I’m not sure how, or when, but I’m reasonably confident Gotham is going to be the death of me.

Apart from the soul-rending improbability of reading other, more positive reviews, something nags about Gotham that I may finally have put a finger to: Gotham is a show that routinely, actively seeks to find the opposite of audience gratification.

Were you interested to see how its characters handle the introduction of an honest-to-goodness costumed supervillain? Here’s an armored mental patient calling himself “Zaardon the Soul Reaver” [sic], taken down in thirty seconds. Did you think Barbara’s heel-turn was a merciful end to a wayward, irretrievable character arc? Too bad, she’s a lead antagonist now, homicidally fixated on stealing back her boyfriend. Did a cave beneath Wayne Manor pique your interest with the promise of answers? Nope, smash it to bits, invent reasons to pad that mystery out another few weeks.

Gotham hates you, and itself, and grows weary of concealing that.

It’s dumb for the sake of dumb, and mean-spirited toward everything that made Gotham characters so worth exploring in the first place.

Last year, a promising pilot quickly gave way to Gotham’s biggest identity issues, attempting to tell eight or more stories on top of one another, and all in vague, tone-deaf service of an intangible plot best surmised as “Batman will be here in 20 years, insert crime before this.” To Gotham Season 2’s credit, the inaugural few episodes attempt to narrow that focus with a “Rise of the Villains” (it is, at best, unclear what separates their “Rising” from last year’s), but in doing so creates chaos merely for the sake of chaos, spotlighting villains with no discernible motivation, or justification of their presence in a given scene.

The opening moments of tonight’s premiere establish new big bad Theo Galavan (James Frain) firmly on the side of evil, later establishing a public face, and a desire to recruit Arkham escapees for a team of villains. It is at no point clear why the character has undertaken these actions, or for what goal beyond “cleansing” Gotham “with fire and blood,” and evidently a Game of Thrones DVD. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our future Catwoman appears in precisely one scene of the first two episodes this season, sitting in the background. She speaks two words. Gotham spent thousands, upon thousands of dollars for an actress, intellectual property, set designer, costumer, lighting technician and director to include this character as such.

The goggles were free, and permanently affixed to her skull.

Not to mention, its heroes haven’t exactly grown in the manner traditional character arcs should allow, between Bruce continually anxious (if too young) to take his place in the world, or Jim descending further into darkness in pursuit of a greater good. Last year took the character through shady dealings with the Penguin, regrettable moral compromises, and lies to those he’d put in harm’s way. Guess what hasn’t changed one bit, for one of Batman’s most revered, and noble supporting characters!

I recognize that not all share my disdain for Gotham, and as such, Season 2 does illuminate a few bright spots amid the chaos, particularly when characters and emotional circumstance are given time to breathe. The welcome return of Chris Chalk’s Lucius Fox adds an intriguing new dynamic to Bruce and Alfred’s outlying narrative, while the unhingements of Edward Nygma or Barbara offer Cory Michael Smith and Erin Richards’ far more opportunity to relish their characters. A number of emotional beats in the climactic second hour land as well, if only to be immediately undercut, by Cameron Monaghan’s “Not Joker But Okay Maybe Joker We Haven’t Decided if He’s Joker

“I watched ‘The Dark Knight’ once!”

In earnest, this review will likely prove the last we write of Gotham for the time being, barring any major events or notable shifts in creative direction. Gotham seems visibly to care less and less about its audience, overall direction and subject material, delivering a cartoonishly violent (and wildly ill-timed, given the topicality of police and gun violence) exaggeration of comic mentality, and lacking any of the satire to justify it. It’s dumb for the sake of dumb, and mean-spirited toward everything that made Gotham characters so worth exploring in the first place.

It is the equivalent of setting a comic bonfire, paying William Hung to inhale the smoke for an hour, and belt his own lyrics to the “Batdance.” It is a high-definition camera trained squarely on molded garbage. It is Tommy Wiseau’s one-man performance of Citizen Kane.

Enjoy.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Perhaps worth noting, some reviews have seen three episodes of the new season, while FOX only made two immediately available to critics.
  • An event in the coming weeks seemingly dissolves Bruce’s relationship with Alfred, and (justifiably) precipitates his immediate firing, and departure. At no point does it occur to either character that Alfred is still Bruce’s legal guardian. #Gotham
  • Has anyone else noticed a perturbing resemblance between Peter Scolari and Arnold Schwarzenegger?
  • A notable female character of color will die, and end up replaced by a white man. I suspect this will go over well.

Gotham Season 2 premieres tonight with “Damned If You Do,” airing on FOX at 8:00 P.M. May Grodd have mercy on your soul.

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