When “Gotham” debuted a year ago, it was busy trying to be five different shows at once, including a police procedural, a mob war epic, a very very very premature Batman origin story, and a slightly less premature series of origins for Batman's future villains. It was doing too many things at once, and doing few of them well enough to make them stand out in a cluttered, tonally confusing show. Eventually – right after the show introduced Cameron Monaghan as its latest potential Joker – I decided that the parts of the show I didn't enjoy were continuing to far outweigh the parts I did, and I stepped away.
Tonight marks the official start of the 2015-16 network TV season, and while that concept feels more archaic than ever, it still means there's going to be a flood of new and returning shows coming up over the next few weeks. Since most of the new network shows are underwhelming, I wanted to take the opportunity to not only review them, but, when time allowed, check back in on some returning shows I hadn't watched in a while to see if they had improved.
And “Gotham” has improved, based on the first two episodes of the new season (it returns tonight at 8 on FOX, leading into the very dull “Minority Report”). Whether late in season 1 after I stopped watching, or simply over the hiatus, Bruno Heller and company decided what kind of show “Gotham” wanted to be when it grew up. There's a much sharper focus and clearer sense of direction, even though the series is still carrying what feels like several dozen regular characters, and there's much less tonal whiplash from scene to scene. For the most part, all of “Gotham” is starting to feel like it belongs in the same TV show.
It's just not a TV show I have much interest in following.
The show has doubled down on the sadism, the darkness, and the sheer number of future supervillains roaming around Gotham, here introducing James Frain and Jessica Lucas as a pair of new arrivals who unleash a lot of the previously incarcerated killers back onto the streets to cause mayhem in a city not remotely equipped to handle them so long as Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) still isn't old enough to shave.
It's an approach to the Batman universe, and one that the Batman comics themselves have leaned on in recent years. Monaghan is having fun (even if I wouldn't bet my mortgage just yet on his character actually turning out to be the Joker, and not just because Monaghan still has a day job on “Shameless”), and turning Jim Gordon's supportive but boring girlfriend Barbara into a psycho killer has done wonders for actress Erin Richards. But the whole thing's too heavy on the nihilism, even as we watch Alfred (Sean Pertwee), and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) slowly – very slowly – help Young Master Bruce down the path to becoming Batman.
“Gotham” remains fundamentally unbalanced, and there doesn't seem to be a solution short of a time jump that DC Comics would likely never allow. But if you want to watch crazy bad guys cackle and commit murder and mayhem while Gordon and Bullock look exasperated and overwhelmed by it all, then at least you won't have to worry about the show abruptly morphing into something else two scenes later.
Good on Heller for finally getting most of the pieces to work in unison, but the new episodes made me feel comfortable setting “Gotham” aside for good.