Holy Origin Story, Batman!
A dark, dank and Burtonesque police drama, Gotham depicts offenders’ and defenders’ struggles for power and falls from grace, intimately entwining both beloved and original characters amid the tragic backdrop of a decaying city and the cold-blooded murder of young Bruce Wayne’s philanthropic parents. Detective James Gordon leads the search for truth while grappling to save souls, adamant to retain his own despite the corruption that surrounds him. The mid-season finale just aired (on Nov. 24) and the show won’t return until January. In the meantime, I’d like to share exactly what I appreciate about this prequel series (MINOR spoilers follow):
1. The Cinematography. I love the look and feel of this show: it’s modern but retro, industrial yet Victorian, if that makes any sense whatsoever (my 18th/19th-century lit. professor would be shaking his head right now). But every time we’re out on the Gotham City streets, I can taste the salt in the air, smell the congealed blood in the alleyways…it’s gritty, grimy and — gotta say it — gothic, and even so, it’s still a setting that’s packed with a chuckle-worthy amount of camp via character tics and jokes. In other words, to a Batman fan, the atmosphere feels good. I can also practically taste the colors featured in the show: rich reds, warm golds, smoky grays, grim blues and sickly greens. The lighting is great: the bleak outdoors and monochromatic interiors contrast with softer settings such as Barbara Kean’s apartment.
My favorite of all the light cues, though, comes from the latest episode, “Lovecraft.” When Gordon and Bullock shake hands, a beautiful beacon of light reaches out and touches them, as if hope manifests in the form of sunlit fingers for a mere moment. It was lovely. Finally, I enjoy the way the show is shot, especially the push-ins and close-ups of the Penguin, the most striking example of which (to me) occurs during “Spirit of the Goat” when the camera slowly crawls forward as he reclines in his bathwater, allowing us to eavesdrop on his conversation. The camera stagnates for reaction and reverse shots, only to deliver us straight to the mercy of the Penguin’s sinister, smirking face at the scene’s close. That shot is a modern-day Caravaggio and an interesting parallel of a little girl partially submerged in the bathtub during an early episode of The Strain, a horror show that also premiered a few months ago. Both gave me the creeps. Foreboding was no longer a feeling but instead a weight on my shoulders and within my brain and body. Well done, everyone.
2. The Cast. Having just binged SouthLAnd for the first time (oh ho, I’ll be getting to that soon enough), I must say I am a fan of Ben McKenzie. Pre-Batman, Gordon is the civil protector of Gotham, the one who exudes authority but extends clemency whether the person deserves it or not, and McKenzie portrays this strength well. Plus I have a soft spot for idealistic characters. Call them dumb; call them delusional…and call them in an emergency, because they’re bound to be there when no one else will. I like to see people I know are going to be there when the storm rolls in and the world falls in on itself.
As for the rest of the ensemble, Donal Logue makes Bullock likable (I found his animated counterpart annoying). Jada Pinkett Smith’s slinky-ink hamminess reminds me of a saucier revamp of Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman, which I like. Speaking of “Cat,” I was so pleased to see Camren Bicondova cast as the legendary antiheroine because her physicality is puurrfect — every movement this young lady makes is art (and if her art looks familiar, you might have seen her in the phenomenal girl group 8 Flavahz on the final season of America’s Best Dance Crew). David Mazouz, the show’s other teen actor, incites empathy and delivers a good amount of innocence and intrigue while mixing in shades of the seriousness we’ve come to know in the adult Bruce Wayne and subsequently, his alter ego. Sean Pertwee is epic. Sounds like an understatement, just like Alfred may seem like an understated character to the casual viewer, but he is assuredly is not, and that’s proven time and time again throughout the season by the way Pertwee emotes with both his face and his fists. Hard-core Alfred is a boss. Cory Michael Smith is delightful as the under-appreciated, creepily zealous forensic scientist known for now as Edward Nygma and Erin Richards turns in a solid performance as Barbara Kean, Gordon’s current love interest.
Finally, there’s Robin Lord Taylor–a dead ringer of a young Danny DeVito Penguin, he’s got all the quirks and oddities required both to endear and frighten. His performance is so idiosyncratic; I get giddy every time he’s on screen, relish every line and watch for every twitch in his face or form. I find Penguin’s charm similar to Sweeney Todd’s; therefore, I am one enthralled viewer.
3. It’s Riveting. Is the show perfect? Nah, but it’s still a 7.5-8/10 for me. It can read a little contrived in places (does her first name seriously have to be “Ivy”?), but understandably, it’s an origin story, and for the most part, the interweaving of villains and heroes interests me more than irks me. There’s a fair balance of story and character in each episode, which ensures I never find it boring. Every week, I look forward to the next installment and to me, a good story ignites interest, inspires anticipation and incites an emotional resonance, and this show does it for me. I appreciate its putting me in the correct headspace as I sit to write my own thriller. We’ve all seen dark things, been to dark places. I love to see people fight for the light. That’s certainly my journey, in life and on the page, and in one way or another, probably all of ours. Gotham reminds me that many wars we wage are not likely to end soon if at all, but in the midst of our madness there’s always something worth fighting for. And that kind of reminder, that kind of nudge forward into the belly of the beast…is always awesome.
How is Gotham for you? Do you have any entertainment suggestions for people who are drawn to the dark, dramatic, comic-booky, I-see-a-dim-light-in-the-darkness type of tone? Feel free to share your thoughts below.