By Cameron Hatheway
Gotham captured audience's attention worldwide when it first debuted in late September, and with good reason. In a steadily growing golden age for comic book television shows, fans of Batman were poised to either love the retelling of the iconic superhero's upbringing mixed with the origins of the supporting cast, or tear it to shreds and make comparisons to the later seasons of Smallville. After ten episodes, so far it seems off to a good start.
Taking place several decades before Batman even comes into the picture, Gotham revolves around rookie detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie)'s first year on the Gotham City Police Department. McKenzie's performance as Gordon is a thing of brilliance, and easily one of the best actors in the show. Staying true to the character, you can definitely tell he's the good guy with a heart and badge of gold, really wanting to save Gotham and bring the much needed justice to the justice system. Gordon's alone in this uphill battle for the first few episodes, and is willing to take-on the entire city if need be, but slowly but surely he seems to be turning more officers towards the cause.
Paired with the corrupt and cranky Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), Gordon tries his best to stick to his principals and clean up the corruption that plagues Gotham as well as the police department that's supposed to be upholding the law. Logue's performance and energy is great contrast to McKenzie's, and watching the two of them play the good cop/bad cop routine is always an episode highlight. It was also nice to see that at one point in Bullock's past that he was a boy scout just like Gordon, until after one case he was robbed of that innocence and transformed into the curmudgeon we're used to seeing.
Throughout the first few episodes, the viewer gets a good idea of how crime-ridden Gotham truly is. With the tragic murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the show steps into overdrive as Gordon and Bullock do their best to track down the killer. After meeting with a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to ask questions of what the gunman looked like, Gordon makes a promise to him that his parents' killer would be caught. Throughout the entire first half of the season—and what appears to be prominent in all upcoming seasons—the Wayne murders is the ongoing mystery, with both Gordon and Wayne trying to figure out who has the most to gain with Thomas and Martha out of the way. Turns out, the Waynes may not have been complete saints after all—another refreshing twist to the mythos.
Enter the people who truly run Gotham. While several of the characters are staples in the Batman rogues gallery, they all had to get their starts somewhere. I really enjoy the setting of the different mafia families running the city, and each character craving their own slice of the pie. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) is the only one wielding true power, having his influence spread throughout Gotham (including City Hall). Doman's performance is cold, sinister, and intimidating. His presence commands respect in every scene he's in, and he's truly unpredictable with his motives because of his poker face. They couldn't have picked a more intense actor for the role, and I'm still half-expecting him to yell at McNulty every time I see him.
Falcone's number two, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) sees him as weak with one foot in the grave, causing her to try and seize his power and control behind his back and as quietly as possible. While the character appears to be a new ingredient to the mythos, Smith's performance borders on great and overdramatic. She's a bit bipolar, being sweet and motherly one minute, and completely bloodthirsty the next. If one of the ongoing storylines over the next few seasons is Mooney's rise to power, it'd had better be sooner than later because of how tiring it is seeing her constantly plotting Falcone's demise.
But the most dangerous—and extraordinary—character in my opinion is Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). Nicknamed "The Penguin" because of the way he walks, Cobblepot knows how to play the game and work his way up in the ranks, conning both sides. He's a survivor, and knows the potential Gotham has in being profitable beyond imagination if harnessed properly. Taylor's take on the Penguin as a young man is definitely unique and enticing. He's a bad guy you want to root for, and is extremely cunning and smart. I'm even a fan of his pointy nose and hairstyle, which will no doubt make a presence at every comic convention next year from cosplayers. While some might prefer the Penguin from the comics or Burton film with the birds and trick umbrellas, the Penguin we get in Gotham is definitely a threat sans gimmicky toys. The only thing I don't like about the Penguin is his estranged mother (Carol Kane), and the weird Oedipus complex vibes between the two of them.
The rest of the supporting cast is like a hearty trail mix: you get some delicious nuggets of greatness, followed by a few raisins here and there (apology to raisin lovers). Sean Pertwee's performance as Alfred Pennyworth is superb, and definitely grew on me throughout. You can really see him protect and care for young Master Bruce, but at the same time lacks that motherly touch. We're so used to seeing the kind old British butler in the other Batman properties, that to see the version of Alfred who's a former Marine is kind of shocking at first.
Mazouz's portrayal of a young Bruce Wayne is very well-done, for he comes across as a bit cold and unlike other kids his age. Even Camren Bicondova as sassy Selina Kyle is entertaining, and there is definitely chemistry between her and Bruce which will most likely blossom throughout the rest of the season and beyond. The twist of Kyle being the only witness to the Wayne murders helps further change what we think we already know about Batman's origins, keeping things interesting and the audience constantly on its toes.
Rival mob boss Salvatore Maroni (David Zayas) feels somewhere in between likeable and tiresome. While I've enjoyed Zayas' performance in other shows (Oz, Dexter), he comes across as a little too lighthearted as a mafia don. Maroni may be easily manipulated, but he's also biting off more than he can chew trying to take on Falcone directly.
And then there's the raisins. Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is one of the biggest hiccups of the series. While the writers try and make him seem like a darker Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, he comes across as very annoying and too on-the-nose with all the riddles. We get it, he's the Riddler. Then there's Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Gordon's nosy fiancée with a lesbian past with Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartegena). The only reason I mention the lesbian past is because the writers keep bringing it up, and I guess FOX is shooting for big numbers during sweeps week by showing Barbara and Renee in bed together. Lesbian nonsense aside, Barbara is more of a nuisance for Gordon than a love interest, constantly thrusting herself into unnecessary danger while blaming Gordon for her mistakes. Her logic and choices makes me want to pull my hair out, and hope that someone puts a bullet in her.
While the show has so far set up a few great storylines in the first ten episodes, there's definitely some room for improvement. There has been a heavy helping of fan service with the introduction of Victor Zsasz, Harvey Dent, and Crispus Allen, but the writers should be wary of oversaturation of all of Gotham's worst of the worst. Let the characters evolve and breathe, and take some detours of how the characters get from point A to point B. Their names alone inform us of their final destination, but seeing a new take on how they get there is what makes us watch in the first place.
With the midseason finale focusing on the fall of Gordon and teasing what lurks in Arkham Asylum next year, this offers the opportunity of a revolving door of known and lesser-known villains. My only hope is they don't introduce Harley Quinn right away. Speaking of clowns, it's great that they've been throwing a few Joker red herrings here and there, and I hope they keep it that way. Why rush to introduce the Clown Prince of Crime when there are so many other fascinating characters to cover? At the rate the show is progressing, I doubt we'll ever see Batman don the cowl and utility belt. Nor should we, because it isn't about Batman, it's about the rise of James Gordon and the transformation of Gotham from a city plagued by crime to a city plagued by…less crime by the time Batman does arrive on the scene.
Bottom-line, it's an entertaining show and a great addition to the steadily growing comic book queue of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Walking Dead, Arrow, and The Flash. I would have included Constantine, but I haven't seen it yet and from what I've heard, it has very mixed reviews. If you like drama, action, humor, and a tremendous cast of characters, Gotham is definitely worth watching. Now's the time to catch-up before it returns to FOX early next year.