Boxset Binge: Gotham (Season 1) Review

Genre: Crime Drama, Superhero
Original Network: Fox
Original Release: 22nd September 2014 – 4th May 2015

The first season of the Fox TV crime drama Gotham combines one of the most realistic portrayals of the titular DC Comics city with interesting episodic and season narratives and some great acting of iconic comic book characters. Even with the oversaturation of the superhero film and television market, this feels like a fresh take that is very watchable and is definitely one to be recommended.

One of the strongest elements of Gotham is how it feels like a modern, yet realistic, portrayal of Gotham City and its dark underbelly that impacts on the lives of everyday individuals. Compare this to the Christopher Nolan trilogy, which was basically set in an unchanged Chicago, and the combination of the lurid futuristic with the gothic in Joel Schumacher’s 90s films, and this show’s version of Gotham feels more faithful to the comic books. It is dark and seedy for the most part, occasionally illuminated by the extreme personalities and actions of its villains, but one where the decrepit nature of the city means viewers will not have to suspend their disbelief that this will one day be a place where masked vigilantes fight to prevent Gotham from falling to its knees. The portrayal of Gotham also works well within the show’s crime drama focus; as well as allowing the show to introduce some iconic DC Comics villains in episodic and season narrative arcs, the seedy society extends to law enforcement, and thus many of the secondary storylines focus on the attempts of a up-and-coming detective by the name of James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) to rid the GCPD of the corruption that prevents justice from ever being served. Even the cases in each episode fit this tone, with the majority having a dark and deprived feel – a mini arc of several episodes is dedicated to the crimes of The Ogre, an unstable individual who kidnaps women and forces them to do his bidding as his ‘true love’. Each element of this show plays into the deprived feeling of Gotham City, including the well shot and design of the city itself, and helps to create a backdrop that is suitably dark for a time before the caped crusader came into being.

Gotham Season 1 Poster (Fox, 2014)

As hinted at above, the first season is set in a time well before Batman has started to fight crime, with the first episode featuring the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Their grieving son Bruce (David Mazouz) spends the season searching for answers and, as a result, witnessing the poverty and depravity in Gotham’s poorer classes and underbelly. He is assisted in his investigations by a similarly aged street thief called Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). Fans of the DC Comics series know that the two will, many years later, take on the guises of Batman and Catwoman, but it makes sense that the two meet when they are younger, Selina being key to Bruce seeing the depravity of the everyday person, caused by the corruption at the top of society and the fight for control of the streets by the major criminal gangs. Following the murder of the Waynes, Bruce is under the care of the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played with real depth by Sean Pertwee. Throughout this first season, we see a surrogate father-son relationship develop, with Alfred extremely protective of the wellbeing of Bruce, who has already started to hide his activities from Alfred. The two characters (and to an extent both actors) have a very amicable and easy-to-watch dynamic and I am looking forward to seeing this develop in the future, as well as Bruce further discovering answers to the murders of his parents and why Gotham is corrupt and needs cleansing.

Though this is set in a time before Bruce Wayne donned the Batman mask, there are several recognisable villains making up the primary and secondary cast, including crime Don Carmine Falcone (John Doman), GCPD lab technician Edward Nygma/The Ridder (Cory Michael Smith) and Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan). The season also sees the appearances of younger versions of Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Ivy Pepper/Poison Ivy (Clare Foley) and Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow (Charlie Tahan). There’s even a hint at a future Joker, though this was left unconfirmed, so has been left off this review to prevent spoilers. Two villains stand out this season, the scheming and seductive Fish Mooney, played with real glee and energy by Jada Pinkett Smith, and Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin. The latter does a brilliant job in making Penguin’s season arc one of the stand-outs, from a pathetic individual under Fish Mooney to a manipulator who gains power to the point of becoming a contender in his own right. Taylor plays Penguin so well that viewers will struggle to truly hate the character and desire for him to get his comeuppance, and, out of all of the questions left at the end of the season, the continuation of Penguin’s journey is personally one of the most interesting. Though not all of the DC villains are wholly successful (Edward Ngyma cuts a slightly annoying figure, with many of his subplots feeling repetitive) and the secondary narratives of the crime bosses can drag unnecessary attention away from the central plot of the episodes, the show has managed to incorporate many of these iconic characters successfully on the show, and I look forward to seeing many more of these make their debut appearances in the future.

The first season of Gotham combines a gritty and realistic portrayal of the titular DC Comics city with its crime drama genre. Both of these assist several iconic comic book characters in being successfully portrayed and occasionally scene-stealers. This is a show that I would recommend to fans of comic book films and television shows who want an alternative to the colourful and at times convoluted Marvel cinematic universe, and is definitely one that I will continue with watching.

Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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