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RTF Retrospective Review: “GOTHAM – Season 1”

rtf-retrospective-review-gotham-season-1

By Adam Basciano

Gotham is an origin story of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. Gotham follows one cop’s rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil, and chronicles the birth of one of the most popular super heroes of our time.” (FOX)

Full disclosure; Batman is one of my all time favourite fictional characters, so I was pre-disposed to liking this show…and I do! I know some fans complain that some of the villains seem much older than Bruce Wayne, or even that there are too many villains. For me, I view all television shows, and movies based on superhero comics, as alternate timelines or Elseworlds stories. As long as the core essential elements that define the character are present, and treated respectfully which GOTHAM does, for the most part, then I am open to a new spin on the material. Besides, the show will probably end with Bruce putting on the cape and cowl in the finale, and won’t have to directly deal with the fallout of the age difference. Although the producers have said they are not outright opposed to the idea of aging up Bruce Wayne, if the story dictates. If they went this route, then age difference would be a moot point. Also, If Clark Kent can face Doomsday before becoming full on Superman on Smallville, why can’t some of Bruce Wayne’s villains be a decade older then he is. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

One of the things the show has done really well, is make the city of Gotham itself a character in the story, rather than just a backdrop for the characters This is something that has been emphasized more so in the comics over the years, rather than the movies. The mob tug of war over control and power in Gotham City is the most fleshed out we’ve ever seen it. The battle for control and power in the city, is what’s corrupting Gotham. You’ve got the Falcone and Maroni crime families, who control their own territories in Gotham, although, Falcone seems to have the most power. Fish Mooney, who is a protégée of Falcone, secretly plots to kill him. Meanwhile, Fish’s underling, Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, is waffling between the 3 major players of crime in Gotham, secretly pitting them against each other, hoping they’ll pick each other off, leaving him with the spoils and control of the Criminal Underworld of the city. This whole plotline is part Soprano’s and part Game of Thrones, and had so many twists and turns. It kept me guessing for a good portion of the season.

John Doman and David Zayas are convincing mafia dons. Doman was so good in the role, that his dialogue with Jim Gordon, somewhat convinced me that organized crime actually preserved order in Gotham, preventing it from being lost to the “freaks.” While David Zayas played a better Sal Moroni than Eric Roberts did, I think his performance was a little too stereotypical mobster/Italian for my liking. There were very few characters I hated on the show but one of the characters I hated, was Fish Mooney. Actually, let me rephrase that; I love how strong and independent Fish was, and how more often than not, she was more dangerous and volatile then her male counterparts. What I hated was Jada Pinkett Smith’s performance. It was so over the top and unnecessarily campy at times. It’s as if she was channelling Eartha Kitt as Catwoman from the 60’s, rather than playing her own character. As for Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, he is the stand out of the show. This is The Penguin we have come to know in the comics, cunning, mischievous, and violent. He will do, say, and align himself with anyone in order to get what he wants. In the comic books, Penguin is often dismissed and ridiculed for being rotund and small in stature. While Robin Lord Taylor doesn’t share his characters comic appearance, he is nicknamed and ridiculed for the way he dresses, and the limp that he walks with, both making him look very much like a Penguin.

Aside from the actual storyline involving the city, I loved the look of the city itself. The look evokes a hybrid of Tim Burton’s Gotham City mixed with Christopher Nolan’s Gotham. Gothic architecture is present, there are even gargoyles atop certain buildings, but it also feels like a city that could exist in the real world too. The producers said they were going for New York in the 70’s on steroids and they’ve achieved that look. Of course, actually filming in New York helps. However, a CGI augmentation doesn’t make the city clearly identifiable as New York. I also enjoy the fact that the technology that inhabits this world is a mix of old and new. It doesn’t set the show in a particular year. All these factors, give Gotham City a mythical and timeless quality which it deserves.

Now that I’ve shared my feelings about Gotham City, and the villains who are making a power play for it, let’s look at those who defend it. I would’ve never thought of Ben McKenzie aka Ryan Atwood from The OC as James Gordon, but he’s a great choice. Ben McKenzie exudes honesty and trustworthiness when you first see him on screen in the role, but he’s got a ruggedness to him that is required of Jim Gordon. Throughout the season, the corruption in Gotham starts to wear on Jim, so much so that he has to temporarily align himself with the likes of Falcone, and Penguin for the greater good. He’s also butting heads with current corrupt commissioner Gillian Loeb. Throughout the season, it seems as though Gordon’s victories are fleeting and temporary. It’s easy to see why in the years to come he will align himself with the Batman. Speaking of which, I loved every scene between Jim Gordon and the young Bruce Wayne. The scene following the Wayne murders, where Gordon comforts Bruce, called to mind Batman Begins a little. In this scene, Jim promises to track down the man who killed Bruce’s parents and bring him to justice. There was also a scene early on where Gordon stresses to Bruce the importance of fear, and using it to your advantage. These two scenes set the table and foreshadow the duo’s partnership in the future, but also gives Gordon a bit of a hand in Bruce Wayne’s future M.O.; turning fear against those who prey on the fearful.

