Months ahead of its Fox premiere, I have reviewed the pilot episode of their Batman prequel drama GOTHAM...
What's the background?
- GOTHAM is a superhero drama series set in DC Comics's Batman universe, during the time when Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) was newly-orphaned and Commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) was just a rookie detective. It's created by Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist) and this pilot is directed by Danny Cannon (Nikita).
- Idealistic detective James Gordon joins the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) and is partnered with tough veteran Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), before they're tasked with solving the murder of billionaire Bruce Wayne's parents.
- Given the title, to a degree Gotham City has to be a star of the TV series, and I liked the care and attention it was given. It wasn't as old-fashioned as the Tim Burton films, as ridiculous as the Joel Schumacher films, or as dull as Christopher Nolan's realistic approach. Gotham doesn't have the budget to brings a city to vivid life every week, but Danny Canon shot everything nicely and I liked how imposing the night-time cityscape looked through windows.
- Ben McKenzie (Southland) isn't an actor I'm very aware of, but he seems quite decent in the role and certainly wouldn't be a reason I'd stop watching Gotham. Donal Logue was also good as his mentor, but it was Jada Pinkett Smith who perhaps made the biggest impression as glamorous nightclub-owning crime boss Fish Mooney. David Mazouz (Touch) also evoked a young Christian Bale, so felt like perfect casting as the embryonic Batman.
- Making Gordon the only cop who isn't crooked, but has to now pretend to be around his colleagues, is perhaps the best idea this show has. Tellingly, it has nothing to do with anything Bat-related, and was the most interesting aspect of this first hour.
- I really didn't like all the call-outs to the Batman franchise. It felt like a good idea to have Gordon investigating how Bruce's parents were killed, I didn't mind having a teenage pickpocket Selena Kyle/Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) crawling around buildings, and could see the value of introducing Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) as a prominent henchman... but Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) as a forensic scientist, and a young plant-loving Poison Ivy? It felt like overkill; as if the show had to keep throwing Batman fans scraps to make up for the lack of a Caped Crusader. What next? The Joker as a stand-up comedian in Fish's nightclub (almost foreshadowed in an audition scene?), or Dick Greyson coming to town in a travelling circus? (Those are predictions.)
- Gotham looks set to become a weekly cop show about a good man (pretending to be bad), working within a corrupt organisation, to improve a sprawling city that could do with some heroes. That's a good basis for an ongoing series. I just have a funny feeling the Batman references and foreshadowing may be less fun than anticipated, because none of that really works for me without Batman around. The villains are all aspects of Bruce Wayne's personality, but not while he's a grieving kid living in a mansion. A part of me wonders how long the Bat-fans will stick around before the fun of seeing younger versions of Bat-villains grows stale, or if a more appreciative audience for Gotham's deeper concept won't be watching because it's marketed as a comic-book prequel.
- Batman fans who are tolerant of the fact it's a prequel for a secondary character, that presumably won't start focusing on Bruce becoming a superhero until much later in the show's lifespan. Unless ratings are bad and Fox politely ask Bruno Heller to jump years ahead, so Master Wayne is shaving by season 3 and ready to start pulling on a cowl.
- The reverse of the above: Batman fans who just don't see the point of doing a prequel set in this universe, because, unlike Smallville, their hero was never all that interesting in the years between becoming an orphan and building a Batmobile. Smallville took popular flashbacks from Richard Donner's Superman movie and turned them into a long-running teen drama, and it worked quite well. There's a reason Batman's flashbacks only ever revolve around two childhood moments (the brutal death of his parents, and the time he fell down a well to discover a cave of bats).
- There's enough that was good here for me to watch more, if only to get a sense of what Gotham's going to function as on a weekly basis. They can't possibly shoehorn in Batman references every single week, so I'm hoping it will become a solid crime drama on its own merit... with the fact it's a Batman prequel becoming something you almost forget.
- Fox premiere the show 22 September, but there's currently no UK broadcaster—although, given the channel's ties to Fox, I predict Sky1 will have this on their schedule to compliment Arrow.