Like most freshman dramas, Gotham had some growing pains.

The first season of the Fox Batman prequel struggled to abide a case-of-the week structure and to balance its tone between the show's campy villains and hard-boiled detectives. And just as the show began to solve some of those problems in its more serialized second half, Fox's erratic scheduling, which pulled the show off the air for a month in the spring, resulted in far fewer viewers seeing the competent and confident drama Gotham had become by its first season finale.

The good news: Season 2, which premieres Monday at 8/7c on Fox, continues the show's momentum with a pair of opening episodes that are among the best the show has done. And it's doing it by doubling down on the city's famous villains. "We know the story we're telling now in a much more intense way," executive producer Bruno Heller tells TVGuide.com. "The first year was very much being true to the world of Batman, which starts in the old-school 1930s mobster world. This year, it's moving into the familiar world that Batman fans understand, the world that needed Batman to come and save it."

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Adds star Ben McKenzie, whose Detective Jim Gordon will continue to stand in as the hero of the story until Batman can indeed save the day: "I'm so proud of what we're doing. Not that I wasn't proud before, but there was the frustration that the procedural plot lines we ended up in were, I think, holding the show back from its potential. I'm proud of our writers for taking on the challenge and re-conceiving the show. To do that, you have to take big risks, and they are absolutely doing that. I really believe it's a fundamental re-conception of the show."

So, whether you a true Batfan or you gave up on the show last year, here's 7 reasons why Gotham deserves another look in Season 2.

1. The show is much darker and more serialized. Season 2 is subtitled "The Rise of the Villains," and the show is certainly not shying away from telling that story with all the danger that comes with it. "We decided very early on to make the second season one complete saga," executive producer Danny Cannon says. "The thing about Gotham is it's a world in which villains are starting to top each other and compete with one another. The chaos in that city is giving birth to a villain that needs that spotlight. We're creating a Gotham where Gordon won't be able to corral that world in turmoil for too long. At some point vigilante-ism is going to be necessary.

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Leading that charge is Theo Galavan (James Frain), a billionaire industrialist who presents himself as the savior of Gotham, but actually unleashes some of Arkham Asylum's deadliest criminals, including Cameron Monaghan's Joker-like Jerome. "This season is about how one man will unleash and empower the villains and make them understand that they are more powerful than the people fighting against them," Cannon says. "They are the pioneers for Gotham. They are the ones who will change things because with chaos and destruction is the only way you can build. You can't rebuild a city without first destroying it."

2. Cameron Monaghan is having the time of his life. The Shameless star dominates the action in the first two episodes with his twitchy, unhinged take on the Clown Prince of Crime. (For what it's worth, the show's creative team remains non-committal on whether or not Jerome becomes the Joker, but everything about Monaghan's performance is evocative of Batman's most famous nemesis.) "[Jerome] allows us to understand why Batman will be necessary," Cannon says. "Jerome is a criminal, but he's more than that. It's an ideology, it's a way of life, it's a way of getting rid of the shackles of morality that we have. He doesn't have any of those suppressors making him behave in any way other than a completely selfish, anarchic way. He's incredibly free, and I think the scariest and most interesting villains are the ones who don't worry about getting caught or the implications of what they're doing. Anything is possible for them."

3. Gordon is no longer such a golden boy. When Season 2 picks up, Gordon has been demoted by Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari) and is now a uniformed cop who spends most of his days directing traffic. (Donal Logue's Harvey Bullock, meanwhile, is tending bar. "He wouldn't take a uniform job because that would mean shaving his beard," Heller jokes.) But Gordon hasn't given up on taking Loeb down, even if it means once again being in the debt of Gotham's new kingpin Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). "His resolve is shaken a little," McKenzie says of his character. "To go through the year that he had and only be fired for it, puts him at his lowest point, which is what leads him directly to striking the deal with the devil."

But this time around, Jim goes a little too far in carrying out his favor for Penguin, which is something that will surely compromise him later in the season. "One of the stories we're telling is the walls are closing in on him," McKenzie says. "You go down this path, and increasingly the walls are becoming so narrow that you have no choice and you have to do what you have to do. There's tragedy in that, but it's also about the resilience that requires of someone who finds himself doing things morally that he wouldn't do and still has to get up in the morning and face himself and his job."