For now though, Jim Gordon’s current partner is Harvey Bullock, played by character actor Donal Logue. This is the characters first go around in live action, and Donal Logue is claiming ownership of the role. Simply put, it is like watching the character spring to life form the animated series. Harvey isn’t a bad person. On the show, I’d describe him as a good cop, who does bad things in order to survive in Gotham. He knows how to play the game. I really enjoyed that the writers took their time, and let this relationship grow; It went from a forced resentful partnership to start, all the way to a trustful, brothers in arms by season’s end. Logue was perfectly cast, and has great chemistry with Ben McKenzie. I also liked the professional tension and rivalry that Gordon and Bullock had with Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen of the Major Crimes Unit. Got a great “Gotham Central” vibe from these moments (PS: Those books are a must read).

Some would rather Bruce Wayne not be a part of this show. They would strictly like it to be more Gotham Central than anything else.. While most of us would watch a Batman related show without Bruce Wayne, I don’t think Average Joe Audience Member would. In fact, I know they wouldn’t. It’s been tried before; it’s called Birds of Prey. The sooner people realize GOTHAM is Smallville for Batman, the better! I usually think most child actors are terrible, but thankfully that is not the case with our Young Bruce Wayne, played by David Mazouz. There were certain scenes, specifically with Alfred and Gordon, where I thought the young actor already had the Batman attitude to a tee! David managed to convincingly juggle sadness and pain, child like playfulness, and strength and conviction, over the course of the season. His scenes with Alfred will make you both laugh and cry. The scenes where he tries burning himself to master his pain threshold, or when Bruce goes camping the first time without his father will cause you to shed a tear. Seeing Bruce unsuspectingly sneak up on Alfred and be sarcastically admonished for it, had me laughing harder then I should have. As for Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth, Finally, we get a multi-faceted Alfred. In every live action adaptation all we’ve ever really gotten is the father figure/butler, who provides advice to Bruce/Batman. We’ve always been told Alfred can kick ass. With GOTHAM we get the best of both worlds. A paternal/advisory Alfred, and an Alfred who can kick ass, he could almost be James Bond. It is worth noting that actor Sean Pertwee is the son of a former Doctor Who. So it is no wonder he is so cool.

Speaking of Selina Kyle, actress Camren Bicondova does a wonderful job with the character. Does she ever look like a miniature Michelle Pfeiffer or what!? Holy freaky resemblance Batman! While she may look like the Batman Returns actress, her actions and character is much more in line with the comic books. She’s out on her own, and will lie, cheat and steal in order to survive. Deep down though, she has a heart and is capable of doing the right thing. The actress had great chemistry with David Mazouz. In the comics, Catwoman has been known to light a fire under Bruce, while at the same time, getting him to loosen up a bit. All those elements are present in their interactions this season. The playful food fight scene where she teases him about wanting to kiss her was adorable. Yes, I used the term adorable to describe a scene featuring Batman and Catwoman…but come on they’re twelve or so here.. We even got to see the two chasing each other across the rooftops of Gotham. Foreshadowing at its best. As I said, it’s not all fun and games for the future Batman and Catwoman. The two clash over the fact that she lies and steals from him. Oh and the fact that she killed someone. It is interesting to know where their interactions go from here, based on the path Selina chose in the season one finale.

One thing GOTHAM is doing to further separate itself from all other Batman adaptations involves the violence. This is by far the most violent Batman adaptation I’ve seen. And it starts right off the bat (pun intended), in the pilot. When the Wayne’s are killed, you actually see blood, which has never happened in live action before. The inclusion of blood, made this tragic and iconic moment even more unsettling, and strengthened the sympathy and sadness the audience experiences with Bruce Wayne. The Penguin slashes someone’s throat with a broken beer bottle. All that is child’s play compared to the moment when Fish Mooney scoops out her own eyeball in order to escape death at the hands of The Dollmaker. The moment was jarring, unexpected, and wonderfully disgusting. While I’ve seen worse on Game of Thrones, this is one of the most gruesome things I’ve seen on network television at 8pm.

