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'Gotham: The Complete First Season' DVD Review: The dark days before the Dark Knight

September 9, 2015Ben MK

Whether it's Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher or Christopher Nolan directing, Gotham has always played more of a background role in the Batman films, providing the Dark Knight with alleyways to prowl and rooftops to climb. But in Gotham the television series, the roles are reversed, and the city that calls the Caped Crusader its protector finally gets its turn in the spotlight.

An origin story not just for Batman, but also for his allies and his gallery of rogues, Gotham joins rookie detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he finds himself paired up with grizzled GCPD veteran Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) to investigate the murder of two of the city's most influential citizens: Thomas and Martha Wayne. Intent on cleaning up Gotham's cesspool of corruption, the future Commissioner Gordon quickly learns that if he's to do that, he'll need to play by the city's rules. And that means carefully navigating the web of deceit woven by its underworld power players, gangster Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and crime bosses Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Salvatore Maroni (David Zayas), even while dealing with the rise of such iconic — and soon-to-be-formidable — DC Comics villains as the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) and the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith).

Of course, a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) also makes an appearance, alongside other familiar characters like Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk). But even though Gotham doesn't follow the typical superhero formula, it still proves well worth watching. Structured more along the lines of a police procedural, the show delivers a fresh take on a familiar comic book universe. And with season two right around the corner, viewers won't have long to wait to find out where these characters go next.

In the meantime, fans eager to relive the show's first season can do so with Warner's six-disc DVD set, which contains all of Gotham's 22 episodes thus far:

  • Pilot: Extended Version - Investigating the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Detectives James Gordon and Harvey Bullock find the killer... to easily. And that plunges rookie Gordon into a labyrinth of police and mob corruption — and a date with a meat hook and a crime kingpin.
  • Selina Kyle - A child-trafficking ring preys on Gotham's street kids, including Selina Kyle, who proves herself quite the catlike survivor. Penguin resurfaces in the countryside and makes his way back to the city, leaving victims in his wake.
  • The Balloonman - A vigilante (Dan Bakkedahl) is killing corrupt Gotham citizens by attaching them to weather balloons. Penguin returns home to Gotham and quickly works his way into a new job close to crime lord Salvatore Maroni (David Zayas).
  • Arkham - An old friend visits Gordon — with a warning of war. As a City Council vote on the Arkham District's future nears, politicians on both sides are in danger. Fish Mooney holds auditions — for a "weapon" — and Penguin gets promoted.
  • Viper - A new street drug causes euphoria, super strength and death — and may be linked to Wayne Enterprises. Penguin works his way deeper into Maroni's confidence... and Liza (Makenzie Leigh) meets her mark.
  • Spirit of the Goat - Deadly déjà vu! A killer targets the firstborns of Gotham's elite, triggering Bullock's haunted memories of an earlier case. Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen move to arrest Gordon for Penguin's murder.
  • Penguin's Umbrella - As war between Maroni and Carmine Falcone escalates — with Gordon in everyone's crosshairs — Penguin plays golden goose to manipulate the situation. Fortunately, loner Gordon finds unexpected allies.
  • The Mask - When a Gothamite is found beaten to death, Gordon and Bullock follow the case into a high-finance arena with a warrior-like job selection process. Bruce Wayne returns to school, where he also has a fight on his hands.
  • Harvey Dent - To advance the Wayne case, Gordon meets ADA Harvey Dent (Nicholas D'Agosto). Explosions rock Gotham, thanks to bomb maker Ian Hargrove (Leslie Odom Jr.). Selina visits Wayne Manor and Penguin drops in on Liza.
  • Lovecraft - Selina leads a new friend on a perilous urban journey to evade assassins on her trail. Those same killers also have no love for Dent's murder suspect Dick Lovecraft (Al Sapienza). Gordon's gambit gets him reassigned to Arkham Asylum.
  • Rogues' Gallery - Gordon's Arkham Asylum assignment gets off to a crazy start when an inmate dies; he and Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) team up to unmask the killer. Penguin experiences hubris, Fish pulls strings, and Selina gives Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley) shelter.
  • What the Little Bird Told Him - To get his job back, Gordon tracks Arkham Asylum escapee — and deranged electrocutioner — Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl). Falcone's empire is threatened after Fish makes her next move.
  • Welcome Back, Jim Gordon - When a homicide witness dies while being questioned by police, Gordon just won't let it be — and looks to an old pal for information. Nor will Bruce let go of his friendship with Selina. Penguin takes over one of Fish's prized possessions.
  • The Fearsome Dr. Crane - Fish prompts Maroni to test Penguin's loyalty with crushing force. Bruce releases Gordon from his promise. Gordon and Bullock hunt a killer targeting victims whose phobias are brought to scary life... and then death.
  • The Scarecrow - Biology teacher Gerald Crane (Julian Sands) harvests the adrenal glands of his murder victims toward mind-altering ends. A shanghaied Fish continues her power-plotting ways, and Falcone attempts to change Maroni's plan for Penguin.
  • The Blind Fortune Teller - A date night at the circus turns ugly with a case of murder and family dysfunction. Falcone enlists Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell) to help Penguin with his nightclub, while Fish bonds with a new family. Bruce meets the Wayne Enterprises board.
  • Red Hood - Unexpected visitations: The Red Hood gang goes on a bank robbery spree, and Alfred J. Pennyworth's ex-military buddy, Reginald Payne (David O'Hara) shows up at Wayne Manor. Selina continues to bond with Barbara Kean, and Fish goes to extreme lengths to meet her captor.
  • Everyone Has a Cobblepot - While Gordon investigates the corrupt activities of Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari), Fish's allegiance with the prisoners is questioned when she allies with Dr. Francis Dulmacher (Colm Feore). Bruce deals with the aftermath of an attack close to home.
  • Beasts of Prey - Gordon and Bullock catch a cold case involving the Ogre (Milo Ventimiglia), a serial killer who targets young women. Fish plots her escape from Dulmacher's island. Bruce and Selina confront Reggie.
  • Under the Knife - The Ogre makes his move on someone close to Gordon. Bruce and Selina team to expose a corrupt Wayne Enterprises employee (Michael Potts) and Edward Nygma comes to Kristin Kringle's (Chelsea Spack) defense... forcefully.
  • The Anvil or the Hammer - In the Ogre's mind, Barbara is "The One," forcing Gordon and Bullock to go to great legnths to rescue her. Penguin pulls the trigger on a mob war, while Bruce learns hard truths about Wayne Enterprises and Nygma cleans up after himself.
  • All Happy Families Are Alike - The mob war reaches its flashpoint when Falcone is marked for death, and Fish returns to stop the show and gets payback. Barbara's therapy puts Leslie in danger, and Bruce searches for clues about his father's legacy.

