DC Wants to Have Its Batcake and Eat It Too with "Gotham" Review

We’ve all been told at one point in our lives that ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’, but it seems that no one ever told that to the folks over at DC who decided they wanted to create a series about Gotham, the home of Batman, but without Batman. It’s both a confounding and intriguing approach to a DC series because the most interesting part of Gotham is its masked vigilante detective and by setting the show during Bruce Wayne’s childhood, the writers are also forced to mostly make do without the very thing that arguably makes Batman great: his stellar rogues gallery. In some part, the writers try to make it work by focusing the story on the young, incorruptible Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), his slightly tainted partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and a recently bereaved, adolescent Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) as they navigate the increasingly volatile underworld of Gotham.

The series kicks off with the murder of Martha and Thomas Wayne and the entry of boy scout detective Jim Gordon to the corrupt world of Gotham law enforcement. Gordon makes a personal promise to Bruce to find whoever murdered his philanthropist parents, and it serves as a good device to keep the two in constant contact – until Gordon’s larger story effectively takes his interest elsewhere. With so much corruption in the Gotham Police Department, Gordon has enemies both on and off the street, but that doesn’t deter him one bit. Committed to cleaning up the city he now calls home, Gordon arrests crooked cops and takes down some very odd killers as his partner Bullock both helps and bemoans his insistence to get too involved in everything, even when it puts his new and old love interests (Morena Baccarin, Erin Richards) in harm’s way. Meanwhile, Bruce takes the investigation of his parents’ murder upon himself with some help from his trusted butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and a young cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova).

While there are elements of Gotham that work surprisingly well, like the scene-stealing iterations of the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) and the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the writers are effectively backed up against a wall when it comes to using well-known characters due to how young Bruce has been cast. Consequently the stories must rely on either digging really deep into Batman lore to use villains that fans won’t mind being locked up by Gordon (with the knowledge they can always escape from the maddeningly escapable Arkham Asylum in the future) or that they’ve created especially for this series – and that’s where the biggest cracks of the series start to show.

With the bulk of Gotham’s first season dealing with the Maroni-Falcone gang war, a third party, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), was added to give the age-old conflict some new spice unique to this series. Unfortunately, despite Smith’s best efforts, Fish never becomes more than a cliché even if the idea was a good one. The writers already have their hands full dealing with Maroni, Falcone, and Oswald Cobblepot’s transparent attempts to play them against one another to secure his own empire, and so Mooney was unnecessary, but much of the season’s first half is spent developing her and then following her various rises and falls in fortune. Jada Pinkett Smith gives a good performance, but it just wasn’t a good fit for a part that makes up so much of the show’s founding season.

By contrast, we’re left wishing we got to see more of Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma’s transformation from the Gotham Police Department’s overly earnest medical examiner to an increasingly violent scorned romantic who decides to take what he can’t have. Gotham handles the Riddler and the Penguin quite well, even as it struggles to work in other fan favorites or does so in a way that makes it questionable how they could reasonably be around once Bruce Wayne is old enough to be Batman. The best examples being Roman Sionis (aka The Black Mask), who is in his 40s when we see him here, and Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto) who’s a 30-something DA while Bruce Wayne’s in his early teens. It seems like a minor issue until you think about how it means, upon becoming Batman, he’ll be in his physical prime fighting a 60-year-old Black Mask and 50-year-old Two-Face. Suddenly, he’s a little less impressive.

There are good parts to Gotham, but as of the first season they’re being drowned out by winks that take you out of the story and heavy-handed attempts to give new spins to old favorites (like the Ogre – who bears no resemblance in form or story to its source material) to prove a show about Gotham without Batman can work. At least with the cliffhanger of this season (wherein Bruce and Alfred make an important discovery about the home they live in) there’s some promise that Gotham will start inching closer to Batman: Year One or even Smallvile territory (which at least had all the familiar players and a semi-superpowered Clark Kent even if it lacked the great atmosphere Gotham has).

Odds are Gotham won’t be able to break out of its tailspin and will crash with its second season, but there are good things the show can focus on to save itself – the question is whether or not the writers know what they are.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The show might not be up to snuff, but the extras in the Blu-ray combo pack might make up for it with the inclusion of an Ultraviolet digital copy and featurettes covering the set construction, the villains, the lead-up to Batman, the season’s narrative, the Penguin’s ridiculously, poorly conceived plan, a gag reel, deleted scenes, the 2014 ComicCon panel, and character profiles.

"Gotham: The Complete First Season" is on sale September 8, 2015 and is not rated. Crime, Drama, Thriller. Directed by Danny Cannon, Paul A Edwards, Tj Scott. Written by Bruno Heller, John Stephens, Ken Woodruff. Starring Ben McKenzie, David Mazouz, Donal Logue, Erin Richards, Jada Pinket Smith, Morena Baccarin, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor.

Sep
21
2015
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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