Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Gotham: Season One - A Review

The first season of the FOX TV show GOTHAM was recently recommended to me along with Agents of SHIELD, and I began watching both. I enjoyed GOTHAM sooo very much that I thought I'd do something I'd never done before - review a TV show on my blog.

The show tells the Batman backstory, laying the foundation for what most of us are familiar with from the Nolan films, as well as whatever each of us has gleaned from the comic books and other forms of media over the years. The primary focus of this series is Detective Jim Gordon, and his one-man mission to clean up Gotham -- not just of the criminal element, but of the corruption that saturates the Gotham City Police Department, from the Commissioner on down. From the beginning, he throws caution to the wind, and refuses to play along with the bribery, coercion, the turning of blind eyes to the various twisted ways that the police and the mob dance together.

Early on, he makes enemies everywhere he turns, as his fellow officers undermine his every move - even his own partner, Harvey Bullock, who is very persistent in his efforts to convince Jim to play along. When Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered in front of their son Bruce, in a Gotham alleyway, Gordon makes it his mission to find the killer(s) and set it right.

I think that's good, as far as setting the stage for the story arcs.

And now, what I love about the show!

The Cast

I've never watched a show with a cast I absolutely adored as much as this show. In fact, my love for the cast is my main reason for writing this post. There are so many cast members that are vying for the title of My Favorite Cast Member, it's ridiculous. The are so many amazing characters and performances throughout the season's 22 episodes that it boggles my mind - not only the regular characters, but the minor roles as well as those that appear only once, setting the stage for future involvement.

If I was forced at gunpoint to pick my favorite member of the cast, it would be Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin...

Early on in the season, I felt he was overdoing it a bit, but he settled into the role so well that it wasn't long before he became one of the strongest reasons to watch the show. His portrayal of the Penguin is a fascinating mix of nervousness, quiet cunning, simmering violence and calm confidence. I absolutely love this character and this actor.

Other favorites include both crime bosses:

John Doman as Don Carmine Falcone:  Very classy actor, and the character carries strength and wisdom, even though he knows he's in the cross-hairs of many friends and enemies, as they all see him as having had his day, and now should step aside (or be removed) so that younger, fresher blood can take over his empire. He is Gotham's #1 crime boss.

David Zayas as Don Sal Maroni: Another class act that dominates the screen whenever he is on it, Zayas' portrayal of Falcone's main competitor is explosive and smart and sooo smooth, and the fact that he's given such wonderful dialog is icing on the cake for me.

Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth: I cannot say enough good things about this actor and what he's done with this character. He is so charismatic and bad-ass (pardon my French) that he swiftly secured a place on my "Oh, Great, We're Going To See Him Again!!!" List. Every time "we" went to Wayne Manor, it was a treat. Talk about class, this guy is so thoroughly legit, he could have his own backstory series. And speaking of Wayne Manor....

David Mazouz as Young Bruce Wayne: He is the man himself, Bruce Wayne - only, you know, the younger version. This little kid has the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, and he pulls it off like a champ. Ultimately, this entire series is about Batman - it's the "elephant in the room" foundation to the whole reason the show exists. He pulls it off incredibly well. I've seen plenty of "child" actors ham their way through performances - the choice of David as Bruce was another stroke of genius for those that cast the show. He is perfect, and better, he is consistently good.

Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma: Anyone with even the barest knowledge of Batman lore knows that Edward Nygma is the alias of the villain The Riddler. In this series, he isn't The Riddler yet - he's a crime scene technician that works for the Gotham City Police Department - he's one of the good guys! Granted, it's very plain that seeds are there for his eventual cross-over to the other team - his interactions with his fellow officers is rife with idiosyncrasies and quirks. He's the quintessential nerd, with a Grade-A crush on one of his female coworkers who unwaveringly keeps him friend-zoned, while simultaneously dating other officers, driving Edward nuts. He persistently navigates the ridicule of his fellows officers so that he can weather the repeated rejections of his crush. I'm sure you can see where this is headed... Bottom line, a wonderful character, very well played.

Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock: Jim Gordon's partner at the GCPD is "corrupt cop with a heart of gold" Harvey Bullock. I immediately loved this character, which is more than I can say for Jim Gordon, actually (more on that below). He's honest about his desire to maintain the status quo, and not rock the boat, getting "his" on the side where and when he can. Yet he (almost) always backs up Gordon on his crazy plays, and supports him even when no one else will. And slowly, he comes around. It's a great arc for a terrific character, played by a Grade A actor. Tons of great moments.

Ben McKenzie as Detective Jim Gordon: Here is the One Man Army himself. To be honest, it took a while for him to grow on me - both the character and the actor. The role is so gung-ho clean-cut Dudley Do-Right that initially it was off-putting. But by Episode 7, I was firmly in McKenzie's corner. What did it for me was the actor more than the character. McKenzie is a very subtle actor in the ways that count - which is important when you have a somewhat over-the-top character. He floods the seams with little facial movements, partial smiles, eye-twitches, little head movements - all the things I'm convinced exponentially increases the appeal of acting performances. The way he carries and presents himself makes him well worth watching.

Other characters I enjoyed were Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, the wonderful Carol Kane as the Penguin's mother Gertrude Cobblepot, Anthony Carrigan as henchman Victor Zsazs, Nicholas D'Agosto as Harvey Dent, and special mention goes to Cameron Monaghan for his one-off role in Episode 16 The Blind Fortune Teller. His transformation into what I hope will be The Joker was absolutely fantastic and riveting and left me wide-eyed and goofy-grinning with glee. Sooo well done. In fact, watch it here!

As great a job as the casting department did, however, the cast wasn't flawless. There are forgettable filler characters (especially on the GCPD), and even two of the main characters never clicked with me at all, throughout the season. One of them was Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. It was overdone from the outset, and stayed that way throughout her often-odd storylines. The whole stretch on the Doll Maker's Island (Ep 17-19) was just absurd, and did nothing but solidify my negative opinion of her character. The other one that didn't sit right with me was Barbara Kean, played by Erin Richards. I cannot put my finger on why, exactly, but she got under my skin big time, up until the final episode, when it became fairly clear that she was slated to become a villain. She may grow on me in Season Two.

The Writing

The show creator is a man named Bruno Heller, and he also penned five of the twenty-two scripts for the season. Honestly, that was one thing I learned in researching the show. I don't know why I never realized it, but apparently these types of shows have an army of writers and directors - it isn't like a film, with one or two writers, and a single director. It seems as though each episode is treated like its own individual production, with its own crew, from Director on down.

Of the ten writers that penned the 22 scripts, Bruno Heller wrote five (of the best, in my opinion), and John Stephens and Ken Woodruff each wrote 4. The remaining 7 writers each got one or sometimes two attempts at writing a script - and honestly, it was evident. Now that I'm writing for a serial, I kind of know what to look for in writing, and the episodes that I felt lacked (especially, by far, Episode 11 Rogue's Gallery) were almost always by one of the single-shot authors. I can only assume that reflects the show producers story-telling acumen. Weed out those who don't quite cut it.

You think 10 writers is a lot, try 16 directors!

Yes, 22 episodes, 16 directors. Two of the directors - Danny Cannon and TJ Scott -- each helmed 3 episodes. Almost everyone else had one shot. That being said, I felt the direction was consistently good-to-outstanding, throughout the season. I am open about admitting my naivete when it comes to industry stuff, but apparently this "army of directors" approach is standard. Other shows I've researched prove the same pattern. I suppose it makes sense - I mean, seeing first-hand all of the pieces that Jeff Patton has had to assemble to direct just one hour of Beyond the Impact was a real eye-opener. I can't imagine having to juggle all of that for a dozen or more episodes.

Even shows that create all of the episodes and release them all at once (like House of Cards) has a large team of directors, many of which direct only one - or at the most two - episode(s).


As if making blog history by reviewing a TV series for the first time wasn't indication enough, I think it's safe to say I highly recommend Gotham, occasional warts and all. I'd say 80% of the episodes were excellent, with an occasional sub-par effort thrown in. But for me, those hiccups are easy to overlook, especially since I'm getting a clearer understanding of just what a complex machine it is, running a show like this. And I'm sure I'm only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Kudos to Bruno Heller and the entire retinue of people involved in this show. I am a big fan. A wonderful cast, and solid writing means excellent entertainment. If you have Netflix, you can stream it, and binge-watch the whole season.

On to Season 2!

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