Gotham Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2: "Relax, Junior."

The new Fox show delves into the city that spawned Batman but could use some tightening and polishing.

Gotham is a serious place. Such crime, such corruption, such stormy skies. Detective James Gordon, a war hero-turned-cop, may be the most serious part of this dark city.

Fox's new series Gotham was highly anticipated by critics and comic book fans alike. Its third episode airs on Monday. So far, it's taking itself a bit too seriously. But isn't that Batman's modus operandi? It's a little bit pulpy, a little bit shallow, and a lot of fun to watch.

The series opens with - as we might have expected - the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. A masked man with a gun and shiny shoes steals the Waynes' valuables and murders them in cold blood, while their son, Bruce (David Mazouz), watches.

Detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie), new on the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) beat and at odds with his jaded partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), speaks with young Bruce at the scene and promises to find the killer.

"I should have done something," says Bruce.

"Be strong," says Gordon.

Lazy Bullock doesn't want the case, fearing the pressure that will fall on them if they don't quickly solve the murder of the richest folks in Gotham.

In order to expedite a solution, Bullock partners with organized crime lord Carmine Falcone's (John Doman) lieutenant, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), to frame a known small-time criminal. When Gordon discovers that an innocent man was killed to save face, he vows to clean up the department and promises Bruce (again) that he will find the true killer. Justice will be served!

But when Gordon's conscience starts to butt up against the status quo, Bullock has two works for him: "Relax, Junior."

"Relax" may be good advice not only for Detective Gordon, but for the writers of this show.

Superhero stories are meant to be a bit overwrought and larger-than-life, though, right? Realistic? Where's the fun in that? But with lines like "You seem like a nice guy, but this is not a city or a job for nice guys," and "Boy, if you let this hair go frizzy, you will be," there's a bit more silliness than might be warranted.

The direction and camerawork could also stand to take a chill pill. The comic book aesthetic is no doubt difficult to render on screen. Anyone can achieve that saturated, heavily-inked color scheme, but framing shots to look like panels of a comic is an art. Heroes did it beautifully. More recently, so did Guardians of the Galaxy. Director Danny Cannon seems to strive for such a presentation, but in the first episode, everything is closely shot and seemingly haphazardly cut. I wanted to take in the classic Gotham scenery, with its grey haze and harsh up-lighting. The second episode reined it in a bit, but still felt cramped.

Sure, the quick cuts make for a driving pace that moves the show forward and enhances the already-established urgency in Gordon's Very Serious Mission to save the city. But the need for speed also killed some of the drama. There was no break between the bust of the framed "murderer," Pepper, and Penguin's snitch to the major crimes unit. The drama built to a peak, a man was killed and the twist was revealed the very next scene! I realize this is network TV, and we want to be sure the audience catches on, but I want more suspense in my cup of Batman.

Between the cheesy dialogue and pinched arcs, however, there are hints of compelling stories. In truth, this is not the story of Detective Gordon or Bruce Wayne. The most intriguing snapshots so far have been the introductions to the villains. In the first episode alone, we meet the Riddler, who is working as an forensics specialist for GCPD; a young Poison Ivy, the daughter of the man framed for the Waynes' murder; and (most intriguing of all) the Penguin, a shill for Fish Mooney who snitches about the framing.

To prove loyalty to the corrupt police unit and Falcone's operation, Mooney orders Gordon to kill Oswald Cobblepot, called "penguin" for the stilted way he walks. Robin Lord Taylor portrays Cobblepot as spiky and syrupy. His evil is palpable, and his bubbling temper terrifying. Yet, his cause is almost justified. The world has dealt him an unfair hand. He will get ahead, and justice will be served! "Relax" may not be in his vocabulary, but that's okay.

Of course, Gordon doesn't kill him. He misfires the gun and pushes Cobblepot into the water, warning him never to return to Gotham.

Now an embittered and violent man is on the loose. Way to go, Gordon.

In the second episode, titled "Selina Kyle," we follow "Cat" (get it?), as she slinks through Gotham's underworld. Actress Camren Bicondova is ideal for the role of young Catwoman, with her large, wide-set eyes and her feline-like dancer's gait (she's a member of the Hawaiian dance crew 8 Flavahz, runners-up on America's Best Dance Crew's final season). She's also one of the best actors on the show so far. When she tells someone to "relax," I think, "this girl gets it."

Cat is nearly captured by conniving kid snatchers (Lili Taylor and Frank Whaley) hoping to sell homeless children to someone named "The Dollmaker." The detectives arrive just in time to save the kids from certain death or exploitation, but Mayor Aubrey James (Richard Kind) uses the event as an excuse to round up homeless kids and send them to a juvenile detention center. Cat escapes that too, and tells Detective Gordon she knows who killed the Waynes.

Meanwhile, Penguin is off killing the preppy-types who probably bullied him his whole life and plotting his takeover of the city. Was it he who arranged to have the Waynes killed, in hopes of starting a war during which he can sneak in the back door and defeat them all? The shiny shoes would make sense…

One final thought on the music. Just like in films, and especially when a TV show takes on a subject that has so much history in film, the music can make or break the drama. It can be used to build tension, develop characters and heighten emotion.

Graeme Revell, who previously scored Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Sin City (2005), has written a score for Gotham that feels like… well, something from the guy who brought you the music for Lara Croft and Sin City. It's manic and confusing, jumping from deep, bass-heavy electronic soundscapes, to mediocre orchestral builds, to hard rock and heavy metal. There is no rhyme or reason to what warrants a change of pace, and it feels like there's a climax every five minutes. No suspense, no character. The only levels were loud and ominous.

In a show so close to getting it right, the music could really dampen the self-importance and soften the rough edges. Revell is another Gotham contributor who needs to just relax. Perhaps if he and the others did, we could all settle in and revel in an hour of dark fantasy and world-saving.

Episode 3, "The Balloonman," airs Monday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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