It’s Always Darkest Before the Knight

Written October 15, 2014 by Chad DuBeau

It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve seen the pilot for Gotham and I’m still torn on how I feel about the series.

On one hand, it’s fantastic to see the James Gordon (Ben McKenzieand the other members of the GCPD take center stage after largely being considered secondary and supporting characters to Batman and his caped vigilante allies after all these decades. On the other hand, it’s hard not to view Gotham as a simple cash-in on the Batman mythos, relying on the fans’ recognition of the setting and characters to avoid having to come up with more original content. There are plenty of things Gotham does well when staying true to the source material, but the inclusion of so many characters and elements from Batman’s seventy-five year history is very difficult to pull off, especially without actually having Batman.

I have been an avid Batman fan for most of my life. From the campiness of the 1960’s Adam West series to the epic modern age stories like Knightfall and Hush. I have comic collections of the off-the-wall Silver Age adventures sitting next to the DVDs of the (relatively) down-to-earth Christopher Nolan Trilogy. In my lifetime, I’ve seen Batman go from being an over-the-top joke who makes sound effects like “BAM!”, “POW!”, and “ZIFF!” when punching people to a nigh untouchable golden icon who doesn’t even need to appear in media related to him as long as it’s “gritty” and “dark” like him (but there’s still plenty of punching).

As a series, Gotham is meant to set the stage for the Batman legend as it begins with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne (Grayson McCouch and Brette Taylor) in a dark alley right in front of their son Bruce (David Mazouz). However, the murder is also witnessed by a young pick-pocket named Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). New-to-the-force and idealistic Detective James Gordon is given the case, and promises the traumatized young Bruce that he will solve the crime and find the killer. Gotham attempts to bring all the characters and elements that occurred randomly and organically over these past seventy-five years in various media together as an interconnecting mystery. This makes the series feel like it sits somewhere between a serious prequel and “Batman Babies” where all the popular characters appear, but as younger versions of themselves.

Ben McKenzie is very good as a young James Gordon, the new detective on the force trying to do good among the corruption and complacency of the Gotham City Police Department. Donal Logue is perfect as the gruff, but stalwart Harvey Bullock. Although he is the quintessential “bad cop”, Bullock still seems to want to do right as a police detective, but has been too worn down by the criminal corruption in the city and has instead decided it’s easier to “get with the program” and keep his head down than be the goody-two-shoes he sees his new partner Jim Gordon as. By far, my favorite character is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot. He is officially my favorite live action version of The Penguin since Burgess Meredith. This is mainly because he holds true to his comic book counterpart as a smart, smarmy, and sophisticated criminal instead of the crude, sewer-dwelling mutant he is depicted as in other media.

The pilot episode for Gotham itself had its ups and downs. The moment that really got me thinking this could be a great series is when Detective Gordon is flat out told by mob boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smiththat her men are beating a man senseless in the back alley of her establishment, but when he goes to stop it Mooney’s men proudly introduce themselves and announce the savage being as simply “all in good fun”. Even the obviously beaten, bloody man smiles and announces there is no problem. The criminal corruption in the city is so deep that a police detective can do nothing even in the face of an obvious crime. That was a nice touch at the beginning of the series, showing just how bad things are in Gotham at this point.

While the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne is a fantastic kickoff point for the series that incorporates the story of many Batman characters, there also just seems to be too many Batman references crammed into the first episode. The one that made my geek rage boil was the forced and terrible Poison Ivy reference presented as “Ivy Pepper” (Clare Foley), the red-haired little daughter of a suspect in the Wayne murders. As Poison Ivy’s real name has been established as Pamela Isley for decades, this just seemed extremely unnecessary and pointless. The chase scene with her father was even worse with the camera changing to a shaky, low-angle, front view of Gordon running that was so disorienting I don’t think I could have continued to watch the series if it had been included in subsequent episodes.

Speaking of other episodes, the pilot was still good enough to get me to keep watching and things seem to have evened out in the next two episodes at least. The series takes on a typical crime drama format with a different case for Gordon and Bullock to solve each episode while the mystery of the Wayne murders and the corruption of the city serve as an overarching sub-plot. This is a good thing that will keep me coming back to the series for now, but I question just how long this can go on. Although Bruce Wayne’s kinship with Gordon is a charming little part of the sub-plot, he is a long way off from becoming Batman and currently comes off more deeply disturbed and “emo”. Also as Gordon, Bullock, and the other members of the GCPD seem to be handling the crazy new threats popping up in Gotham just fine, one questions just how necessary Batman will be at this point.

In the end Gotham isn’t the Batman series that fans deserve (That was Batman the Animated Series), but it is the one we have for the time being. For a single sixteen episode season I can see this being a great show, but there’s only so long you can keep the sub-plot of the Wayne murders from getting stale and boring. I think my biggest problem with the series is that Warner Bros. and DC comics don’t appear to have learned their lesson about playing it fast and loose with their Batman license, airing the series on Fox instead of The CW like their other superhero properties Arrow and The Flash – especially with Arrow “borrowing” so many elements from Batman as it is.

For now, Gotham is a series that serves as a competent crime drama filled with interesting characters, a compelling story line, and fan Easter eggs and fun references, but even after just three episodes in it already runs the risk of becoming stale if for no other reason that Batman is such a well-utilized property. Fans and the general public already know where it’s supposed to go and if the series doesn’t deliver or drags it out too long over too many seasons, Gotham will begin to lose steam.

As this is just my opinion, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I am proven to be wrong and you can count me as a fan of the series in the meantime. At any rate, until the upcoming movie in 2016, Gotham is the Batman fix we need.