Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gotham: New TV series on the block (Review)

I’ll be upfront about one thing right from the outset: I’m not the biggest Batman fanboy out there. Sure, I’ve seen the movies, both Burton and Nolan (Joel Schumacher, you say? Doesn’t ring a bell.), a bit of the old Adam West, The Animated Series, read a few comics, but I wouldn’t call myself a Batman purist, which is why I may not be the ideal person to write this review, but it’s worth a shot.
Gotham premiered in 2014 as one of the most promising shows of the year. After a series of poorly executed superhero films, Nolan’s trilogy escalated the interest in The Caped Crusader, and Warner Bros looks determined to utilise the traction generated. With a host of comic related TV Shows such as Arrow, Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D airing right now, Gotham is an interesting new entry.
The premise of the show is pretty simple. It tells the story of Gotham before Batman, focusing on the rise of future James Gordon, future Commissioner of Gotham as he gets acquainted with the stronghold of the mob on the city and strives to maintain his idealism and clean conscience. He joins Detective Harvey Bullock as partner, the latter being a somewhat pragmatic and experienced cop who knows the system too well to desire to change it. The series will also tell the origin stories of several Batman villains, including Penguin, Riddler,Catwoman, Joker, Poison Ivy,Scarecrow, Hugo Strange, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, and Victor Zsasz.
The very first assignment that Bullock and Gordon must face is solving one of the most high profile cases Gotham has seen, the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, parents of the young Bruce who will one day take up the mantle of fighting Gotham’s enemies. Through the first season we see a rookie but passionate Gordon defy all obstacles on his quest to “do the right thing”, repeated conflicts with his partner notwithstanding. The plot has it’s twists and turns, which I will try not to talk about to keep this spoiler free.
Without going into the exact plot details, if we try to look at what Gotham has achieved in the first half of the first season, we will get somewhat of a mixed report. The show has been mildly confusing at times in terms of the direction it is headed in. The plot seems to rest upon  Gordon and Bullock fighting crime in Gotham, but of course, given that it is a Batman prequel of sorts, there has to be a significant presence of the young Bruce Wayne coming to terms with the murder of his parents. Through 10 episodes Bruce goes from grief and anger to a desire to overcome fear , and strengthen himself against evil, while poking his nose in the dirty underbelly of Gotham’s underworld, barely scratching the surface, but still displaying remarkable detective acumen for a young boy. Taking care of him is of course, the butler Alfred. I don’t know if it is because of Michael Caine’s performance in the trilogy, but I found Gotham’s Alfred a tad weird. He is definitely a more gruff and no nonsense character than Nolan’s, and probably even TAS’s. At times grumpy even, the show does reflect his love and care for Bruce every now and then, but I’ll have to see more of it to fully accept him.
Now we go into one of the more interesting and controversial aspects of the show, the referential characters. Robin Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot, aka Penguin, was the highlight of the show to me. Penguin has a falling out with Fish Mooney, one of Falcone’s associates, following which he attempts to rise through the ranks of Gotham’s underworld, displaying his shady nature by cutting deals right left and centre, keeping the viewer guessing about his true allegiance and his larger plan. Taylor delivers a good performance as the future Batman supervillain, shown here in the nascent stages.
Another strong performance is Camren Bicondova’s Selina Kyle, or future Catwoman, the young homeless thief who witnesses the Wayne murders. Selina displays remarkable agility and street smartness, owing to years of surviving Gotham’s shady alleys. Her interactions with  Bruce and Gordon and general presence in the show serve to lift up the overall plot and keep it interesting.
Apart from The Penguin who is the show’s recurring villain (so to speak), Carmine Falcone and Salvatore Maroni are also shown embroiled in a tussle over the streets of Gotham. As his own caporegimes , primarily Mooney, show signs of treachery , it is interesting to watch Falcone try to maintain his stronghold with the patience and calm , claiming that law and order are essential for organized crime to exist. He must also combat the opportunistic Maroni’s attempts to strike a death blow to his empire, thus fighting a war on two fronts. While Falcone and Maroni do not really get the prime screen time, the subplot is an integral part of the show, especially with Penguin’s involvement.
Also appearing as a recurring character is Forensics Analyst Edward Nygma, the future Riddler, A coroner and forensics operative who works for the Gotham City Police Department and often presents his information in riddles. He shows a reverence and zeal for criminal methods that probably serve as indicators to his future alter ego.
Overall, Gotham is a decently crafted well paced show with a moderately good storyline that tries to keep the viewer entangled with multiple dimensions at a time. After a weak start in the first couple of episodes with brazen references and ,this-is-not-Michael-Caine Alfred and a Bruce Wayne that listens to death metal while drawing weird possibly Gothic paintings, coupled with many, too many, way too many subplots, the show picked up some traction and finished on a much better position than it had started. Also I’m not very convinced about the timeline (Falcone ought to be 70-80 when Bruce becomes Batman, similarly Penguin and Riddler will probably be in their 50s but anyway) There are some parts of the show that are downright annoying though, chief of them being Barbara Kean. Gordon’s future wife basically plays a rich woman who does nothing but drink and wonder if her fiancee is hiding something, practically never leaving the house, unless it’s for dramatic plot convenience. She is equally gullible to both her former lover Reec Montoya as well as Gordon, accepting and being influenced by the former questioning the latter’s honesty, and again being swayed by the latter’s defence. I don’t really see the point of her character, apart from trying to add additional drama to Gordon’s character to show the protagonist struggle to balance his worlds. Also, Allen and Montoya’s characters are Major Crime Units cops are shoddily done. I mean, (spoiler alert?) Penguin was working in a goddamn restaurant. Sure, they can track random fishermen to testify against Gordon, but not see a man believed to be dead doing a daily wage job in a restaurant?

One of the problems that lies ahead is what the show chooses to do. It can either chose to concentrate on James Gordon’s rise through the ranks and become a cop show, or pick of the many many loose ends that it has left after the first 10 episodes and become some sort of a Batman reference guide. Most likely it will end up compromising between the two, but will it be able to find the right balance? I mean 10 episodes in, and we’ve already seen major characters and villains like Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Hush, Mr. Zsasz, and Harvey Dent. The list will only grow as the season continues. The show must put some or most of these characters on the back burner in order for it not to collapse under its own weight of subplots, but there is only so long you can do that for. Gotham can become a really good show, but it can also become a really bad show where you basically see glimpses of future Batman villains once every week only for them never to be shown again.

To Summarize:

High Points:  Penguin, Selina Kyle, Gordon-Bullock Banter is good at times, Bruce Wayne becomes better. Oh, also one really good scene where Dent has half of his face in darkness and the rest in the light, cool obvious foreshadowing.

Potential for improvement: Maybe you get more accustomed to Alfred as the show progresses. More story, less continued references.

Low Points: Barbara Kean, Barbara Kean, and too many subplots at time. Also, come to think of it now, while everything about the character is well, Selina Kyle does kind of have really good hair for a street urchin. While Mooney and Riddler at nice, sometimes the characters seem too over the top and trying too hard.

- Courtesy Harshit Sahay (Read: All brickbats to be aimed at him)