Series Review: Gotham Season 1

Gotham starring Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Donal Logue (Harvey Bullock) and Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot)

I was always skeptical about Gotham. A Batman prequel? Batman without the Bat himself? Sure, Jim Gordon is an important character, but could he really hold a show by himself? But as it’s the final third of summer and Gotham has just been added to Netflix, i thought I’d give it a shot.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for season plotlines – no main character deaths will be mentioned.

Gotham has a threefold focus: Jim Gordon’s struggle to improve the largely corrupt and mob-controlled Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), Bruce Wayne’s journey after the loss of his parents and the origin stories of various villains (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Ivy, Scarecrow, Joker, The Dollmaker, Zsasz, Harvey Dent and Red Hood are all teased or part of season one). The opening episodes are important (the Waynes are gunned down within the first ten minutes of episode 1 – we knew it had to happen soon but i didn’t expect it that fast!) but the series only really gets going by episode 4 (which is good, as i usually give up by episode 5 of a series if there’s nothing to merit continuing – coincidentally Breaking Bad has 1 episode left to convince me after a disappointing opening 4…). If you’re still unsure by this point, watch episode 7 (Penguin’s Umbrella) because it’s the first great episode Gotham delivers – and if you still don’t like it by then it’s probably not for you.

Ben McKenzie doesn’t put in a bad performance as Gordon, though playing the out and out hero doesn’t always give him a lot to do. His interactions with Harvey Bullock and Captain Essen (the two who he works with at the corrupt police department, who slowly show signs of redemption by helping him more as the season progresses) are well written, but it’s his scenes with Penguin that really shine. Barbara, Gordon’s supposed love interest, wasn’t all that good (hence their break up mid-season) but her pairing as a mentor to Selina Kyle works better, and Morena Baccarin is much better as Leslie Thompkins, who Gordon grows close to in the second half of the season. David Mazouz is excellent as the young Bruce Wayne – inquisitive, intelligent, arrogant and isolated, you can see shades of the Batman slowly forming. He’s helped by Sean Pertwee as a younger, more active Alfred than we’re used to, but really shines when he’s paired off with Selina Kyle (who’s both enigmatic and far more morally grey than Bruce – but the early signs of an attraction between them is obvious).

This is the one of the few Batman adaptions to do one thing: have someone other than Joker as the main villain. After the Nolan trilogy, the Arkham games and virtually every animated series used him as the centerpiece, Gotham broke the mold (at least for it’s first season) and went with Penguin instead. Sure Joker may crop up at some point (and he may have already – we’ve had a couple of possible Joker candidates appear so far) but i applaud Gotham for not using him straight away. Joker works so well against Batman i believe they should really save him for later seasons when Bruce gets closer to becoming the Bat anyway – having him opposite Gordon probably wouldn’t be as effective. Season 2 will have him in some way – but i hope he doesn’t steal too much of the spotlight from Penguin and Riddler – who have been built up so effectively in season 1. Robin Lord Taylor is the highlight of the series as Penguin, who is caught in the middle of a brewing Gang War between the Falcone and Maroni crime bosses, as well as the ambitious Fish Mooney, who is plotting to usurp Falcone. Watching him squirm, weasel, murder and plot his way up through the ranks of Maroni and Falcone’s organisations (switching sides more than once) is a highlight. Corey Michael Smith has a slower plot arc as Edward Nygma, who as a social misfit working as a forensic analyst for GCPD, is constantly put down by the cops (save Gordon) while harbouring an unrequitted crush on a colleague which eventually drives him to commit his first murder. He really comes into his own late season, and will doubtless fall further into villainy in series two.

It’s easy for a TV series to have a lot of episodes I’d rate as 3.5/5 (above average) or 4/5 (good). Agents of Shield had plenty that good. I stopped watching it because it failed to have any classic episodes (5/5) and only a couple that were near-greatness (4.5/5) – and because it wasn’t improving (and because the season as a whole was disappointing, even if the individual episodes were generally fine to watch). In a 22/23/24 episode season you expect better – i mean in general half of the episodes per season that Flash or Arrow produce are of very high quality – impressive for a series that long. So how did Gotham fare? Well i gave 6 episodes 4.5/5 – these were generally episodes that were part of the main season arc and had a compelling main villain. The season as a whole felt a bit disjointed (mainly because the network extended the season several times) – two recurring characters basically disappear without comment after episode 10. A few mid-late season episodes feel like they are just killing time to the finale (especially Fish Mooney’s plotline). But it still fits together better than Agents of Shield (because it’s main storyline was more compelling) and Arrow Season 3 (which was too drawn out even if it had some great episodes).

Overall, Gotham has given us some great versions of Batman villains (i can’t think of better versions of Penguin, Riddler or Victor Zsasz), some colourful mob bosses, and a main character who is easy to root for. Yes, it’s pacing isn’t always spot on, the season wasn’t a cohesive whole (mainly because it kept getting extended) and i hope we’ve seen the last of OTT Fish Mooney, but overall i was pleasantly surprised by Gotham’s first season.

Series Rating: 4 out of 5

Much better than Agents of Shield, but still not quite up there with Flash and Arrow. Still a must see for DC/Batman fans. Can’t wait for season 2.

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