The 2014 Fall debut of Fox’s pre-Batman series Gotham was highly anticipated by yours truly. However, the first half of its first season didn’t do much to earn that excitement. In fact, the show burned away any good will I’d granted it, so much so in fact that now it’s got some real work to do if it wants to sway my opinion back in the other direction. The good news for them is that it’s a new year, which comes with a fresh start and a second chance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get to whether or not Gotham’s back on track, I thought I’d take a look back at where it’s gone so far. Whether you’ve been watching from the beginning or are just now deciding to give it a shot, I’ve put together a list of ten things you need to know about Gotham before its mid-season premiere, “Rogues’ Gallery.” Hit the jump to get caught up.
1. Bruce Wayne
Batman or not, this universe doesn’t exist without Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). His origin is almost exactly as you remember it, and the show’s pilot wastes little time in making young Bruce an orphan. The noir tone of the cold-blooded murder that serves as Wayne’s formative event in becoming the Batman seemingly set the stage for the rest of Gotham’s episodes to follow, and though episodes stray from the hard-boiled aesthetic on occasion, the spirit of noir still remains. And yes, Bruce’s obsession with solving his parents’ murder is still the driving force at the center of his character.
What’s changed, however, is the manner in which Bruce becomes the Bat. Sure, he still has Alfred (Sean Pertwee) looking after him and even training him in the martial arts (even if those arts are the odd bit of fencing, boxing, and learning how to beat the shit out of school bullies with your dead father’s gold watch…), but another teacher has joined the fray: Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). Yes, you read that right. Catwoman herself (though she’s simply called “Cat” at this point in her young life) teaches Bruce the perils of street life, the dangers of Parkour, and the bittersweet moments of a young romance. I’m curious as to whether longtime fans of Batman lore find this interesting or just outright insulting to the Batman/Catwoman relationship. Regardless, this is the direction the creative team of Gotham has chosen. I’m just happy to report that Mazouz and Bicondova aren’t the worst child actors to grace the small screen.
2. James Gordon
Let’s face it, Gotham is about Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his various run-ins with the title city’s criminal underworld and its equally corrupt police force. I gave McKenzie a pass in the early going since Gordon’s character is written as a one-note do-gooder who is incredibly uptight and stubborn to a fault. That’s fine, to a point, since he’s literally the only straight arrow in a city full of crooked cops and politicians pocketed by Gotham’s various crime families. But McKenzie’s acting hasn’t progressed as far past wooden as I would have expected, and the writing for Gordon has yet to develop any new wrinkles. So what’s his journey been like so far?
Upstart Gordon lands opposite down-and-dirty Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and the two immediately butt heads. Their clashing ideals serve as a great point of dramatic tension since they are stuck working together to solve various crimes plaguing the citizenry. (For a while anyway. Eventually this relationships devolves into a series of predictable tropes.) Early on, Gordon resists Bullock’s suspect method of operating (ie making deals with criminals, paying off low-level informants, etc) but soon gives a little when he realizes that Bullock’s connections are helping to solve cases, and to keep them alive. Gordon’s Boy Scout reputation is further put to the test when he becomes ensnared in the plans of one of Batman’s greatest villains, the Penguin. Although it looks like Gordon is going to start playing ball with the criminal underworld, he soon reverts back to his stubborn ways, taking on the crime families, the police department, and the mayor himself. So it’s no surprise when the department turns its back on him (excluding a few decent cops and Bullock himself), the heads of the mafia threaten the lives of his loved ones, and the political power-brokers of Gotham bump Gordon down to nightguard at Arkham Asylum. For a cop who can solve complicated crimes seemingly on intuition alone, this wasn’t a very smart play. And for a show set in the universe of the World’s Greatest Detective, it’s just not smart writing.
3. Harvey Bullock
Let’s talk about Detective Bullock for a second, shall we? In a city full of truly evil people, Bullock’s antics are decidedly pedestrian. He’s not even really a “dirty” cop by network procedural standards, but he does operate in some gray areas. Logue starts out great as Bullock, hassling Gordon for his stick-in-the-mud attitude, drinking on the job, and fighting trans-sexual hookers in his spare time (still one of the show’s best moments). Bullock’s very real threat to kill Gordon if the Good Cop doesn’t put down the Penguin is the high point (or low point, I suppose) of Bullock’s criminal ways. Unfortunately, after that issue is resolved, he’s just not that interesting anymore. Sure, he helps Gordon save the day each and every episode, but it feels as if the writers didn’t know how to handle him after the first few episodes. His swagger and bravado have been reduced to loudly shouted one-liners. It’s one thing to make a caricature out of Bullock, but it’s wholly another to deprive the character of his chance at redemption. Perhaps the second half of the season will give him that opportunity; Logue deserves to see it through.
4. Barbara Kean
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Miss Kean (Erin Richards), Jim Gordon’s girlfriend and almost-fiance. I feel bad for Richards here. She probably saw an opportunity to hop on board the series adaptation of one of the most popular superheroes in history, at a time when such properties are incredibly lucrative. What she got was a thinly defined character whose most interesting attributes are her mysterious source of wealth and her past lesbian relationship coming back to cause trouble between her and Jim. Her character alternates between being fully committed to helping Gordon shoulder the burdens of his profession, to being so distrustful of him to the point of ending their relationship and shacking up with her former lover (and Internal Affairs officer who’s investigating Gordon).
Admittedly, I’m not as up to snuff on the comics version of Barbara Kean-Gordon as I am the other characters. Her origins and relationship to James Gordon (and their children) have been changed quite often in Batman’s history, so I can totally understand why Gotham would want to put their own spin on her story. But so far, it hasn’t been anything noteworthy. The most her character has contributed to the show to this point is a couple of swanky places to shoot romantic scenes. Perhaps we’ll see Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) step up to the plate before too long.
5. The Penguin
Okay, I’ve been pretty harsh up to this point, so time for the show’s bright spot: Robin Lord Taylor. His version of the Penguin might not be the fully fledged kingpin that takes on Batman later in life, but it was a great decision to allow viewers to watch his rise to power in lockstep with Bruce Wayne and Gordon’s own journeys. I’d argue that the Penguin’s arc has been the most successful of the three. We’re introduced to him as Oswald Cobblepot, bootlicking lackey to Jada Pinkett Smith’s ambitious gangster Fish Mooney. He tries playing both sides of the Thin Blue Line, acting as a lowly servant to the criminals while offering up juicy intel to the cops.
Of course, Cobblepot’s double dealing is soon discovered, so it’s put to James Gordon to execute the traitor (and thus test the new cop’s loyalty to the crime family). This tense and temporary allegiance between Penguin and Gordon was perhaps the best moment of the series so far, showing off Cobblepot’s razor-sharp intelligence alongside Gordon’s own quick thinking when the cop fakes the execution of the criminal. Later on in the season, it’s revealed that Penguin (who resurfaces quite alive in order to infiltrate the Maroni family and set the competing crooks against each other) has not only been working for Falcone, but has been slowly cobbling together his own loyal soldiers. Time will tell just how the Penguin’s arc ends up this season, but it’s been the best the show has to offer to this point.