Can we be optimistic about Fox’s Gotham?

Fox’s new series Gotham debuts this fall, and for those who aren’t already in the know, the show takes place in Batman’s stomping ground of Gotham City long before the existence of Batman. Per the promos, the series kicks off with the murder of Bruce’s parents, which becomes the first case for a young detective named James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Gordon is an idealistic rookie dealing with organized crime as well as corruption within his own department, mostly in the form of his mentor/partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), a hardened cop who doesn’t always do things by the book. Along the way, Gordon has run-ins with some of the criminals destined to become Batman’s future rogues’ gallery, as well as a new crime boss character named Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith).

Apparently, the network had so much confidence in Gotham and its creator/producer Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist) that they bypassed the pilot phase and went straight to a series order. But there are already signs that this Batman-without-Batman show may not live up to the hype, or at the very least get off to a rocky start.

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It’s fairly obvious why they came up with this concept in the first place. Batman is a major revenue stream for Warner Brothers, but the actual character is tied up in feature films from now until the end of time. So it was really only a matter of time before they came up with the idea of a live-action Batman TV show that doesn’t have Batman in it.

Actually, this isn’t the first time Warners flirted with the concept. Back in 2008, the CW was developing a show focusing on Dick Grayson before he became Robin. No pilot script was ever written or shot, and there were some rumblings that Christopher Nolan was unhappy with a Batman-themed show airing at the same time as his films. The idea didn’t get very far, and thankfully so, because I can’t fathom what a Dick Grayson show would even be about from week to week.

But now, the concept has surfaced again, this time as a police procedural set in the Batman universe. Despite being a much more workable premise, the show has already earned plenty of scorn from Batman fans. After all, what possible reason could there be to make a superhero show without the superhero, other than as a shameless cash-in? And even worse, it evokes memories of the last time Warners made a Batman show without Batman: Birds of Prey. And we all know that turned out (and if you don’t, you can watch reviews of every single episode right here on this website).

But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Gotham; In the right hands, the idea could be the basis for a pretty solid cop drama. After all, we know that by the time Batman arrives on the scene, Gotham City is already a crime-ridden cesspool, and there’s certainly dramatic material to be mined from an entire city’s descent into moral decay, as well as seeing everyday cops attempt to deal with increasingly outlandish criminals.

Can we be optimistic about Fox's Gotham?

Also, this type of “lower decks” series has been done plenty of times in the comics, usually to positive critical acclaim. Gotham Central has nearly the same concept as the Gotham TV show, with the main difference being that it takes place in present-day continuity and features Batman himself as a peripheral character. Powers is another well-received comic book series about superheroes and super-villains as seen through the eyes of ordinary cops (and in fact, Powers is also being adapted into a TV series to air/stream later this year on the PlayStation network).

And really, what is Agents of SHIELD, if not an Avengers TV show without the Avengers? Yes, that series started out pretty weak, but by all accounts it hit its stride towards the end of the season (though admittedly, after reviewing the first six episodes, I have yet to work up the motivation to watch the remaining 16 currently taking up space on my DVR).

So a series focusing on a legendary character’s supporting cast and rogues’ gallery definitely has promise. In the case of Gotham, all the show has to do is primarily be a compelling drama about a cop taking on the mob and flamboyant criminals and police corruption, and just let all the Batman stuff be icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what they’re going for here. Rather than simply tell the story of Jim Gordon fighting the growing criminal influence in Gotham City, it appears they’re going to load the show up with all sorts of winks and nods to the Batman mythos.

According to a review of the pilot script, the show features a younger version of Oswald Cobblepot, and in every single scene he’s in, someone remarks that he “looks like a penguin”. (Though, other sources suggest this has been dialed down in the finished pilot, and he’s now a henchman who’s already earned the nickname of “Penguin”.)

Can we be optimistic about Fox's Gotham?

Then there’s a younger version of Edward Nygma, who’s a forensic pathologist who gives his reports in the form of riddles, mostly making me wonder how he remains gainfully employed.

We also get the 15-year-old version of Selina Kyle, already doing her cat-burglar thing as she witnesses the murder of Bruce’s parents. Though I have to wonder if the character was only added to the show because 15 years ago, someone was able to successfully clone Michelle Pfeiffer, and then prep this clone (codenamed “Camren Bicondova”) for a career in showbiz.

Can we be optimistic about Fox's Gotham?

