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Gotham - Season One (2014)
Crearor: Bruno Heller

review by Tony Lee
Spoiler alert!
Whereas the comicbook action of DC TV multiverse shows Arrow and The Flash is a largely bloodless affair, Gotham, a drama of the years before Batman, is stylised but not sanitised. The show begins with the apparently senseless slaughter of Bruce Wayne's parents, a headline crime first investigated by rookie detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie - previously the voice of Bruce Wayne in animated movie Batman: Year One).

In 22 episodes of noirish policier, this is like a 'GCPD Dark Blue' with scary violence and psycho brutality. As one mobster says, "You can't have organised crime without law and order." Jim's a fiercely moralist fighter of crooks and corrupt officials, a cape-less crusader - whose ambitious target of becoming commissioner gets a shaky start here. With so many cheaters and liars on both sides of the legal grey-areas, even Jim's veteran partner Bullock (Donal Logue, Blade, Ghost Rider) is an unreliable narrator of this secret metro history about sociopaths versus idealists.

Top crime families backstab, bribe, or blackmail their way to feared positions. Gotham is a damned city on the verge of street warfare, where "a mask hides the face but frees the soul." Supporting characters such as jinxed limping stooge Cobblepot ("When you know what a man loves, you know what can kill him"), and CSI novice Nygma ("What I want; the poor have, the rich need, and if you eat it you'll die"), escalate from oddballs to sinister to dangerous instability.
The weakest link is obviously panto-reject Jada Pinkett Smith (always an inexcusably poor actress, with the charisma of a shop-window dummy), as matriarch caricature and prattling bore Fish Mooney - a silly creature of malevolent pretence, and coagulated attitude. Even the newcomer playing young Selina 'Cat' Kyle is a better performer.

On the upstanding but duly concerned front, Sean Pertwee makes a fine job of Alfred. Orphan Bruce (David Mazouz, the autistic/ psychic in TV show Touch), is also eminently watchable, as the sheltered boy struggling to cope with his new social position as heir apparent to Wayne's world.

There's a baleful Dollmaker kidnapping homeless teens, but Gotham weirdness really starts with a weather-balloon vigilante. Stabster also has a novelty weapon. New drug 'viper' gives junkies super-strength, launching bio-terror nightmares. The episode Spirit Of The Goat features a hooded serial killer. He's only one of many. Harvey Dent gets an introductory tale as the Waynes' murder case develops from an eyewitness report. When Jim visits a touring circus we meet the Graysons, future parents of a wonder boy.

Guest stars with genre cred include Morena Baccarin (of TV remake V), Christopher Heyerdahl (Sanctuary), Allyce Beasley (Moonlighting). There's also campy Carol Kane doing a batty-biddy turn as Penguin's proud mum, Gertrude. The source of fearsome hallucinations, Julian Sands is Dr Crane, Scarecrow's dad; while Mark Margolis (TV series The Equalizer) portrays a blind fortune-teller; and Colm Feore's mad scientist performs Frankenstein surgery on a hapless Jeffrey Combs.

In its designs and drama, the show manages to avoid many obvious clichés of the urban gothic - even on trademark dark-and-stormy nights at Arkham Asylum where, of course, the inmates take over. A strong whiff of The Untouchables and The Godfather is evident beneath salted layering of comicbook legends. This is 1970s and 1980s Manhattan mafiarama, which re-tells the origins of DC comics' gallery of rogues. These human monsters are diminished to malcontents - depicted as social outcasts subjected to, if not always victims of, long term abuse by peers and rivals, rather than (as is usual for heroic counterparts) being seen as blameless citizens tragically affected by freaky accidents or extreme traumas.

This radical humanisation process does not reduce the role of evil in shaping or re-shaping tortured souls, but it does mean that we are invited to view character-arcs as understandable from the inside; still very creepy but comparatively sympathetic - just before all the rage and killing begins. Good news: the awful Mrs Smith won't appear in season two. Oh, and the answer to Riddler's puzzler? Nothing!

Gotham - season 1

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