Recurring Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Masouz, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Camren Bicondova, Erin Richards, Corey Michael Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith
After hearing the pitch of Gotham, it takes a while to decide whether this is a major risk by Fox or an easy win for the writers. It is the prequel to Batman, basically taking the crime-adled city at the heart of the comic book, but taking out the safety net of the Dark Knight. We are instantly fascinated at the prospect of coming to grips with the origins of this place. Gotham could be argued to a character in itself, a city so corrupt it is defined as a lost cause. It is fascinating just to watch a civilian try to work his/her life around this terrifying place. At the same time, it is also Batman without the characters. Despite the colourful supporting cast and the grim backdrop, Batman remains the main reason to tune into the franchise. Taking the World’s Greatest Detective out of the picture seems like a sure-fire way to suck the fun out of the piece in a heartbeat.
And Gotham very nearly succeeds. It replaces Batman with a young Jim Gordon, a determined new Homicide detective, determined to do things the right way. McKenzie plays Gordon with a steady ferocity. He is the rock in the storm, unflinching in his viewpoint of doing things the right way. It is hard not to get behind the character as he stands up to a whole police station full of corrupt cops, who are hell-bent on making him conform to their way of doing things. Jim Gordon is the heart of what Gotham needs to be, a character study on the supporting cast who feature in the main Batman movies. Whereas Batman shadows the growth of the likes of Alfred, Gordon and arguably Bruce Wayne, Gotham excels at it. However, for some reason, Gordon is one of the only characters who feel like they are evolving. For the most part, Gotham turns into a weekly crime mystery drama, echoing murder mystery shows like Castle and NCIS and dumping it into the heart of Gotham. Suddenly the show becomes rote, predictable and a little dull. It clings to the franchise too often, thinking its success lies in pulling up every villain it can and giving them an origin story. We get appearances from Black Mask, Poison Ivy and even Scarecrow’s Dad. The show thinks we want to see these interesting characters before they were interesting. In truth, it hurts our opinion of the infamous Scarecrow seeing him as a snivelling teenager. It is a shame that rather than trying to do something interesting Gotham decides to spend time showing the Riddler as a love-sick coroner. Outside of the main character arc from Gordon (occasionally the young Bruce Wayne and Alfred get a strong moment), there is little to recommend the central pull of Gotham.
Thankfully Penguin appears. For everything the show gets wrong, it hits Oswald Cobblepot bang on the head. Right from his first appearance, he intrigues. Whereas the other villains suffer from us examining their origins, Penguin is the kind of bad guy who benefits from an examination of his beginnings. He is the awkward new guy in Falcone’s gang, unimposing, limping… and mostly importantly, wildly ambitious. He is thrown into the show’s most exciting sub-plot, a subtle gang war played out between Carmen Falcone’s and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney, and we see what happens. Pinkett Smith is a delight as the true villain of the show, proof that Gotham is strongest when it writes its own villains. Penguin works his way through the gang life, using underhand political manoeuvres to slowly ascend to the villain we know he is. He is endless fun to watch, able to be a genius tactical mastermind one episode, only to fall back to helpless fool in the next, because his arrogance and short-sightedness have led him to overlook one small yet crucial detail. While the main crux of the show falls in a pattern of ‘crime appears, old face from Batman shows up, crime solved’, the gang war story is wildly fun and shifting. Robin Lord Taylor has just as much fun as the audience, playing Penguin as an egotistical maniac, just as the future of the character proves. The only downside is that we know, thanks to his appearance in Batman in general, he will be able to find his way out of whatever pit he falls in. However, that is a small price to pay to tune into his antics each week.
Final Verdict: A little disappointing, although its side plots save it from becoming a total waste of time.