On… Gotham series two (so far)

— Warning: Spoilers for the first three or so episodes of Gotham season two —

With all the ballyhoo that Channel Five could muster, Gotham returned to UK TV screens a couple of weeks ago. The first season I had found to be watchable but a little tedious in places, particularly during the mid-season. The characters of Fish and Barbara were also two of the most annoying ever committed to genre television (almost, but not quite, at Neelix-level). For season two, though, the makers seem to have dialed up the bonkers-o-meter, and any semblance of realism the show may have had has been thrown out of the window along with all the nameless criminals Jim Gordon suddenly seems to have developed a penchant for defenestrating.

The focus at the start of the season is the ‘rise of the villains’. This is demonstrated in the first few episodes by the re-appearance of the he’s-a-bit-like-the-Joker-but-obviously-can’t-be-the-Joker-because-we-really-shouldn’t-know-too-much-about-the-Joker Jerome (played with gusto by Cameron Monaghan), and a number of other Arkham Asylum escapees including the now-criminally-insane Barbara. Now, for most of the first season Barbara was so dull you felt that her scenes could be used as a surgical anesthetic. The writers must have realised this  and thus had her kidnapped in the last few episodes and forced to kill her parents. I admit that, never having committed parricide, I’m not entirely sure what impact it would have on your mental health, but it does seem a bit odd that suddenly Barbara has flipped to be a psychotic, nymphomaniac criminal who seemingly has no issue with random murdering.

But, hey, at least she’s more interesting now, right?

Well, yes and no. Her actions are certainly less boring, but because her motivations are entirely unclear (is she doing this because she has literally gone mad? Is she driven by jealousy over Jim Gordon and his relationship with Hot Female Doctor?) I find it hard to get invested in the character. I don’t really care whether she makes it to the end of the season or suffers some doubtless-grissly demise. And, also, why on Earth did the dress code in Arkham Asylum include this Hamburgler-esque ballgown?

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The current Big Bad is the excellent James Frain (you may remember him as Thomas Cromwell in The Tudors or some other historical figure in The White Queen) who is making the best job he can of a rather confusingly written role. Again, his motivations aren’t exactly clear and even when he does given some explanation as to why he wants to cause mayhem and destruction it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.

In fact, very little in this series so far seems to make sense. Jim Gordon has gone from being the kind of police officer who you imagine fills in all his paperwork on time to, as noted before, the kind of police officer who randomly throws people out of windows. At one point in the first episode he says to Hot Female Doctor that he’s ‘done a bad thing’, which makes it sound like he’s soiled his nappy rather than anything liable to get his badge taken off him (again).

So far, the show’s most interesting characters – Bullock, the Penguin and Nygma – have been given precious little to do. Bullock starts off working in a bar snarling ‘I’m never coming back to the force!’ approximately six minutes before he comes back to the force. The Penguin seems to be discovering that being ‘King of Gotham’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and mainly appears to involve sitting in a room watching TV, drinking wine and being visited by members of the GCPD. Following on from his sympathetic killing of Miss Kringle’s abusive boyfriend, Nygma has developed a split personality. There’s been little shown of this so far, but it does at least suggest something intriguing for later in the season.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne continues his inevitable rise towards being Batman. In honesty, it’s hard to see at the moment too clearly how this will happen, as the character is still written as a bit overly wishy-washy, seemingly more intent on chasing after Selina Kyle (who makes random appearances in a variety of scenes, as if no-one is quite sure what to do with her). David Mazouz continues to play Bruce with aplomb, though, and he does such a good glower that I wish the storylines would give him more excuses to use it.

In the first two episodes, Bruce, ably assisted by Alfred discovers the proto-Batcave kept by his father. This is neat, though does make you wonder whether it wouldn’t just have been easier for Thomas Wayne to have kept everything on a USB pen that was really well hidden. Sean Pertwee is excellent as ever, bringing a suitable mean streak to the erstwhile Wayne family retainer whilst also showing the deep care he has for his ward. Lucius Fox also makes a reappearance, though seems to have all his lines written with the stage direction {Omnious] scribbled at the top.

The main problem with Gotham, as I and a million people have said before, is that Batman isn’t in. With the exception of a few villains, most of the characters in Batman are only interesting because of the shadows he casts upon them. There isn’t a scene in Gotham that wouldn’t be better if Batman wasn’t in it. But he isn’t, and Jim Gordon isn’t fleshed out in an interesting enough way to carry the show, which probably explains why the second season has lurched into craziness so swiftly.

Still, I’ll keep watching it because, well, it’s like car-crash TV in a way.

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