Friday, 28 February 2014

Script report: GOTHAM; it may not have Batman, but could it still have wings?

Friday, 28 February 2014

I've read the pilot script of Fox's new Batman prequel drama, Gotham. This was the 'second revised network draft' (dated 31 Jan '14), so I'm sure it's gone through some changes since then. Rob Bricken at io9 wrote a spoiler-filled review of this script a few days ago, and practically tore it apart, so I thought I'd provide a counterpoise...

I didn't love this version of Gotham's pilot script either, but I can see the potential for a fun crime/cop drama that just so happens to take place in the Batman universe (for added kicks). I don't think there are any insurmountable problems with this screenplay, written by Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist), it's just that comic-book fans will have made up their mind based on the Batman-less concept. If the idea of a 'Batman television series' without the Dark Knight himself bothers you, you will find a lot to grumble about in Gotham.

The hero of this prequel story is Jim Gordon (a 26-year-old detective naïve about the city he's returned to in adulthood), and this pilot concerns his search for the killer of young Bruce Wayne's billionaire parents, alongside elder sleuth/mentor Harvey Bullock. That will actually be an ongoing concern, without giving too much away, and the 12-year-old orphaned Bruce will likely drop into thr story fairly regularly. Jim and Bruce have a similar family tragedy that's driving them (it's just that Gordon's personal journey is actualising sooner), and this series will chart their tightening friendship.

To reiterate, there's definitely no Batman here. It's not a ruse. I believe the long-term goal is to have Bruce Wayne decide to become Batman by the time Gotham wraps up in however-many years, following a similar arc to The CW's Smallville with Clark becoming Superman. Who knows of Gotham will go the distance with audiences, but I assume there will be time-jumps between seasons if Bruce is going to be in his early-30s by the end. Even if they opt for a younger Batman in his 20s, Bruce's age in the pilot demands some kind of time-shift.

For the most part, this script felt like a solid cop show pilot that's mainly concerned with introducing Gordon, Bullock, and the city at large. The one thing that enlivened matters was realising just how corrupt the Gotham City Police Department is, so I liked the role of Jim Gordon as the only "good cop" on the force. Or so it seems. It felt like the reverse of The Shield's premise.

Where I can imagine Gotham causing the biggest stir is in its treatment of the Rogue's Gallery from the DC comics. This script is full of appearances from Bat-villains, before they decided to wear masks and costumes. It's already been widely reported that a teenage Selena Kyle (Catwoman) and a pre-Penguin Oswald Cobblepott are going to feature prominently in a recurring capacity, but I was surprised by the script's other cameos. I think you will be, too.

If you assumed Gotham would be shy about leaning on the fact is has access to Batman's foes, you're very wrong. I'm not sure how to take that. It either shows utter confidence in the show's focus on Jim Gordon, because they're refusing to use the appearance of super-villains as a rarely-used "marketing moment" for 'sweeps', or it proves this show is intensely worried Batman fans will tune out if they don't get to see big connections to the Bat-franchise. NOW.

It's unfair to review a script in a lot of ways, as this isn't the version Danny Cannon (Nikita, The Tomorrow People) will use to shoot the pilot. I can't imagine it's suddenly going to change entirely, or do away with many of the things that irked me, but a lot can be done to improve matters in ways beyond the script's control. Let's wait and see what the actual pilot is like, and if the issues remain. It may also play a lot better on-screen that it does on the page, in some regards. io9 were a bit hasty in slating Gotham based on a screenplay in-development.