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‘Gotham’ Season 2 (TV Review)

The 1-4-0: #Gotham, the Batman prequel series fails to correct the mistakes of the first season.

The Gist: Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) faces a citywide threat of escaped madmen while Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) begins his path to becoming the Batman, in two surprisingly boring season openers.

Season 1 Context: Acting as a prequel to Batman, the decision to focus on a young Jim Gordon was an inspired choice. Billed as a gritty crime drama, the early visuals showed a healthy mix of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s visions of Gotham, gritty, but with a heightened sense of reality, while creator Bruno Heller’s pedigree (HBO’s Rome) promised a dark and intelligent series.

But Gotham’s first season failed in every way shows such as The Flash and Daredevil succeeded. The Flash mixes superheroes and science fiction, becoming one of last year’s most fun new series. Conversely, Daredevil looks into the shadows of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, creating a gritty, bloody world that feels both real and terrifying. Both series play close to the spirit of their respective source material, while committing wholly to a unique vision.

Gotham, however, swung wildly from gritty cop drama to Adam West-era camp, committing to neither. Either vision would have been perfectly acceptable—Nolan’s Dark Knight is as true an adaptation of Batman as the 60s TV series—but Heller didn’t make those visions work together. As Gotham moves into its second season perhaps it will finally find its voice.

What Works in Season 2: McKenzie continues to be the strongest aspect of this show, doing his absolute best with the material presented. Morena Baccarin is great as Gordon’s lover Leslie, but that’s because Baccarin is great in everything she’s in. Sean Pertwee is solid as Alfred while Mazouz has the potential to grow into the role of young Bruce Wayne. If the show were to focus on these two plotlines, it might live up to its promise. However that is simply not the case.

What Doesn’t Work: Sadly, the problems of the previous season continue. Subtitled “Rise of the Villains,” Gotham season 2 continues to be a show at war with itself. In many ways Gotham is three distinct shows, two of which hold promise and a third, centering on the origins of Batman’s rogue gallery, which overwhelms the others.

The villains of Gotham are bloody-thirsty monsters, but from Cameron Monaghan’s proto-Joker Jerome to Jim Gordon’s ex-fiancé Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), all of the villains are presented so wildly over-the-top they lose any sense of menace. Comic book villains don’t always need a definable motive, but they need to be more than crazy for crazy’s sake. Gotham’s villains feel like darker versions of their 60s-era counterparts. But whereas Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and Cesar Romero’s Joker were tailor-made for high-camp, Gotham’s villains just fall flat.

In “Knock, Knock”, Jerome and a gang of escaped Arkham Asylum inmates unleash a reign of terror across the city. An early scene shows Jerome and his gang throwing victims off the side of building, while a later sequence features Jerome dousing a school bus full of cheerleaders with gasoline. These are followed by Jerome’s bloody attack on the police department, leaving several cops and the commissioner dead. On the page, these scenes were meant to be terrifying, underlining why Gotham needs Batman. Instead the show produces a tonal mess, wildly shifting from horror to camp, succeeding only in leaving the audience numb to the whole affair.

Watch, Binge, or Skip: Skip. Batman doesn’t need to be dark to be effective. The camp of Adam West’s Batman worked because everything from script to casting to set design supported that creative choice. Likewise the underappreciated Batman: The Brave and the Bold was the most fun version of Batman in decades because it was dedicated to its over-the-top Silver Age aesthetic. Similarly, Burton’s Batman, Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, and Nolan’s The Dark Knight will stand the test of time because the creators each had a distinct vision for the caped crusader. It’s not impossible to marry camp and dark superhero action; Arrow has done it to great effect because the series established its voice before subverting it. Gotham however, still doesn’t know what kind of show it wants to be and there’s little chance it will find its way anytime soon.

If you’re looking for great takes on DC Comic superheroes that mix both action and humor, check out CW’s Arrow and The Flash, or CBS’s upcoming Supergirl. Those shows are not only part of a larger shared multiverse, but more importantly, they are a hell of a lot of fun.

‘Gotham’ premieres on FOX, September 21st at 8pm. 

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