Season Premiere Review: Gotham

Tonight marks the return of Fox‘s crime drama Gotham, which as many of you already know is based on DC‘s published Batman comics and the characters that populate the universe. A year ago, this was a hugely anticipated series. DC fans like myself were looking forward to finally getting a TV show that took place in the gritty streets of the Dark Knight’s hometown. There were also those who remained skeptical about the whole thing; how could a show about Batman-related characters exist without Batman? This is a valid question, one that became even more defensible as the first season progressed and many viewers dropped the show. Now, it’s back for its sophomore season. How does the premiere fare? What path has it set the series down for the rest of the season?

Before I answer those questions, I would like to begin by prefacing my perspective as a viewer of the show. Batman has meant an immeasurable amount to me since my early years. He’s always been my favorite comic book character; he was essentially what got me into comics in the first place. Thus, I may look at Gotham with a slightly more critical eye than the casual viewer. I want them to get these origins right and I recognize every flaw, however minute, in the storytelling or the portrayal of the characters. If it seems like I’m being overly harsh at any point in this review, just realize that it’s only because I care.

Now, on to the review itself. Gotham remains a visually striking series with production values that transcend the usual constraints of network television. The dark, dreary backdrop of Gotham’s skyline retains the essence of the city, which is depicted (with a considerable amount of success) as a living, breathing organism, a presence in itself. From a technical standpoint, Gotham is second to none. But, no one has ever questioned its presentation. It’s the narrative choices and general lack of Batman that are the real concerns.

And those concerns are still there. Many of the questionable character choices are followed through here; Barbara Gordon’s whole psychotic episode from season 1 has landed her in Arkham Asylum, a plotline I wasn’t a fan of to begin with and still don’t like. Additionally, Riddler is turning into a generic psycho killer, effectively undoing some of the compelling developments he experienced in the show’s first season. His character was actually one of the bright spots of season 1, I thought. They handled him better than most of the other villains. However, if he continues down the path they’ve set for him in this premiere, I will be very upset. The Riddler does not have dual identities! Don’t make him indistinguishable from any other loony from Arkham!

Rant over. This brings me to my biggest issue with the series as a whole. Many of these villains cannot exist without the presence of Batman. They are the mirror images of him, opposite sides of the same coin. He is the reason they are allowed to exist. The final scene of Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins explains this correlation between the Dark Knight and his foes: the theatrical, over-the-top baddies are a product of escalation, creations of Batman’s own theatrical nature. Without the Batman to begin the process, it doesn’t make sense that these villains are already existing. So, the absence of the Caped Crusader not only makes the show less interesting, it also presents an inherent flaw to the narrative. That is why the presence of the Joker greatly troubles me.

Well, I think that’s enough negatives for one episode. Let’s get to what I liked beyond the visuals and production values. Ben McKenzie remains a capable star, portraying the character of Jim Gordon the way he should. That’s one part of the show that has been consistently good, and that was no different here. I would have liked to have seen more screen time for Donal Logue‘s Harvey Bullock; the chemistry between those two was one of my favorite aspects of the first season. I’m hoping he is utilized more over the course of season 2. But McKenize holds his own here.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Alfred and Bruce, which was also one of season 1’s highlights. While Bruce’s stoic, emotionless attitude is a little bothersome and wholly unnecessary at this point in the character’s timeline, the two share some memorable moments and Bruce’s emotional catharsis regarding the mystery of his father was surprisingly effective. If handled correctly, that could be a compelling storyline for the show to explore.

The plotline involving Gordon’s deal with Penguin was also well done. Seeing Gordon plunge his hands into the filth for the greater good was interesting to see. At this point, it’s a convincing subplot; should they go overboard with it and turn Gordon into a second Batman, then I will have some problems with it. But until that happens, I’m counting it as a strength for the series.

Written By: Simon Stock

Just a guy who loves movies and loves talking about them just as much. You may see me write about TV or sports, but movies are my primary interest.

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