Gotham's dark and dreary world comes across looking quite striking on DVD. Nighttime scenes benefit from impenetrably deep black levels; daytime scenes appear crisply detailed and free of any major visual imperfections; and the show's oftentimes muted and overcast color palette (filled with an array of greens and steely blues) still allows plenty of room for primaries (such as the reds of Fish Mooney's nightclub) to pop. Audio-wise, Gotham's standard definition presentation continues to impress, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that faithfully renders the various elements of the show's soundstage, from fistfights and gunshots to the ambient noise of city traffic and distant police sirens.

Warner's season one DVD set includes the following special features (most of which can be found on disc six, with the exception of deleted scenes, which are spread over discs two through five):

  • Gotham Invented (31:27) - A three-part documentary ("Building Our Gotham," "Paving the Way for the Caped Crusader" and "Fractured Villains of Gotham") exploring the show's creation, from its mythology, to its heroes and villains, to its visual look and thematic inspirations.
  • Gotham: Designing the Fiction (19:54) - A piece delving into the show's production design, its visual aesthetic rooted in 1970s and '80s New York and 1930s Chicago, and the commingling of elements from different time periods, with a visit to the sets for the GCPD, Fish Mooney's nightclub and Wayne Manor as well.
  • The Game of Cobblepot (26:25) - Using the game of chess as a reference point, actors Robin Lord Taylor and Ben McKenzie, executive producers Bruno Heller and John Stephens, and writers Megan Mostyn-Brown and Rebecca Perry Cutter share some insight into the manipulations, machinations and inner workings of burgeoning criminal mastermind Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin.
  • Gotham: The Legend Reborn (21:36) - A behind-the-scenes look at the series, in which the cast and crew discuss the series' premise, its main characters and their relationships, the storyline, the production design and cinematography, the visual and special effects, and the overall tone of the show.
  • DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014 - Presenting Gotham, The Flash, Constantine and Arrow (29:29) - DC Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and the filmmakers and cast behind the DC television universe discuss their shows and answer questions from fans onstage at Comic-Con 2014.
  • Character Profiles (15:52) - Profiles of "Detective James Gordon," "Bruce Wayne and Alfred J. Pennyworth," "Detective Harvey Bullock," "Fish Mooney," "Oswald Cobblepot" and "Dr. Leslie Thompkins," as well as "Killer Characters" like the Dollmaker, the Scarecrow and the Ogre.
  • Gag Reel (4:55) - Goofs, flubs and outtakes from the Gotham set.
  • Unaired Scenes (7:13) - Two deleted scenes each from "Penguin's Umbrella" and "Lovecraft," plus one deleted scene each from "Rogues' Gallery," "What the Little Bird Told Him," "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon" and "Beasts of Prey."

Gotham: The Complete First Season is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as of September 8th, 2015. Episode synopses above provided courtesy of Warner Bros. The DVD features English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are presented in English SDH, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai. The total runtime is 16 Hrs. 8 Mins.

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