FOX’s Gotham began as the most promising in a very weak crop of fall pilots, but not by a lot. As of this week’s mid-season finale, “Lovecraft,” though, it has shown a substantial amount of growth and is quickly becoming a series I yearn to watch the week, or even the day, that it airs. A dark city falling apart, full of people who will be heroes and villains, just coming into their own, it’s the ultimate origin story of a place and a cast.
The title Gotham evokes images of Batman. Since the show’s Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is so young, though, I honestly haven’t expected much from him, and was surprised when I first learned he was a main character. Yet, “Lovecraft” shows us why that should be so. Running away from assassins with Selina (Camren Bicondova), Bruce isn’t just a kid in danger. He’s the beginnings of a hero who cares about people and wants to save them. He is starting to turn into the man he will become, more so with each installment.
Mazouz and Bicondova both are better than the vast majority of performers their age. Gotham cast its kids right. They have the right flirty chemistry that Batman and Catwoman should have, mixed with the innocence of youth. They are able to play layered scenes, thick with hints of what is to come. Their journeys are every bit as important and engaging as those of their adult co-stars. We also see this in Bruce in his interactions with Alfred (Sean Pertwee), Bruce’s guardian, but also his employee, and the power dynamic is already shifting between them.
Did anyone else flashback to Kiefer Sutherland constantly calling “Jake!” in Mazouz’s previous show, Touch, as Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Alfred run around yelling “Bruce!” in “Lovecraft”?
Gordon is the primary protagonist of Gotham, even if he has many people to share the screen with. “Lovecraft” finds him pissing off Mayor James (Richard Kind) yet again, unable to control his temper, which gets him transferred to Arkham Asylum, a juicy, new, infamous setting for the back half of the season. Right now, Gordon has a lot of rough edges, as he must to be the man that works with the Batman, for which the seeds are already planted in Gordon’s strong connection with Bruce. But he doesn’t have the wisdom of age or the ability to play politics. Gordon must find a way to walk the line, or he continue to be his own worst enemy.
The scene in which Gordon says goodbye to Harvey (Donal Logue) is a charged one, and it illustrates how growth has already taken place in ten short episodes. Harvey and Gordon start out at odds over their methods as cops, and while Harvey fails to make Gordon any more accommodating, Gordon has succeeded in making Harvey care about his work and his soul again. Removed from Gordon’s influence, Harvey is likely to revert, so as nice as it will be to explore Arkham, it’s important to get Gordon back to the precinct in the near future. Besides, that’s where his destiny lies.
The breakout character of Gotham this fall is almost unarguably Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), a.k.a. The Penguin. His long-reaching plan to have the mob bosses, including Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Carmine Falcone (John Domin), take each other out because he can’t compete in direct combat is great. He’s sneaky and brilliant, more so than any incarnation of the character I remember, and the actor has a unique take on him that is mesmerizing and sympathetic, in a way. We will eventually root for him to be taken down, but for now, I want to see more of him and less of the mob, a testament to the fantastic performance.
The Penguin is the catalyst for a major change coming to Gotham. For now, normal men and women, ruthless but otherwise typical, run the city. The Penguin is a supervillain, eccentric and with far-above-average capabilities and plans. When he removes the current top of the food chain, he opens the door for others like himself to emerge, as he won’t control things as tightly as the present administration. We’ve already seen some of those personalities in their infancy. The Penguin will provide them the opportunities they need to soar, too.
You may have noticed a lot of characters listed in this review so far, and that brings up another thing Gotham does exceedingly well: balance a very large cast. Not everyone gets the focus every week, but the writers do a terrific job making sure all of our core people have enough screen time to serve their arcs, and that said arcs tie into one another frequently, sometimes in unexpected ways. I’ve never felt like the show is overstuffed or trying to do too much, even with all it has to serve. It actually feels like a comic book series, where certain important people come and go from center stage depending on the needs of the current storyline.
I’m officially a Gotham fan. It’s exciting and fast-paced, while also giving us a bevy of characters to chew on. It is also extremely well-defined in its tone and style, a bit hyper-reality, a bit noir, and different from other network dramas. I feel like this is a familiar story, but I also don’t feel like I’ve seen it before, at least not done this way. Kudos to FOX for finding this bright light in a very lackluster slate, and in a down year for the network itself.
Gotham will return in January.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00Q0NIEVS][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00NQGOXJ4][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1401207529]