Gotham: Season 1 (2014) TV Review “An Example Of A Terrific Concept With Horrible Execution”

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Anyone that knows me (or has been following this blog for any amount of time) would know that one of my favorite characters of all time is Bruce Wayne and Batman.  So, naturally you make anything that has to do with that world you instantly have my attention.  So ,when I heard about Fox’s upcoming DC project “Gotham” I was both interested and excited.  A prequel to everything Batman that focuses on Lt. James Gordon making his way to Gotham City and trying hard not to keep his honor in a police force that has none.  This right off the bat sounds unique and different.  Not many forms of media explore what was happening during the years when Bruce Wayne was a kid, when the city was at its lowest of lows.  We only get a sense of it with Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” but “Gotham”, with its 22 episode seasons, has a chance to really explore the organized crime, suffering and the hell hole that Gotham City is.  There is a lot of intriguing things you could have done with this show.

Yet, this show does everything possible to not succeed upon its potential.   Embarrassingly cartoony, poor and forced writing, uneven performances and an annoying reliance on Batman villains (before they were villains) plague this show to no end.  Not to mention the 22 episode season is an endurance test of the highest form.  “Gotham” is a hugely disappointing show, one that should have and could have been a whole lot better.

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In just the first paragraph, I have expressed that I believed that this show has great potential.  You don’t need a show with Batman in it to make “Gotham” interesting.  The rise of organized crime, the city wide depression, James Gordon fighting to keep his righteous ways, Bruce’s parents (Thomas and Martha Wayne) all provided great story arcs to work with and off of.  Yet this show instead favors to be a primary police procedural with something new happening every week.   There is nothing inherently wrong with this, it all lies in the execution.  Even though “Gotham” is suppose to take place before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman (in fact this show opens up after the shooting of his parents) this series seems to be more interested in being a Batman show then a show about James Gordon.

There are so many episodes that have the most forced villain cameos for characters in this show.  Riddler, Poison Ivy, and a reoccurring Selina Kyle (that is only around the age of 10 or 12 in the show) that already is building a relationship with Bruce.  Look, I’m all for breaking away from source material (if we’re going by “Batman: Year One” mythology then Gordon shouldn’t even be in Gotham at this point and time) but this all feels mangled.  It’s almost as if the show’s creators were so fearful that the fans wouldn’t accept anything new and different that they did everything they possibly could to remind everyone that this is a Batman show.  It’s like the writers put their arms around and went, “don’t worry little one, this is still a Batman show.  Look at all the cool Batman stuff that’s in it.” They even went as far to put in a half baked Joker cameo.  None of this works and stands on its own as part of the free flowing narrative.  The show’s story almost comes to a complete halt every time the show feels the need to throw in every single Batman connection they possibly can.

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Adding to all this is the often confused tone of the show.  Many times this feels like a live action cartoon.  The balloon killer?  Really?  Then after kiddy stuff like that “Gotham” believes that you can take seriously it’s poorly written story arc of Penguin’s rise to power in the crime world and the war that is taking place between several different crime families.  “Batman: The Animated Series” was far more mature and balanced it’s tone better then “Gotham”.  Sure that cartoon series had its goofier moments but nearly the entire show made even the goofiest of characters fit it’s more mature tone far better and more successful than this did (I can’t recommend that animated series enough.  If you haven’t seen you should definitely check it out.)

The show’s biggest saving grace is the lead performance of actor Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon.  A strong actor on TNT’s (well originally NBC’s) terrific cop drama, “Southland”, McKenzie is able to flex his acting chops a big more in this series.  Playing the character much different than previous incarnations, McKenzie does his best to make the dialogue work even if he is sometimes doesn’t emote enough emotion.  (Fun Trivia- Ben McKenzie voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the animated movie “Batman: Year One” while TNT- the network that ran “Southland” – is rumored to be developing a “Teen Titans” TV series)

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While the rest of the actors sorely lack decent direction. Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock isn’t a huge offender and occasionally offers up some good banter between him and McKenzie as Gordon’s partner.  But, at times you can tell he is straining to keep up.  While Robin Lord Taylor could not be more over the top as Oswald Cobblepot (one of the few Batman included villains that doesn’t feel forced).   That becomes a running theme between the actors of the show, who could can be the most over the top?  At times certain actors reach Adam West “Batman ” levels of cartoony acting (a show in which I adore).  Jada Pinkett Smith (from what I can gather seems like a fan favorite on the show)is annoying and irritating every time she on screen.  From her costume design (which admittedly has little to do with her) to her mustache twirling ways, this Smith at her worst.   I thought we were in an age where actors knew that just because they are in a comic book show, they don’t need to be over the top?

The child acting of David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova is functional and have some solid chemistry between them as young Bruce Wayne and young Selina Kyle    While I also enjoy Sean Pertwee more hard edged, tough and proper British man take on the classic character of Alfred Pennyworth. These actors however were never the problem.  The problem with these characters is they have far more screen time then the storyline should allow (which is a running theme in the show).

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It’s been tough to keep up with this show especially with its overly long and stretched out 22 episode format that elongates far too many story arcs.   I hope this is just a case of first season woes with a show trying to find its footing (although you’d think 22 episodes is enough time to find it).  I still have some optimism for its second season but it’s getting pretty dim for me.

Final Score

3/10

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