We’re entering a particularly exciting period for my TV watching. For one thing, the fourth season of American Horror Story (entitled “Freakshow”) is starting soon. As is the TV adaptation of British comic series Hellblazer (yes, and the Keanu Reeves film), going by the moniker Constantine.
But before we get to those, we have another exciting little show starting. Called Gotham, it’s a Batman prequel series focusing on a young Detective Jim Gordon, and featuring origin stories of a whole bunch of Batman villains. Which sounds pretty exciting, particularly given how uninspiring DC’s film plans seem at the moment.
Thing is, prequels are tricky things. Yes, Batman’s origin stories have been rewritten more times than he’s pulled unlikely or unfeasable gadgets from his utility belt, but you’re still fundamentally walking a tightrope between originality and straying too far from the source material.
So how does the pilot episode of Gotham, imaginatively titled “Pilot”, fare?
Rather well, actually.
The episode starts off with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, because where else would you start? But instead of cutting forward to an adult Bruce putting on a rubber fetish suit and brooding on rooftops, we go to rookie police detective, newly arrived in (or returned to) Gotham, James Gordon. Gordon is an idealistic man in a dirty town, and paired with veteran cop Harvey Bullock, he investigates the Wayne’s murder, having promised Bruce that he would find his parents’ killer.
The first thing to comment on is the visuals. The whole thing is very well judged, with a modern-ish setting fitting well with an over-exposed and grubby crime-noir feel. Gotham, the city, feels close and claustrophobic, filled with the overcrowded masses of human population. Exactly the sprawling dystopia it should be, right down to the horror of Scrubs‘ hypochondriac Harvey Corman (Richard Kind) as Mayor.
The second thing, is that this isn’t a superhero series. It’s important to mention, because it does seem like it should be. But no, this is a crime drama in an established mythology, feeding off the rich characters and history of the comic/film franchise. It’s a little odd to begin with, but it fits fairly well between genres, as it were. Gordon is a bit of a cliché, but even if this were a Batman series straight off, Gordon is a bit of a cliché. An honest man in a corrupt world.
This being a pilot, we get an awful lot of trinkets dangled in front of us to tempt us onwards. Edward Nigma as a coroner who imparts information to Bullock and Gordon via riddles. A very young Catwoman witnessing the Wayne’s murder, and dogging (er…) the investigation thereafter. A young girl by the name of Ivy Pepper (whose name, by rights, ought to be Pamela Isley) as the daughter of a murder suspect. And, of course, Oswald Cobblepot as the young assistant to mob boss Fish Mooney.
It is Cobblepot, played by Robin Lord Taylor, who I am particularly looking forward to seeing more of. He pulls off slimy, scheming and sadistic brilliantly, and with it looking like his evolution into The Penguin is going to be the first real origin story explored by the series, I am very much in favour.
So the first episode got the mood and the tone right. The pieces are lining up in the right places too, with Jim Gordon set to be the foil to some of the more outrageous characters as they appear. One always worries with new shows like this that the studio will put a premature bullet in the back of its head, but I think that on the strength of this Gotham has a lot of promise to give a new angle on superhero entertainment media.
- How old, precisely is Cat
womangirl supposed to be? She looks maybe fifteen/sixteen, but I suspect she’s supposed to be younger.
- The camera shots looking straight into Jim Gordon’s face during the chase scene felt very incongruous. I would prefer it if Gotham did not make that a regular staple.
- Sean Pertwee is another actor who deserves praise; his Alfred Pennyworth doesn’t get much screen time, but he nevertheless manages to present a rougher butler than other adaptations, whilst not seeming overbearing — for example, when Bruce cuts off his sarcastic remarks to Gordon.