gordon needs to be bolder, the cases need to get weirder. Bruce Wayne either needs to fade away or step it up. A solid direction for all characters needs to be established, especially since we all know the broad strokes of where everyone ends up.