Critics and comic book fans were harsh on FOX’s “Gotham” from the start. After all, who wants a Batman show without Batman? The weak start didn’t help, giving viewers a very dark and bloody portrait of characters no one wanted to get to know better. No one expected it to last, but comic fans kept tuning in, hoping for the best. The plots slowly started to improve. With new tweaks to the tone and some emerging heroes, “Gotham” just might be worthy of a second season after all.

Holding Out for a Hero

Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is supposed to be the tough but good, honest guy in the Gotham cesspool of crime and corruption. The writers failed to sell that idea in the early episodes, giving us an angry guy who felt his morals slipping from day one. In order to live in a TV show’s dystopian nightmare, we must have at least one central character we’re cheering on as a hero.

As the “Gotham” story progressed, Gordon showed us his sympathetic side with young Bruce (David Mazouz) and Selina (Camren Bicondova). He’s risked his personal happiness, career, and life several times in the pursuit of justice. We were finally allowed to sense the nobility and warmth McKenzie is so good at portraying. Gordon also convinced his uber jaded partner Bullock (Donal Logue) to join his uphill battle of doing the right thing. This gives us two heroes we can now root for each week.

Bruce Lightens Up

After the brutal death of his parents, young Bruce was understandably depressed and solitary. His obsessive data collecting on the murder showed us a hint of the costumed vigilante he’d transform into later. His sad existence was tough to watch, though, and didn’t give us much in the way of character development.

The arrival of Selina at Wayne Manor was a breath of fresh air. We learned more about her, but also about Bruce and Alfred (Sean Pertwee). We got to see Bruce as more of a normal kid, trying to toughen himself against bullies and impress the girl. Viewers witnessed Alfred being both fatherly and totally kickass when it came to fending off surprise assassins. “Gotham” can’t succeed without these characters being likeable, and the show is gradually getting us there.

Penguin Gets Crafty

“Gotham” has introduced a lot of future Batman villains. This dilutes the power of their impact and can overwhelm the viewer. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), aka Penguin, made an early and very bloody splash on the show. It was a strong first impression, but not a particularly enjoyable one.

After his ridiculously brief exile from Gotham, Penguin has returned and insinuated himself into the criminal world quite impressively. He’s still just as murderous as ever, but his wickedly clever machinations are more entertaining to watch. He’s got devious plans inside of devious plans, stacked up like vicious nesting dolls just waiting to blow up in the crime families’ faces.

Taylor is great at making viewers queasy with fear every time Penguin steps on screen. We’re never sure whom he’s going to betray next, or whether he’ll continue to honor that debt he owes Gordon for sparing his life. What could have been just a sniveling, creepy character has been elevated to a wickedly dangerous foe who can deviously shift tactics whenever he needs to.

The Fun of “Gotham”

“Gotham” began with a heavy focus on the darker elements of the plot and tone. Over time they’ve found ways to break that up and allow viewers to have more fun with the show. Jada Pinkett Smith has been enjoyably chewing scenery from the start as “businesswoman” Fish Mooney. Gordon and Bullock entertain us with a lot more sardonic banter, and Alfred has revealed a wicked sense of humor as well. The developing friendships and loyalties help lighten up the original noir setting.

The show’s reception was good enough to earn it a full-season order. When it returns on January 5, we’ll see what a disgraced Gordon has to deal with in his new gig at Arkham Asylum. Now that he’s proven himself a worthy hero, we’re excited to see where this new path leads him. If the show continues to develop these characters into interesting, watchable comic heroes and villains, the series is worth keeping around for several more seasons to come.

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