And at one point in the pilot, the cops meet a little girl named Ivy tending to her plants, who we’re clearly supposed to assume is the future Poison Ivy. Except in the comics, the character’s real name is Pamela Isley. But obviously, having her say her name is “Pamela” wouldn’t do much to help incessantly remind us that we’re watching a Batman-inspired show.

On top of all that, apparently the plan is for every episode to introduce a new character who might potentially be the future Joker, just to keep people guessing. Reportedly, the pilot includes a standup comedian who never factors into the plot, and every subsequent episode will include another bit player who happens to share some characteristic with the Joker. I dunno, guys. Each and every episode? I can see this gimmick getting annoying fast. And it kind of screams out “we have no clue what to do about the Joker, so we’ll just keep throwing out actors until one of them catches on, maybe?”

It feels a bit like the producers of Gotham are already terrified that if they don’t constantly reference Batman in some way, people will get bored. What may end up being this show’s downfall is not the fact that it’s a Batman series without Batman, but rather that it’s a prequel series. And prequels seem obliged to lay it on thick when it comes to referencing established aspects of the franchise. My gut tells me Gotham is going to have the same issues as another prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, which spent far too many episodes showing us the origins of every insignificant detail of the Star Trek universe.

But ultimately, the biggest red flags so far have been the various trailers for the show that don’t look all that promising. The show looks pretty flat and cheap and lacking in subtlety (in terms of both story and visuals). The shots alternate between a too-brightly-lit noir drama and what looks like bad cosplay. Given the premise, you’d think this show might be The Shield (as in, Vic Mackey, not Agents of) meets Training Day infused with aspects of the Nolan movies and the Tim Burton movies. Instead, it comes off like a rather run-of-the-mill cop drama that’s legally required to namedrop something Batman-related every five minutes.

But in spite of all that, I’m going to maintain my optimism about the show, at least until it airs. Because why not? It’s easy to be cynical about a show that apparently only exists to extend the Batman brand, but after all, the show is free to watch, and I’m free to give up on it if it doesn’t grab me after six episodes. I’m no huge Batman fan, but I’m still a sucker for an intriguing premise, and at least this isn’t yet another generic cop/lawyer/doctor show.

TV Show: Gotham

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  • Alexa

    Still looks boring to me and I like Batman. But I kind of hate origins and prequels, and what not. I want to move forward, not go back to how it all started….

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      Picture it: Germany – 2008 (why do I feel like Sophia Petrillo out of the sudden?)
      Stargate-fans are troubled. TPTB decided to stop Stargate – SG 1 after 10 seasons and cut down Stargate – Atlantis – after five seasons. Instead, they want to do a new thing – a new show, more grim, gritty, realistic, more edgy, and they decide to call it “Stargate: Universe”.
      While the rest of my fellow forists from a certain stargate-website were already up at arms and were saying, that this would be a shitty show, I decided to stay optimistic.
      Hey, I disagreed with those people a lot of times – might it be the pregnancy of Teyla Emmagan, which they decided to incorporate in the Storyline, might it be the new leather-outfits that the cast would be wearing – the forists hated it, I thought “Nah, not that bad.” And not just, because I wanted to be a contrarian, but, because I really thought, that it would not be bad.
      And I said: “Come on, let’s give this show a chance – it can’t be that bad?”

      Then they aired the first season and – hooo BOY – was it really a crapfest.
      it was a show, which required me to sit in a relatively uncomfortable position, because if I got more comfortable, I fell asleep.

      Fascinatingly enough, some of those people, who doomed the show in the first place, were now saying “hey, they are doing stuff right” and people like me, who said “Ah, it can’t be that bad” said “Cancel it already”.

      What do I want to say with that?
      Well – Gotham looks like it has potential, so – let’s give it the benefit of a doubt….
      But maybe the prejudgements are right, and the show will just be some lame crime drama, taking place in Gotham.

      A bit like “Caprica”. ^^

      • Engler Pascal

        Yeah, the first season of SGU was rather meh. The 2nd season on the other hand was quite good though imho.

  • mamba

    Therein lies the problem. You nailed it yourself “it’s a potentially solid cop drama”. And you’re right…UNTO itself it just might be. So why involve Batman at all?

    It’s like they had an idea for a solid cop drama but saw it was GENERIC COP DRAMA, so the only way they could make ANYONE care about it was by constantly (and apparently ham-fistingly) shoehorning in Batman references anywhere they could…IRRELEVANT to anything actually going on in the story itself. It becomes a pandering distraction, rather than making the characters engaging since they’ll never actually develop any of the villains themselves (who have no meaning without Batman, which they cannot use since Bruce just watched his parents get killed and hence has no time to become Batman)

    Reminds me of “Gotham High” cartoon pilot…a generic high-school series but in the high school, ALL of Batman’s cast were at the same high school. It was really pandering…check out on youtube sometime, and made it impossible to actually enjoy any stories or plots because it was just so distracting and corny.

