Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Television Review: ‘Gotham’

IMDB.COM Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie star as Harvey Bullock and James Gordon in FOX's latest show.
Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie star as Harvey Bullock and James Gordon in FOX’s latest show.


While the first episode of Fox’s Gotham may not have been spectacular, it showed glimpses of a great show in the making. The series is based on Bruce Wayne’s fictional home city, but before he becomes Batman, and while future police chief James Gordon is just a rookie detective.

Even though Gotham opens with a dynamic scene of a young Catwoman cleverly stealing some milk from an elderly woman’s groceries, the most compelling parts of the show come from the quality of writing and not the action itself. Gotham may be termed a crime television series, but it is far more complicated than that. Like the Nolan movies, the writing is layered with more intricate themes, and there is an underlying sense of conspiracy beneath the basic plot.

One of the primary themes of the show is the nature of justice. The primary conflict is between the young Jim Gordon, an idealist in a corrupt criminal justice system, and his boss Harvey Bullock, an older, cynical detective, who illustratively remarks, “Sometimes we gotta do a bad thing to do good.”

Gotham has a cerebral element to it that creates constant drama. It perfectly balances treatment of ethical dilemmas with the action-packed entertainment that many viewers crave.

Another part of what makes Gotham compelling is that it develops the rich backstories of both “good” and “bad” characters in the city of Gotham who are often deprived of the spotlight normally centered on Batman. The writers are able to do some justice to  ancillary characters like Gordon or Penguin, who  are typically portrayed as simple stock characters in relation to Batman.

Gotham also introduces the new female character Fish Mooney, a cunning mobster in Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Jada Pinkett Smith gives one of the best acting performances of the show through her character’s suave, unwavering control over her followers and the city police.

While Pinkett Smith shines in her role, the actor whose performance truly propels the show to success is Robin Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot, better known as Penguin. Taylor’s portrayal of Cobblepot is not far off from Heath Ledger’s incredible performance as the Joker in the Dark Knight. The Penguin of Gotham is a scrawny and uncomfortable young man who quickly reveals his sadistic nature when he slowly beats a man with a baseball bat, relishing each squeal of pain more and more

In one of the most beautifully written moments of the first episode, Gordon saves Penguin’s life by faking Penguin’s death, pushing him into the harbor. Penguin begins the episode as a stumbling servant to the powerful Fish Mooney, but this scene serves as his rebirth into the life of a supervillain.

After emerging from the water, the once hesitant Cobblepot murders an innocent fisherman with a single decisive slash of a knife in order to steal a sandwich. This is just the first of numerous times the show portrays the development of a sociopath-turned-supervillain.

The show has a lot of potential because of its superhero setting that showcases normal but extraordinary people in the rough world of Gotham. However, it sometimes tiptoes a fine line between thematically-complicated-yet-entertaining show and comic book spin-off gone wrong. One of the primary limitations of the show is that it is a prequel—we know that Bruce Wayne becomes Batman and that Gordon does not eliminate the supervillains. Therefore a critical challenge for the show will be to maintain suspense and to give Gordon satisfying victories for a viewership that knows what is ultimately to become of the characters.

In addition, the role of Bruce Wayne seems unclear in the show. He seems a necessary component; a show about Gotham without Bruce Wayne would be like cereal without milk. But Wayne is not the character Gotham deserves or needs. A young Wayne cannot contribute to the primary themes of the show in a substantive way, but will inevitably have to get screen time simply because of who he is. As a result, he could end up becoming a distraction to the real writing of the show.

Despite the possible problems the show could run into, it has enough potential to be seriously considered as great television. If you like action but also value writing that plays with deeper themes, Gotham will be a great show for you.

Even those who are not fans of stereotypical superhero stories should consider watching Gotham, because it is a show about human heroes and villains as they struggle with ethical dilemmas and grow in the dark side of Gotham. As characters develop and secrets unfold, Gotham promises to be one of the best new shows on television.

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