- Series: Gotham
- Season: 1
- Episodes: 22
- Discs: 6
- Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Camren Bicondova, Jada Pinkett Smith
- Network: FOX (Warner Brothers Productions)
- DVD Format: Color, Widescreen
Gotham is simply awesome. Just awesome. It should come to no surprise to anyone who spends any time looking around this blog that I am a massive Batman fan, and I just love Gotham. The series takes the idea of a prequel to the Batman mythos we know so well, and makes it it’s own show. Gotham is in it’s own seperate universe from the CW’s DC universe shows. Not only is it much darker than Arrow and much, much darker than The Flash, but it’s setting and look are very, very different. But it still has elements of the Batman universe we know, just… earlier. Also, in some cases, this is very much an alternate view of Batman and the Batman villains we know, a different universe so to speak – but every different version of Batman is different, and that must not be forgotten. It’s pointless to discount a truly excellent show – because the way the characters are presented is different from what you expect, or the particular version of Batman you know.
Gotham looks great and the cinematography is incredible. And the subtly of suggestion in the cinematography was something that I really loved – and that reminded me of the great Film Noir stories of the past. At the end of “Viper”, as Liza and Falcone sit listening to Opera on her iPod, the camera pans up, and the green bushes framing the park form a bat. In “The Mask”, Harvey Bullock gives a rousing speech to the cops to get them to help search for a missing Jim Gordon, as the cops rise to help Bullock, sunlight rakes the room from screen left, like a sunrise. And in the episode where Harvey Dent is introduced, we see him with half his face in shadow and half in the light. Plus the cinematography is just gorgeous throughout – the city, a combination of sets and on-location shooting in New York City, manages to look both gorgeous – and old, shiny – yet used and dirty – and the architecture, is just incredible. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Gotham City not immediately look like the city where something was really filmed or a studio lot.
The show uses a mix of styles, setting it apart, and not in a particular era. For simplicity of storytelling – everyone has cell phones. Yet the architecture has that gorgeous Art Deco look to it, with a bit of Gothic. (The Police bull pen set, is a fantastic two-floor set, with wonderful Gothic look to it – from the pillars to the archways (OK, they are rounded – like Romanesque not pointed like true Gothic, but still – it quickly brings to mind church architecture.) to the windows, to the clock.) I did watch the special features for the season set, and it didn’t surprise me at all that the Bull Pen was inspired by great train stations – St. Pancras in the UK and Grand Central in the US). Fish Mooney’s place has a 30s speakeasy feel – even once Penguin updates the look (and the updating showed surprising restraint, and was realistic to what Penguin could do. Plus they add to it with each episode – which also gave a realistic feel.) Barbara’s penthouse. Oh man – her penthouse, with that giant clock window?! How much more of a reference to the “Birds of Prey” do you need? And it was so, so awesome when you had Barbara, Ivy, and Cat, together in that place – with the clock in the background. And yes, her penthouse, her parents mansion, the mayor’s place, Don Falcone’s – all show the opulent, yet cold, wealth of Gotham’s elite. Even Wayne Manor seems cold at times.
Jim Gordon, in many, many ways, even more so than in Batman: Year One, is the hero of Gotham. He’s young, idealistic, and his light will bring light to the city. Or at least we hope so. In the first season, he turns things around and brings hope and light – even when he makes mistakes. Harvey Bullock changes, but not too radically, because of Detective Gordon, and Ben McKenzie is so good in the role. I’ve criticized his acting before, notably in Batman: Year One, but here he’s found a suitable role in a suitable environment – and he excels as a result.
