'Gotham' Season Three's Unique Take on Batman's Origin Continues to Ramp Up the Crazy

Mad Hatter Jervis is one of the many new villains in Gotham season three (Photo Credit: IMDB).

Gotham relies on its fast pace and embrace of the insane to work as the diverse and bizarre show it wants to be, but occasionally the show is too surreal for its own good.

Gotham: The Complete Third Season

Director: Various
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Robin Lord Taylor
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Studio: Warner Home Video
Year: 2016
UK Release Date: 2017-08-28
US Release Date: 2017-08-29

When Warner Home Video sent me the third season of Gotham, I was certain there was some mistake; there's simply no way Gotham has only had three seasons, considering how much has happened. Many characters have changed sides dramatically, others are almost unrecognizable, and there's about a decade’s worth of continuity already established. Considering this narrative is set before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, that's quite a lot.

Of course it's true; Gotham really has only finished its third season. Those who've managed to keep up with the decade of continuity shoved into three seasons will likely find a lot to enjoy in this third season. That said, there are few new jumping-in points for new viewers, and some episodes are so esoteric they might require a half hour "previously on" segment.

One thing Gotham does very well is establish and stick to its amazing and bizarre world. The series' Gotham City doesn't exist in our own real world any more than it operates as a subset of any DC Comics film continuity. The denizens of Gotham’s Gotham wear '40s style attire, drive '80s cars, speak on early 2000s cellular phones, listen to classic songs re-imagined with techno beats, and terrorize each other with a bizarre combination of B-Movie sci-fi gadgets and futuristic technology.

A similar mixture goes into the themes and mood of the show. Often Gotham is a hard-edged drama bordering on horror. Other times, it's as playfully surreal and campy as anything in Tim Burton's Batman movies (although unlike the earlier Batman films, Gotham is never a toy commercial). While this sort of oddity might kill most television shows, it's actually the only way Gotham can truly work. Insanity is, after all, a part of this mixture.

Batman is a dark and menacing character often surrounded by strange and colorful villains that, even in the darkest world, can often come off as silly. In the comics, this element is embraced, and somehow manages to work, because a silly villain who has a gun to your head is no less terrifying (and arguably more so) than a serious villain with a gun to your head. At the end of the day, you've still got a gun to your head.

Where other shows and movies have focused only on the already dark villains, Gotham strives to embrace the dichotomy of the comics and present something that ordinarily might seem a bit silly as terrifying. We have a villain modeled after the Mad Hatter (Benedict Samuel); an over-the-top and foppish crime boss who goes by the moniker of Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor); a strange criminal scientist who slowly starts to wrap himself in green and call himself The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith); a costumed arsonist called Firefly (Camila Perez); and a mad scientist with white hair and blue skin called Mister Freeze (Nathan Darrow). How can one make such craziness terrifying? Because the craziness itself is the terror.

Nor does Gotham attempt to apologize or cover up the insanity. Gotham knows that the insanity of this world is the only way the city of Gotham could possibly produce the Batman. The lunatic medical doctor Hugo Strange (BD Wong) is always cartoonish even when performing garish experiments on his patients. The Riddler is constantly spinning riddles -- obviously -- in high stakes games of death. The Mad Hatter is not only unhinged, but holds the key to turning every citizen of Gotham into a villain as crazy as himself. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a non-powered powerhouse of craziness who's unafraid to rip her own eyeball out just to spite those who think they can control her.

Of course just as The Joker is the Clown Prince of Batman’s crime city, so is Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) the insane, cackling circus madman in young Bruce Wayne's world. Is Jerome actually the Joker to be? We don't know yet, but we do get a couple of terrifying episodes that make the case for a solid "maybe". At the end of these episodes, the idea that young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) becomes Batman is all the more realistic.

That same rapid-fire change and growth that made the first two seasons seem like so much more than two is also on display in season three. Events move at a breakneck pace in Gotham. One teenaged character literally grows up to full adulthood overnight. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is destined to age into the familiar Commissioner Gordon we all know, but he starts this season not as a police officer but as a drunken private detective. One of the most menacing villains of the entire season starts out as the city's most trusted cop. Perhaps most bizarre of all, the crime lord Penguin himself begins the season as the mayor of Gotham City.

For the most part this works, and the frantic pace is explained (just as the occasional cartoonish overacting is) by the surreality of Gotham. Occasionally, however, the silliness fails to feel truly frightening, and manages to be only silly. The fast pace occasionally attempts to (unsuccessfully) gloss over a fizzled plot point. When a moment of goofiness detracts from the dark, noir tone of the story a fedora-wearing cop drives up in a car borrowed from Hill Street Blues while talking on a flip phone, it reminds the viewer once again that this isn't our own world.

When one truly becomes engrossed in Gotham however, these failing moments are lost in a sea of strange thrills. Even when over-the-top delivery is required, the actors who do deliver are top notch. No one could accuse Wong of less than a top-notch performance. Bullock (Donal Logue) and Gordon have cemented themselves as a truly effective and credible crime fighting buddy duo, largely due to the chemistry between actors Logue and McKenzie. Taylor is remarkably compelling and complex as Penguin, both in his laughing confidence and his petrified demeanor.

Sean Pertwee's portrayal of butler Alfred Pennyworth virtually steals the show every time he appears, and the character's arc has been truly satisfying. Over the series' three seasons, he's come into his own as Bruce's strong, yet loving, foster father. Gone are the drawling, subservient performances of an ancillary Alfred; in Gotham, Alfred's less a servant and more of a bodyguard. He fights, he quips, he teaches, and he protects. This is, of course, a partial credit to Pertwee's pedigree: his father, Jon, famously portrayed the well-received third incarnation of Doctor on Doctor Who.

The season does keep the viewer guessing, with the biggest surprises reserved for the final few episodes. While viewers are focused on the insane and powerful escapees of the Indian Hill research facility, the Machiavellian, Illuminati-like group The Court of Owls begins to rear its head. Just as we're focusing on The Court of Owls, something even more sinister -- and, from a viewer standpoint, incredibly satisfying -- rears its demon’s head. All the while, allegiances change, hands are chopped off, faces are ripped off, people are killed and brought back from the grave, and fortunes reverse at the flip of a scarred coin.

Gotham third season Blu-ray release also offers documentaries on actor-turned-director McKenzie, features on The Court of Owls and the new super-villains introduced in season three, deleted scenes, and the Gotham 2016 Comic-Con panel. While all of these are welcome, and the collection offers superior sound and video, the main attraction is still the main attraction: finally witnessing the birth of the Batman.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

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Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

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