    As it is, we have characters we know are good but will never develop by definition, all in an era and setting that has no real meaning, following generic cops solving crimes, with a lot of name dropping. Almost destined to fail really…no matter how the cop drama plots plays out, someone’s going to be insulted by the end of it through the constant “fan teasing”, and the constant nothing that must occur for the show to make sense in the setting they chose.

  • John Wilson

    A city of justice, a city of love
    A city of peace, for everyone of us
    We all need it, can’t live without it
    Gotham City, oh, yeah

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4njtmTEPQIo&app=desktop 

  • Dex_Meridian

    I think the reason why “Arrow” is such a surprise hit is because it dives head-first into the comic book universe it inhabits. I heard about it and figured, “Oh, he’ll never put on the costume and become a vigilante until four seasons in,” like “Smallville,” but sure enough he was essentially the Green Arrow before the pilot was over. And they keep bringing in villains and side characters from the comics without filtering out much of the silliness. When I saw Deathstroke, I lost it.
    Why do I bring this up? Because “Gotham” seems lost between the “real-world” angle of setting the show before the Bat (and as a cop drama), and the head-first dive into silly villains and obscure references. If they want to make it a cop drama that happens to exist in the Batman continuity, okay. That’s not going to work very well, but okay. If they want to do a comic book show without casting Batman as the main character, that certainly could work if you were to make it like Gotham Central, where Batman is only seldom seen in the shadows. They just need to commit one way or the other.

  • Moppet

    My issue with the concept of this potentially being a solid cop drama is that the T.V. channels are already flooded with every variety and quality of cop and law drama imaginable.

  • Jay_Bay

    Put me down for one of the chorus that screams “JUST MAKE GOTHAM CENTRAL!”

    I mean, why the hell not. Batman has one of the most varied AND PLENTIFUL array of villains in comic book history. You got the various gangs, especially if you do a “oops Bats was gone for a couple years” scenario and they are fighting for power. Hell, Bats’ rogues are (for the most part) either crazy guys (and chicks) or their powers are not CGI extensive. I mean, yeah the cops (even as good as Montoya and Gordon are) are not gonna take down the Joker (unless the Joker wants to) by themselves, but they can handle a Zsasz or a Mad Hatter. Hell have a Halloween special with them in the sewers playing The Most Dangerous Game with Killer Croc.

    The point is, this is half assing. Half assing will get you shut down. Go full hog, all in. Be more fun that way.

  • maarvarq

    Persevere with Agents of Shield – it only gets good after the events of Winter Soldier, but you then discover that a lot of the stuff in earlier episodes was laying the ground for this.

    • Jasper Jones

      That’s the thing about AoS. It only works as well as it does in the end because of all the boring groundwork laying earlier episodes.

    • Yeah, yeah, I’ll get back to Agents of SHIELD eventually. The one problem I have is I never got around to seeing Winter Soldier, am I going to be hopelessly lost trying to follow the last few episodes?

      • maarvarq

        You could probably get by by reading a plot synopsis of the movie, but see it as a better option if you possibly can.

  • FantasyMissionForce

    Was Catwoman always that much older than Batman, or have I been mistaken in assuming he was a young child when his parents were murdered?

    • I think Bruce Wayne in this version is a teenager when his parents are murdered… the actor playing him is 13, so Catwoman isn’t that much older than him. I can see why they progressed his age, if Gotham lasts for five seasons they can reasonably show him starting to become Batman by the end of the series.

  • KLLRFRST

    WTF is up with changing Poison Ivy’s real name from Pamela Isley to Ivy Pepper?

    This smells like a generic cop drama with the Batman mythos shoehorned in. At least it has Donal Logue, who makes even the worst crap somewhat watchable, so I might give it a try for a few episodes.

    I can’t wait until young Bruce starts running across rooftops and gets called “Black Rubber-Suit Boy” in the media.

  • Michael Mandril

    The actor playing bruce wayne is a good actor (i hope to see him in other works), but the shoehorned story arc they have begun is not good. they need to ditch bruce as a main character (this is not his story) and focus on jim. Maybe have bruce referenced to in the periphery (i.e., shown in the news, via telephone, maybe alfred shows up every once and a while saying “oh you just missed him” or whatever).