Monday, September 12, 2016

Gotham Season 1 Review


It seems like just yesterday when I first heard about this new Fox series called Gotham.  Everyone was all giddy with anticipation to watch the origin of Batman and the rise of Jim Gordon through the corruption of the Gotham City Police Department.

And it seems like it was just the day after yesterday, when myself and all my nerdly friends were so disgusted and frustrated with the horrendous writing, after seeing the first few episodes, we vowed never to watch it again.  We just hoped this type of abomination would be cancelled quickly, and the creators brought up on charges of hate crimes for destroying such iconic characters.

But something weird happened... Gotham wasn't cancelled.  As I write this, they are about to begin season three.  How is this possible, when everyone hated it???  Well, actually... it seems some people really enjoy it.  I can hear your collective scoffs at the idea, but I have met some of these people.  They really like the show!  How is this possible???

I needed to find out what exactly was going on.  I knew none of my friends would ever watch again, so like meeting a mugger in an alleyway behind a theater, I took a bullet for you and watched all of season one.

The trick to watching and, (dare I say?), enjoying, this series is, you have to look at everything very objectively.  Pretend you know nothing about Batman, or any of the characters in the entire mythos.  For some of you, this is impossible.  You have seen every incarnation of the Bat imaginable, and you can't accept that someone might have a version askew of your deeply ingrained concepts. 

However, others (some of us?), are open minded enough to understand and respect that occasionally origin stories are altered.  Even in comic books, the history of some characters have been tweaked over the years to change with the times.  The fundamental basics are usually still intact, but there is always some idiot that thinks he can do it better than it's been done before.  Sometimes they actually improve on those original ideas.  Sometimes they don't.

Therein lies the conundrum that is GothamSome things they did very well!  And other things really suck.

In my humble opinion, one thing I found particularly sucky, was how much fan service they try to shove down our throats.  It feels like they don't have the confidence in their own writing to focus on the core characters of the show.  They seem obsessed with putting as much Bat-history into each episode that they can find.  Whether it's someone obscure, or common, if you liked a particular Bat-villain, Gotham will figure out a way to slip that character into an episode.  And unfortunately, some of those random diversions in the main story arc just didn't work.  They tried to do so much in season one, it's easy to overlook some of the impressive elements of the series.

So like Peter Quill in a dance-off, let's break it down.

WHAT THEY GOT RIGHT

Gotham
I'm referring to the actual city.  It looks and feels right.  There is quite literally a dark cloud hanging over everything.  The buildings look perfectly big, industrial, and just waiting for some masked vigilante to shoot a grappling hook into the top of them  Even Arkham Asylum was very well crafted.  Gotham feels like a character itself, and that's kind of cool.

Penguin
All hail actor Robin Lord Taylor.  He created a fantastic, but unique version of Oswald Cobblepot that I can respect.  His appearance and acting helps you accept that this sneaky, odd little man, can eventually become a powerful crime lord in Gotham.  I was eager to see him more and more.  He alone is the reason to watch this series.

Ed Nygma
When he first appeared, I rolled my eyes a bit.  With Penguin already an important character, it seemed like overkill to wedge the future Riddler in as a secondary character.  But honestly, I started to appreciate actor Cory Michael Smith more as the series went on.  He stands out and feels like a modern comic book adaptation.  Occasionally he borders on annoying, but if they can reign him in, he'll be one to watch in later seasons.

Harvey Bullock
Actor Donal Logue was the first thing that I liked when I originally started watching the show. He felt comic book accurate.  Occasionally he was too clich√©, but maybe that's why he was enjoyable too.

Harvey Dent
Appearing in only a few episodes in season one, they developed him properly.  I do appreciate the lighting on him, showing half his face in shadows.  Bonus points for foreshadowing.  Well, I want to think it was intentional anyway.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred
Child actors can be fairly annoying.  But this kid gets it (David Mazouz).  It's nice to watch him become a detective and figure out right and wrong.  It helps that he has Alfred (Sean Pertwee), who is also that perfect balance of mentor, guardian, and obviously Butler too. 

Victor Zsasz
I felt annoyed at the producers for adding yet another Batman villain into an already convoluted mix.  But actor Anthony Carrigan made this character enjoyably creepy.  