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4. Michael Chiklis is coming to town. The sudden influx of villains is going to require the good guys to call in some backup. Enter Chiklis' Capt. Nathaniel Barnes, who will do his best to pull the GCPD back together after a terrible tragedy in the opening episodes of the season. (Chiklis doesn't appear until Episode 4.) "He's an answer to Gordon's prayers," Heller says. "He's an ex-Marine who is fearless and powerful and willing to do what it takes to turn the department around. The battle for Gordon is Capt. Barnes never breaks the law for any reason — otherwise you're just a criminal. Gordon is on the fence between that attitude and what he has learned in Gotham, which is a much more rough and ready brand of justice." Adds McKenzie: "He's inspired by this pure spirit that Barnes embodies. At the same time, Jim finds himself in the ironic position of saying, "That's actually not how Gotham works." He already knows enough to know that this isn't necessarily going to work."

5. The Penguin is as ruthless as ever. "He actually makes a great boss," Heller says of the ascendant Oswald Cobblepot, who took out Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and two warring mob gangs in one fell swoop in the Season 1 finale. "Once he's in a position of power, some of that paranoia and nastiness go away. Some people are born to be king and not good at being vice president. He's one of those guys." However, Heller admits that Penguin's time at the top my be short-lived. "He doesn't tumble straight back down, but [Robin Lord Taylor] is such a delicious underdog and Gotham is such a precarious place to be boss that he doesn't last too long without having a setback," he says.

6. Some of Season 1's familiar faces have gone totally crazy. Viewers saw Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) somewhat surrender to the voice inside his head last season that drove him to (accidental) murder. In Season 2, that voice will take physical form as Smith plays out both sides of the Man Who Will Be Riddler's split personality. "He has two strong personalities and they start to battle one another," Cannon says. "On one hand, you have one's darker nature saying, 'Let me free, I am a more powerful, confident person than you and I deserve to be out there.' On the other hand, there's good and genius within him, which he doesn't want destroyed. We see him battle and it has dire consequences."

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Also letting the cheese slip off her cracker is Barbara (Erin Richards), who, after killing her own parents, tried to murder Leslie Tompkins (Morena Baccarin), the new squeeze of her ex-boyfriend Jim Gordon. When Barbara is recruited as part of Galavan's band of lunatics, she really starts to let her freak flag fly, which sets up a rather twisted love triangle. "Barbara has been hatched out of a new egg," Richards says. "Old Barbara is gone. She is completely embodying her own darkness and having such an amazing time in it. She feels like she's seeing the true world. What she wants is to bring that back out of Jim, because she knows it's there. She wants to get right inside him, push the button and say, 'Come with me, we're going into the darkness and have fabulous sex.' She wants to pull him in and he wants to pull her out." However, the bisexual Barbara might also get tangled up in another triangle involving Theo and his leather-clad sister Tabitha (Jessica Lucas), who will ultimately become the DC villain Tigress.

7. Welcome to the Batcave. Season 1's other big cliff-hanger involved young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee) discovering a secret passageway that led to Bruce's father's secret office. And that discovery looms very large in Season 2. "Whatever he finds at the bottom of those stairs will change his relationship with Alfred and it will exponentially speed up his course to becoming Batman," Mazouz says. "It's going to change everything in his life. He finds out secrets he's been living so close to his whole life and had no idea they were there. It changes his perspective on his father, on Wayne Enterprises, on Gotham, on Alfred. He's going to see everything differently, and because of that, it will push him into Batman-hood."

That is, if Alfred doesn't stop Bruce dead in his tracks. "He's hoping the secrets down there might be mundane secrets that any father might have from his kids and spouse - a couple dresses or some porno magazines," Heller says with a laugh. "When Alfred discovers what is really down there, he's horrified. If he could close that fireplace again, he would." Adds Pertwee: "He feels a certain amount of protection toward Young Master Bruce, especially when he starts to unearth the inner workings of a corrupt foundation. He's entering into the big boy world. Alfred has to accept the fact that he's becoming a man and he either stands with him or he's against him." (For more of Bruce and Alfred's journey, check out the video below.)

Gotham premieres Monday, Sept. 21 at 8/7c on Fox.