tek's rating:

Gotham, on FOX
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Caution: Spoilers!

After the first season ended, I had to figure out where to put my review. This proved difficult (but I'm used to that). I considered "detective dramas," since it is in large part a show about police detectives. But ultimately, I felt that that wasn't sufficiently central to the story (because there is a balance between that and at least a couple other aspects). I have a category called "superhero shows," but this show doesn't actually have any superheroes, in spite of being based on comic books that are about a superhero: Batman. (Because this is a prequel, of sorts... not a prequel to anything in particular, because it's separate from any other film or TV continuities about Batman. It's just set in Batman's city- Gotham- probably a decade or so before Bruce Wayne creates the alter ego "Batman.") So, I considered changing my superhero category to include comic book adaptations (since most of the shows in that category are comic adaptations, anyway), but... I've decided against it. For now. (But I may yet change my mind about that.) I also considered putting the review under "action/adventure," or "weird," but decided against those, as well. So... for now I'm just calling it a "drama," even if it's not entirely grounded in realism. It's still kind of grittier than most shows based on comic books (provided they don't air on Netflix or something like that), and if I had a category for TV noir, I'd actually be pretty happy putting my review there. But I don't.

Season 1
I think most people who know anything at all about Batman have seen at least one version of his origin story. They know that when Bruce Wayne was a young boy, he saw his parents, the wealthy Thomas and Martha Wayne, shot and killed by a mugger, while the three of them were returning home from seeing a movie. From then on, Bruce will be raised by his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (played here by Sean Pertwee). And his parents' murder is what leads young Bruce to devote his life to preparation to becoming a vigilante crimefighter, who will eventually be known as Batman. Usually when we see this, it's just a small part of the origin story, and the story will go on to focus more heavily on the preparation itself, most of it when he's older. But in the case of this story, we're not flashing forward in time, and Bruce is not a central character. It's mostly about Detective James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie, best known to me for The O.C.), a young man who has recently joined the GCPD. We all know that in the future, he'll become the Commissioner of Police, and be a great ally to Batman, but for now he's just an idealistic rookie cop who promises young Bruce that he'll find out who killed his parents, and bring them to justice.

At first, the show put me in mind of the seminal 1987 story Batman: Year One, but there are definitely some differences... most notably the fact that that story is about the older Bruce's first year as Batman, whereas in this show he's still a young boy (I think around 13 years old). But that story was always at least as much (if not more) about Gordon's early efforts to clean up the corrupt police department. And Gordon tries to do the same thing in this show, much to the consternation of his partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Now, I should say that Bullock is a character I mainly know from Batman: The Animated Series, at which point Gordon was already Commissioner. So it's a bit strange to think of them as partners- and in fact, the Bullock on this show is older and far more jaded than Gordon. But his depiction in this show isn't too different than in the cartoon. But at least he's not as bad as most of Gotham's cops, and in spite of his constant dismay at Gordon's attempts to do the right thing, he's always got his partner's back. I also want to mention that I'm used to thinking of Bullock's partner as being Renee Montoya, in the cartoon. But in this series, she's in the Major Crimes Unit (MCU), and her partner is Crispus Allen (a character I must have seen in at least one other incarnation, but I don't really remember him). Montoya and Allen want to clean up the GCPD as much as Gordon does, though for awhile they think he's just as crooked as the rest of the cops in Gotham. Also I should mention that Gordon and Bullock's captain is Sarah Essen, a character I only know from "Year One." She's not a bad cop, but like Bullock, she's fully willing to go along with "the program." Because to do otherwise is virtual suicide.

Another important character is a woman named Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), who has not appeared in other incarnations of the Batman universe, prior to this show. She runs a nightclub as well as being an underboss in Carmine Falcone's mob family. She has a generally friendly relationship with Bullock, who sometimes goes to her for information when investigating cases with Gordon. Although in the pilot, she does order her second in command, Butch Gilzean, to kill Gordon and Bullock, by the second episode it seems her relationship with Bullock has returned to normal (after don Falcone ordered Bullock and Gordon's release). Falcone is somewhat familiar to me from "Year One" and The Long Halloween. Anyway, Mooney would like to get rid of Falcone and take over his whole organization herself, but it will be some time before she's prepared to do so. Meanwhile, another gangster, Sal Maroni (whom I vaguely know from "The Long Halloween") also has plans to take over. Also, Mooney had a lackey named Oswald Cobblepot, who we all know will eventually become the villain known as the Penguin. (A nickname he picks up a little way into the first season; at first he didn't like it, but eventually he embraced it.) He wanted to take over Mooney's operations, but she turned against him, beat him so badly that now he has a penguin-like limp, and then Falcone ordered his death. Gordon was supposed to kill him to prove he, too, is "with the program," but Gordon only pretended to kill him, and told him never to return to Gotham. However, it wasn't long at all before Penguin returned, and began climbing the ranks of the mob.

