Gotham fancies itself the crown jewel of DC’s growing television presence but, in reality, it’s by far the weakest link. The setup for the show is pretty simple: it follows the weekly adventures of young police officer James Gordon as he tries to clean up the streets of Gotham only to find himself tangled in the city’s rampant corruption, organized crime families and origin stories of various DC supervillains.
Gotham Season 1 Review
At its best, the show is a (mostly) serviceable case-of-the-week procedural that fumbles its way through the stories behind some of Batman’s most infamous adversaries. At its worst, however, Gotham is a clumsy, cringeworthy and cliche-ridden mess that stands out like a sore thumb from DC’s other television series..
Tonally, Gotham often finds itself torn between emulating Christopher Nolan’s gritty take on the Batman universe and the more-cartoonish approach of earlier Batfilms. As a result, the show is constantly tripping over itself as it lurches from dead-serious crime drama scene to extended cartoonish interrogation montage. That said, it’s in these rare moments where Gotham fully commits to either end of the spectrum that we glimpse the wicked show it could be.
Though mostly untapped, a lot of Gotham’s potential comes from the casting – which, like many things in the show, is a bit of a bit mixed bag. Ben McKenzie is a bit flat as Gordon – but his performance is made serviceable in the company of Donal Logue as Detective Harvey Bullock. Though Robin Lord Taylor often steals the show as the young and ambitious Oswald ‘Penguin’ Cobblepot, props have to be given for Jada Pinkett Smith’s portrayal of his underworld adversary Fish Mooney.
After an strong reception to the series’ pilot, F0x extended Gotham’s first season from 13 to 22 episodes – and the show suffers for it. The first season of the show contains much of the series’ best material (‘Viper’, ‘Spirit of the Goat’ and ‘The Penguins Umbrella’ were my highlights) while the second half quickly settles into an forgettable drumbeat of filler, mediocrity and poorly-handled guest spots by various figures from Batman lore.
Paradoxically, Gotham is torn between a desire to drag as much Batman mythology as they can into the mix and a competing desire or complete inability to make anything of substance out of the material. It’s a problem that starts with the series heavy incorporation of a young Bruce Wayne and continues through more or less every young supervillain the show can get its hands on.
Gotham’s procedural trappings make it hard enough to be invested in the life or death stakes of each episode – but knowing that various character can’t be caught or killed because they are destined to eventually face off against Batman makes the show’s melodramatic antics even more grating.
Despite its shortcoming, Gotham is onto something. There’s something compelling to the idea of a gritty urban procedural where the system is so (hilariously) corrupt that criminals can literally get away with whatever – and the same goes for the concept of a cartoonish Batman prequel. The first season of Gotham approaches these ideas but, for various reasons, fails spectacularly when it comes to executing them.
To put it bluntly, it’s a mess. It’s a very well-produced mess – but….it’s still a mess.