First Impressions: Gotham

by: Michael Shields

Fox’s venture into the city of Gotham premiered this Monday. Our initial reaction was mixed…

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“However dark and scary the world may be right now, there will be light.” – Jim Gordon

Bruce Wayne returned to television this week, sort of. “Gotham,” Fox’s sojourn into the telling of Jim Gordon’s early days on the Gotham Police Force premiered Monday and for those not in the know, Jim Gordon goes on to become commissioner and a pivotal ally of The Caped Crusader. He was played brilliantly by Gary Oldman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and here he is played by Ben McKenzie (“The OC,” ”Southland”) who is fresh on the scene, and a lone island of idealism in a sea of corruption.

When comic books make their way to the small screen there is always some concern as limited production budgets don’t lend themselves to the sort of gaudy fireworks we have become accustomed to in big screen adaptations. But I have always been of the mindset that the more comic book actualizations, especially the more Batman, the better. And this adaptation is certainly close enough. I welcome any glimpse into the world of Gotham, I only hope that the ongoings of a young Jim Gordon, accompanied by fledgling versions of Batman’s most prominent villains, will be enough to captivate us week in and week out.

Feeling compelled to appease the Batman fanboys at the onset, showrunner Bruno Heller (“Rome,” “The Mentalist”) appeared eager to squeeze as many origin stories as possible into the pilot. Relentlessly, we are introduced to many of the characters that will be integral parts of the series. In this pilot episode was it really necessary to get a look at the future Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Poison Ivy1? It felt forced. It felt fast. Taking the idea of a coincidence way too far, “Gotham” somehow felt compelled to fold all of Batman’s future nemeses into the plot to murder Thomas and Martha Wayne. We knew these characters, these crucial and intriguing villains, would find their way into Jim Gordon’s world, but had hoped it would be a slow and eloquent trickle, not a tidal wave.

Yet, from the moment this ship called “Gotham” set sail it was clear exactly where we were. With the first aerial shot of the foreboding skyline, with steam escaping from its underbelly at every turn, it was known that we were going to be dropped behind enemy lines, square in the heart of Gotham City. The deco-noir sets and sweeping city shots set the mood brilliantly.

And before we were ready for it, we came face to face with a young boy and his parents, carelessly enjoying themselves after a play. The young boy, it was instinctually surmised, was Bruce Wayne, and within minutes of “Gotham’s” premiere we were witness to his parent’s murder, lighting the fuse that sets this series aflame.

In comic book adaptations the casting will always be of the utmost importance, scrutinized with diligence by the most ardent of fans. While it feels too early to judge Ben McKenzie’s take on Jim Gordon, Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot feels spot on, an ideal penguin for this re-imagined Gotham. As awkward and ultimately dangerous as The Penguin necessitates, Taylor’s eyes are piercing and frenzied and his penguin shuffle is beyond reach. Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock (a staple from the Batman comics) manifests himself fittingly, all borish and jaded and every part yin to Jim Gordon’s unblemished and righteous yang. Harvey and Jim’s emblematic partnership is the perfect foundation to build the show upon, a fiery duo at odds with each other and the city falling to ruins about them.

Cory Michael Smith as Nygma (The Riddler), Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney (a character created anew for this series, a relentless, impassioned gang boss), and John Doman (“The Wire’s” William Rawls!!) as Carmine Falcone round out a fascinating cast, accentuated by a core of villains that will likely command our attention for seasons to come.

Time will tell, and we can only assume “Gotham” will be given its room to breathe, and to grow (if “S.H.I.E.L.D.” can get renewed for a second season, “Gotham” is a lock, right?). Although heavy-handed in its introductions, and although there are blinding red flags littering the vicinity (Alfred’s vacuous persona, Barbara, etc), the production design, cinematography, and writing appear sound, inviting us into the gritty and spine-chilling world that is, unmistakably, Gotham. Even though we are far from the cape, the mask, the utility belt, and the Batmobile, the spirit of Batman appears to be alive and well, Mondays at 8pm on Fox.

  1. And possibly The Joker, as we learned over the summer that each week would offer up a potential candidate, this week’s in the form of a stand up comedian, the entertaining Fish Mooney. []
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