Meanwhile, a small-time crook named Mario Pepper was framed for the murder of the Waynes. He ends up being killed by Bullock, but Gordon later learns that Pepper wasn't the real killer. Mario is survived by his wife, as well as his young daughter, Ivy. (And we all know that someday Ivy will become the villain Poison Ivy; though her name should be Pamela Isley, the show's new take on the character might eventually account for this discrepancy. Or not.) Meanwhile, pretty much everything that happens in Gotham is being observed by a homeless young petty thief named Selina Kyle, who calls herself "Cat" (who is around Bruce's age). She saw who really killed the Waynes, and that leads to a rather awkward quasi-friendship with Bruce, and with Gordon. (And of course we all know she'll grow up to become Catwoman.) And um... Gordon has a rich fiancée named Barbara Kean, in whom he confides (up to a point) about what's going on with his job, though he does keep some secrets from her. And she eventually leaves town, and sort of breaks up with Jim, I guess. Also, there's a forensics guy in the police department named Edward Nygma (who we all know will someday become the Riddler). He's very eager to please Gordon and Bullock, though they mainly find him annoying. And he has a crush on a GCPD archivist named Kristen Kringle, who also finds him annoying.

Anyway, lots of stuff happens throughout season one. There are various cases for Gordon and Bullock to investigate, but this being Gotham City, they're often weird cases. Sometimes they involve criminals who I don't think have ever appeared in the comics, but whose methods of operation are definitely comic book-y. (Though not as much so as the criminals who actually do appear in the comics.) And we'll see the origins of some other familiar comic book characters, such as Scarecrow and possibly the Joker (we see at least a couple of different possibilities for who he is, throughout the season). But even if we've seen their origins, their actual emergence as major villains is probably still years off. So far basically only one major villain, the Penguin, has taken on a familiar pseudonym, and even that is still just a nickname. (And he isn't all that much like the Penguin of the comics, yet.) Gordon teams up with a lawyer named Harvey Dent, who also wants to clean up the city (though we all know someday he'll be Two-Face). Also, half way through the season, Arkham Asylum is reopened (after having been closed for years, I guess). And Gordon gets transferred there as a security guard, for a little while. There he meets Dr. Leslie 'Lee' Thompkins (Morena Baccarin); Thompkins is a character I know a little bit from The Animated Series, but of course she's much younger, here. Gordon soon goes back to work at the GCPD, and Lee gets a job there, too, as Medical Examiner, and she and Gordon start dating.

Mooney eventually has to flee Gotham, after a failed attempt to usurp Falcone's position. She ends up a prisoner on an island run by a creepy doctor called the Dollmaker, but she manages to turn the situation to her advantage. Meanwhile, Penguin gets to run Mooney's nightclub. Butch gets brainwashed by one of Falcone's people, Victor Zsasz, and is forced to serve as Penguin's henchman. And Bruce learns that there's all kinds of shady stuff going on at Wayne Enterprises, and begins to investigate. It seems pretty much the whole board of directors is against him, though he eventually meets a man named Lucius Fox, an old friend of his father's, who could be an ally within the company. And Gordon continues getting into trouble with his efforts to clean up the police department, making particular enemies of Commissioner Gillian Loeb (Peter Scolari) and Mayor Aubrey James (Richard Kind). By the end of the season, a mob war erupts between Falcone and Maroni, and Mooney also returns to Gotham with plans of her own. And of course, Penguin is in the middle of everything. And Nygma has his own stuff going on, which leads to him going (kind of) insane. And Butch's brainwashing starts to come undone, so I look forward to seeing what happens with him, next season. And... I know I've said a ton, but I've also left out a ton.

Anyway. I feel like in some ways, the show hasn't lived up to its potential. I didn't like it as much as I hoped I would, but I definitely like it more than some people do. And I like a lot of the characters. The best one is probably Bullock, who can be really funny at times, particularly in his reactions to Gordon's stubborn idealism. Penguin's always fun to watch, too. And Lee's got a very appealing brand of spunk. And I think Selina's pretty cool. Oh, and Oswald's mother, Gertrud Kapelput, is entertaining, mainly because she's played by Carol Kane.

And... now that I'm breaking up my review by putting seasons on separate pages, I'm going to move the first paragraph from season 2 to this page, since it was just about some events from this season that I didn't want to spoil. But now I will. A serial killer called "The Ogre" (Milo Ventimiglia) kidnapped Barbara. She was eventually rescued, but before that, the Ogre had talked her into... basically going insane, and killing her own parents. (We'd previously seen that she didn't have a great relationship with them.) And she tried to kill Lee. (So at the start of season 2, she's in Arkham Asylum.) Also, Falcone decided to leave Gotham. Fish killed Maroni, but was later killed, herself, by Penguin. Before her death, she had recruited Selina into her gang. Also, Bruce and Alfred discovered a secret stairway hidden behind a fireplace in the Wayne mansion....

Season Two

drama index