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“Gotham” Exceeds Expectations

September 23, 2014

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Ever since they announced there was going to be a Batman origin TV show called Gotham, I’ve been both excited and nervous. I’ve always been a big Batman fan, and there are so many ways to screw up the story (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin). Add to that the fact that Bruce Wayne, Catwoman, and others would be portrayed as children, and my apprehension grew. However, once the show started, all those doubts and fears were washed away, and I sat back and enjoyed a really strong, fun, campy, gritty show that has a lot of promise.

The show starts the way you’d expect: Young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is walking with his parents when they are robbed and shot. Kudos to the makers of the show for adding the shot where Martha Wayne’s pearls hit the ground – an iconic shot from both the comics and any film version where they’ve shown that moment. First on the scene are new detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and jaded veteran Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon promises Bruce that he will find the killer, and that is the backdrop mystery of the pilot, revealing interesting characters, corrupt police, and tons of Easter Eggs for the fans along the way.

To start off, McKenzie and Logue are great choices for these well known characters, and they play well off of each other. McKenzie’s Gordon is stalwart, honest, optimistic, and righteous against Logue’s Bullock, a jaded, corrupt, loudmouthed cop who even refers to himself as lackadaisical. Their enemy in this gritty Gotham world is a local crime boss, Fish Mooney, played delightfully by Jada Pinkett Smith. Mooney is, thus far, the only original character for the show, so naturally I was incredibly skeptical about how the character would fit in with the rest of the canon characters. I couldn’t have been happier. In the 90s, Batman: The Animated Series introduced a new character in the form of Harley Quinn, the Joker’s psychotic girlfriend. The character became so popular that she was entered into the comic book world and is now a staple of the DC Universe. I can see something similar happening with Fish Mooney. Smith is so campy and deliberate in her portrayal of Mooney that you were almost rooting for her to win – and remember, she’s the bad guy.

Rounding out the cast: Robin Lord Taylor as Mooney’s underling, Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin. This is Penguin at his beginning, and they are setting up for him to grow into the delightful villain we know and loathe over the course of the season. Camren Bicondova as a young Catwoman, not the best thief, but already quick on her feet and acrobatic. She doesn’t speak in the pilot, or interact with the other characters, but she is around at a large number of important moments, just watching. It will be intriguing to see how she develops and how she interacts with Bruce, given their very rocky romance/rivalry in the comics. A brief glimpse into Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma, who is already displaying his neurotic tendencies that will lead to his becoming The Riddler. There’s a really lovely moment where he asks a riddle and Gordon gives the answer immediately. The look on Nygma’s face is a mixture of shock and anger that tells you all you need to know about the character. I can’t wait to see more of him. Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce’s butler/now guardian. Alfred has been played many ways over the years, but this version is something new: in the few scenes we see him, he displays a darkness that I’ve never seen in Alfred before. Alfred is one of the few bright spots in Batman’s world, but there is something almost sinister about Pertwee’s portrayal of this comic book mainstay. Finally, David Mazouz as Young Bruce. There are only a few scenes with this young actor, and I hope it remains that way over the course of the season, but not because he isn’t good. There is already a darkness to him that can only grow as the character grows into the role he is meant to take as Gotham’s Caped Crusader. Too much of that will ruin the show, so I hope they only give us glimpses into it.

There are lots of nods to the fans in the pilot, Easter Eggs that I’m sure will continue as the show goes on, much the way they do on Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, and presumably, Flash. In addition to the scene with the future Riddler, Solomon Grundy gets a mention (blink and you’ll miss it), Carmine Falcone (John Doman) makes a brief appearance, there is a glimpse into the world of the girl who will become Poison Ivy (Clare Foley), and if you’re paying attention, I’m pretty sure we saw the future Joker as well.

The show is not without faults. During one action sequence, the camera switches to a POV shot a couple of times with a closeup of Gordon’s face as he’s running that is shaky, a shot which doesn’t fit with the rest of the show at all, and rival Major Crimes Unit detective Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) reveals a past relationship with Gordon’s fiance Barbara (Erin Richards) that isn’t canon and feels forced.  But as a whole, the show really held up to the very high standards I had for it.

The show will continue week to week in a procedural format, with Gordon working to root out corruption and solve the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne as an ongoing arc, along with the slow rise of The Penguin to power. I am intrigued to see what other comic book elements they bring into this world as it progresses.  Time will tell if the show can hang on to its strong start, but I am hopeful, and very, very impressed.

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