Luscious Fox
Shown very briefly for one episode, actor Chris Chalk seems like he will be a good fit as well.   

WHAT THEY GOT GOOD ENOUGH

Jim Gordon
At it's core, Gotham should be about Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie).  More often than not, he is secondary to whatever else is going on around him.  I don't dislike him.  But I can't love him either.  He just shows up, and occasionally stops criminals. 

Selina Kyle
Producers seem very eager to showcase a young Catwoman (Camren Bicondova).  At times, she seemed too ridiculous to take seriously.  But other times, there is a decent origin story for who she is destined to become when she's older.  It's nice to see her and young Bruce together.  But is she necessary to the story?  Maybe not...

Mob Bosses
On the one hand, they seem very cliche.  On the other hand... I've known some very cliche older Italian people in my life, who may, or may not have been involved in the Mafia.  So is it accurate, or just a bad 1920's version of what producers think the Mob is like?  I will say, I did see some very well crafted story elements involving them though.  I say that seriously, and also to make sure my kneecaps aren't spontaneously broken tomorrow.

WHAT THEY GOT HORRIBLY WRONG

Fish Mooney
From the ridiculous cartoon name, to the pointless over the top acting, to the eye rolling outfits, THIS is the main reason to never watch this show again.  Producers wanted to create a new character to make their mark in the Batman archive.  This was not the way to do it.  It seems as if writers, or producers or actress Jada Pinkett Smith watched too much Adam West Batman.  This character is so wrong for this show.  And honestly, I don't think she would work well on Adam West's Batman either.  After a while, I was very eager to just fast forward through every one of her scenes.  

The Mayor
When you hire an actor to play the Mayor of such a dark, corrupt city, would you consider hiring someone best known for their comedy roles?  Apparently the producers of Gotham thought that was a good idea when they hired Richard Kind.  And yes, he plays him as foolishly as you can imagine.  He overreacts, he gets overly emotional and just feels out of place as mayor.  I don't care if he's corrupt, he should at least have some semblance of being an adult in a position of power. 

Ivy
Stop.  Just stop.  I can't think of any reason to include this character.  She's pointless and adding her just feels forced and unnecessary.   

Kristen Kringle
Again the show tries to appear too cartoon-ish.  The object of Ed Nygma's affection (Chelsea Spack), seems too exaggerated and poorly written.  To make Nygma stand out more, in such a dark story, she should be 'normal'

Mrs.Kapelput
And here we have another reason to turn off this show.  Fortunately she only appears in a few episodes, but actress Carol Kane plays the same foreign character she's been doing since it was first conceived in the series Taxi in 1979.  Stop.  Please.  This is not the place for it.

Most Secondary Criminals
Gotham seems eager to interweave a criminal of the week throughout their main story.  And more often than not, that criminal of the week is very poorly written.  There are some exceptions, but many of them  are forgettable.  If you haven't already forgotten them by the end of the episode, you will be eager to try to forget them soon enough.  

So having seen all of season one, I can't say I hated it.  It was like a roller coaster.  I guess you could call it a Bat-coaster.  I think there are many missed opportunities in the show.  I really wish Thomas and Martha Wayne would have stayed alive for one full season, so we could appreciate all they did for the city.  Then when they are tragically killed, we would feel something.  I wish they would focus strictly on Penguin, Jim Gordon/Harvey Bullock, and the Mobs.  I think there is enough with those characters alone to create a very enjoyable series.  I wish they could decide if they want to be a serious show or just outright goofy.

And to be clear, the Adam West version of Batman is the only one allowed to be a bit silly.

But for serious stories, you should watch nearly every incarnation of Warner Bros. Batman animated from 1992 with Kevin Conroy's voice.  That series, and many of the movies spawned after, are more intelligent and better crafted than most shows on television today.

You can also play the Batman video games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.  But if you're not a gamer, you can always just watch the cut scenes on Youtube.  Totally worth it.

Or I guess you could read a comic book.  I hear they know a little something about Batman.  And the artwork is usually fairly impressive as well.

Although, the Arkham games did have some decent character designs too.  Case in point:


Holy Blog Batman!
Deeesher

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