Gotham will be about why a city might need a guy to dress up as a bat and go out at night punching people.
Gotham is a new show about a pre-Batman Gotham City, a cesspool of corruption, rampant street crime, and a breeding ground for psychopaths, in particular The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and down the road, possibly a Joker or two? The question, “What’s it like to be a cop in Gotham City?” has been asked before. (Pick up the excellent comic Gotham Central to read some interesting stories about Gotham cops dealing with extremely dangerous lunatics who are quite simply out of the police’s league.) However, the new TV show promises to take us to nascent Gotham City, where the lunatics are just beginning to bubble to the surface of a good old fashioned mob run city. Think Chicago in 1925 except with criminals who are OCD in some very specific way, say, stealing cat-themed art and jewelry.
The Batman universe is ripe for expansion in a way that I don’t care about with, say, Superman or the Hulk. As fictional cities go, Gotham has a lot of heft. First of all, we know and care about the police commissioner, James Gordon, the moral rock that rights a terminally corrupt police force. But the crime in Gotham was so perverse that it spawned a new kind of villain, people so insane that their pathology plays out as criminal enterprises. For instance, Gotham features a young Edward Nigma, who will become the Riddler, whose crimes are secondary to his need to admit them in the form of riddles. Everything is a game to him, but crime is serious and violent, so there’s also that part of him. But at this point, he’s a socially awkward crime scene tech who likes riddles. So I think that the show is going to be about Jim Gordon slowly rooting out corruption, but more so, it will be about why a city might need a guy to dress up as a bat and go out at night punching people.
Now me? I’m predestined to watch this because I read the comics and love the Batman universe. At least two of the best five Batman stories ever begin before Jim Gordon became police commissioner, Year One by Frank Miller and Scott Snyder’s recent Zero Year. Sure, Gordon is a great leader, but it’s also interesting to see him in the trenches. So I’m in. But why should you watch it? Well, right off the bat (snicker), it is the best reviewed pilot of this season. So I guess it’s not just for nerds.
The first episode was good, but had a lot going on in the way of pilots. We spent a lot of time on exposition and met many, many characters– and maybe a few too many who were winking at the camera to say, “I’m going to be important later,” like a young Pamela Isley, aka Poison Ivy. But that’s pilots. I was really interested. But it wasn’t a movie with a start to finish plot. It was an introduction to the universe. I might have had an advantage over the casual Batman fan since I’ve been waiting to see Renee Montoya onscreen for fifteen years. (You’re doing great, Victoria Cartegena.) Jim Gordon is partnered up with Harvey Bullock, a grizzled veteran who knows the streets of Gotham backwards and forwards. But just how corrupt is Bullock?
One funny thing in the episode was that no one knew who the good guys were. So Jim Gordon butting heads with the ultra moral Crispus Allen and Renee was a lot of fun. Also, I enjoyed it when John Dorman as Carmine Falcone really turned out to be Gotham’s moral center, drawing the line at killing cops (in a slaughterhouse with a cleaver). Dorman did a great job, but he has some big shoes to fill since Tom Wilkinson played Falcone in Batman Begins. But I did enjoy what Dorman was doing with the character.
I liked how crazy some of the characters were. Oswald Cobblepot gleefully whacking a cowed foe while some criminal cohorts look on. Eddie Nygma having a full body orgasm when Jim Gordon answers one of his riddles. A young Bruce Wayne standing on the edge of his roof just to see how scared he’d get. Gotham is a land of over-the-top characters, so it fit.
The plot was more like a bunch of stuff that happened. We start off investigating the random murder of two of Gotham City’s most prominent citizens, the Waynes, whose son Bruce was spared by the gunman. Quickly though, we’re just walking through the underworld of Gotham and getting introduced to increasingly crazy people. One thing I never like, particularly in a first episode, is the main character, Jim Gordon, getting into a scrape that there’s no way he can get out of. I won’t spoil it too much, but you might find yourself muttering “deus as machina.” But that’s okay. The sets and city scapes are spectacular, the directing was quite good, even stylish, and I am anxious for the next episode and the season.
The acting was all over the place with Jada Pinkett Smith doing a full on Cruella De Ville impression, which seemed weird. Donal Logue almost ruined his performance as Harvey Bullock by seeming to have so much fun with it. David Mazouz was excellent as Bruce Wayne and the best male chid actor I’ve seen in a long time. (Why, oh why, couldn’t they have gotten someone who could act in The Phantom Menace?) And I can’t wait to see more of Sean Pertwee as Alfred, who seemed to bring a lot to the table.
I almost never say stuff like this, but the clothes really jumped out at me as being movie quality. Everyone is so stylish in that timeless way that lets us know that it’s modern day, but still kind of looks like a movie from the ’40s. I will give a particular shout-out to Alfred who was the toughest looking dandy I had ever seen. And there’s this moment with a big guy in a bag mask with a cleaver that is absolutely hilarious and it’s all the costume.
For Batman fans, this is a weird take on the Penguin. He almost seemed like a serial killer. I’m used to the Penguin as entrepreneur with no scruples, more like a war profiteer than a guy who would slit someone’s throat for a sandwich. But it’s not the comics, I get it. We’ll go with it for a bit.
Will we see the young Bruce Wayne visit his first dojo?
Selina Kyle seemed like she was already, essentially, Catwoman, stealing some milk to feed some alley cats and wearing a leather cat costume, even though she was 13. We’ve already seen the Penguin with his first umbrella. And who among this cast of crazies is going to eventually be the Joker? Who knows? Probably not that comedian, but I think we’re supposed to think it. Anyway, I think this is going to be a fun show. Check it out!