While I would encourage anyone who wants to get into GOTHAM watch the whole first season to start, I’ll run down my favourite and least favourite episodes, in case you want to expedite the process a little bit. Obviously, start with the pilot. While we are all familiar with Gotham City and its inhabitancy, there are differences that you’ll need to get familiar with, and learn the new status quo. My only criticism of the pilot was that the pacing was all over the place, and they crammed too many characters into the pilot. Case in point, actress Claire Foley as Ivy Pepper aka Poison Ivy. All she did was answer a door and stand behind a plant. They could’ve saved her intro for a later date. Also, what wrong with Pamela Isley? Ivy Pepper is a re4diculous name, trying to be too on the nose.

Also, check out Mob heavy/ Penguin centric episodes “Penguins Umbrella” and “What the Little Bird Told Him” Both are game changing episodes. If Penguin isn’t your favourite Bat-Villain, Robin Lord Taylor may change that after you see these episodes. Follow Jim Gordon as he braves the halls of the insane asylum in “Arkham” and “Rogue’s Gallery”. I love the cinematography and music in these episodes. It really was perfect in showcasing Arkham Asylum, as the craziest place on earth. Watching Jim Gordon run the gauntlet of all the crazies inside, made me think of the Arkham video games, just replace Batman with Gordon. If you like the movie “Fight Club”, check out “The Mask.” The villain in this episode is Richard Sionis aka The Mask. He so happens to be the uncle of Roman Sionis aka Black Mask.

In addition to Penguin, Catwoman, Black Mask, and a poorly used Poison Ivy, The Riddler aka Edward Nygma, is sprinkled throughout various episodes. Corey Michael Smith shines in the role. He’s got Riddler’s intelligence, and quirkiness down pact. I didn’t mind that Nygma works for the GCPD as a medical; examiner. After all, we’ve seen him work with the GCPD as a private detective now and again in the comics, so why not this? Constantly being looked passed at work, and being shunned by the woman he loves help bring out his madness. We see that throughout the first season. I just wish the woman of his affection wasn’t named Kris Kringle. It makes me have visions of Riddler dating a female Santa Claus.  Not to mention, it’s an incredibly campy name and it is quite awkward!  If you tune into the “Harvey Dent” and “Lovecraft” episodes you’ll get your first look at Harvey Dent played by Nicholas D’Agosto. The sample size was too small to give a verdict, but the story showcased his reliance on his coin, laid the groundwork for his contentious partnership with Det. Gordon, and hinted at his nasty temper. Sadly, the character is largely forgotten after these episodes.

My favourite mythology episodes of GOTHAM were the two part episodes “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” and “The Scarecrow” , as well as “The Blind Fortune Teller.” The two parter, quite obviously tells the origin story of the Scarecrow. The producers borrowed from Scott Snyder’s run and had Jonathan Crane’s father testing his fear toxin on his son. This may sound like blasphemy, but I liked the “Fear Toxin effect” better on GOTHAM, than I did in Batman Begins. That’s saying something given how much I love Batman Begins! If you ever wondered what makes The Scarecrow so messed up, these episodes have your answer. Fun Trivia; Julian Sands plays The Scarecrow’s father Gerald Crane and also played Clark Kent’s Kryptonian father Jor-El on two episodes of Smallville. As for “The Blind Fortune Teller”, it features the young man who will one day become The Joker. Actor Cameron Monaghan ws the first actor to play “The Joker” since Heath Ledger and did a fantastic job. I won’t ruin it, but the interrogation scene was…WOW! It gave me chills! He may not wear makeup or have green hair, but in that moment HE WAS THE JOKER!

As I said off the top, I truly enjoy the first season of GOTHAM. Was the show perfect? No, but it is rare that any show is in the first season. The show was too procedural at times, and the character of Barbara Keane was an absolute waste of screen time. “The Balloon Man” was just as pointless and stupid as many of the filler episodes from Smallville, and “The Ogre” series of episodes was a desperate attempt to capitalize on the 50 Shades of Grey popularity. But when GOTHAM gets it right, it NAILS it. Specifically, characters, perfect tone, and visual look. The fact that this is a Batman story set in a time never covered in the comics, means even this hardcore Bat-Fan can enjoy surprises along the way.

Score: B+

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Adam Basciano

I'm a long time fan of superheroes. I love DC and really like Marvel. Will be contributing comic book review columns, to Revenge of The Fans.

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