Gotham is also the story of it’s villains – and like the graphic novels The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, the Dark Knight Trilogy directed by Nolan (especially Batman Begins), and the works of Frank Miller, such as Batman: Year One, those villains start with the Mob. Four of our main characters all have some connection to the mob – and the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce’s parents, is the spark that lights off the signal for everyone to jockey for new positions – which results in a mob war. The Players include Don Carmine Falcone and Don Maroni – the two crime bosses of Gotham’s major crime families. They have an “understanding” and the uneasy peace is easy to upset. Fish Mooney is a top lieutenant, under Falcone. She wants to push “the old man” out and take over. Her schemes fill the first half of the season. Under her is her pal and right-hand man, Butch, and her errand boy Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot. Oswald is smart, and he’s studied and learned. He snitches to the cops on Fish, gets caught, but it’s a move in a larger game. Soon he’s working for Maroni, but eventually we find he was always working for Falcone. Penguin has two goals – to push out Fish (much like Fish wants to push out Falcone) and basically to take over all of Gotham and to be the king of organized crime in the city. The thing is, Oswald isn’t quite sane – and he messes with everyone. He has a goal – to be in charge of everything, but he doesn’t seem to be afraid to mess about with Falcone, Maroni, Fish and everyone else – even relying on James Gordon – but demanding favors in return.
The other villains we meet are merely introduced. In fact, the series starts with the “strange villain of the week” but quickly develops into a fascinating story that successfully interweaves the story lines of all the major characters. We meet Cat – young Catwoman, an orphan and street kid who’s probably Bruce’s age – maybe a bit older. We meet Ivy, who might be Poison Ivy – or might be a feint. We meet Joker, well, ditto. And we meet Edward Nygma, a forensic scientist working for the Gotham PD, who loves riddles. Yet he also has a crush on Kristen Kringle – a female records clerk. Nygma’s also fascinating to watch, and I hope his character is developed more in Season 2.
Finally, Bruce and Alfred. Again, if you look through my blog, you’ll quickly learn how much I adore Alfred. His relationship with Bruce is my favorite of all the relationships between characters in Batman (with Bruce and Richard Grayson being my second favorite – by a close margin.) Getting the Alfred and Bruce relationship right is key to making any version of Batman work for me. And screwing that up – that destroys any version of Batman for me. Gotham, fortunately, does not mess-up this vital relationship. In the first episode, maybe the first couple, I heard Sean Pertwee’s accent and I thought, “Oh, no – way too cockney, way too East End,” and it wouldn’t be the actor’s natural accent – his father was Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor on Doctor Who, and fairly RADA/BBC English for an accent. But fortunately, Alfred’s and Bruce’s relationship develops – and develops perfectly. Alfred, with every move he makes or doesn’t make, with every thing he says, and everything he does, loves Bruce Wayne. He loves him. And he will do anything to protect Bruce and to serve Bruce and to help Bruce – but he won’t smother him or coddle him. And he knows that he absolutely cannot take the place of Bruce’s parents – to even try would push Bruce away. So, from the very beginning, we are seeing the essential Bruce and Alfred relationship. Bruce, for his part – and brilliantly played by David Mazouz, pulls back at first, but both the first time Alfred is injured defending him, and most definitely when Alfred is stabbed – Bruce realized what Alfred means to him, and he knows he cannot go on without Alfred. The scenes between Alfred and Bruce are some of my favorites in the series – and they often lighten up a very dark show.
Because, in the end, the show is very, very, very dark. And very violent. At times Gotham wavers into Tarentino Film territory. And there is certainly very much more than just “an element” of Film Noir. Noir is full-on present in Gotham. But in the midst of that darkness, there is light – Jim Gordon brings light, with his attempts to be a real honest cop. Gordon’s light brings light to those around him: Harvey Bullock, his captain, even to Bruce Wayne. Alfred and Bruce’s relationship, and Bruce’s determination to get to the bottom of his parents’ murder, and to clean-up Wayne Enterprises, also brings light.
Honestly, if you missed this show last year, it is a must-see. It isn’t just a must-see for the Batman or DC fan – it’s a must see if you appreciate good television. (I will say that because of the violence, I would but it at PG-13, maybe 15-and-up).