Over the last decade, comic book heroes have found their home on the silver screen. While Marvel has created an empire in movie theaters, DC Comics has carved out a niche in television to go along with their struggling movie franchise. Arrow, The CW’s Green Arrow-based program, has found success in its first two seasons and sparked a spin-off program featuring The Flash, which will premiere in October. However, DC’s latest offering, FOX’s Gotham, strays from the beaten path, exploring the home of Batman.
This isn’t the usual Bruce Wayne-centric offering, but rather a prequel featuring a young Jim Gordon as the protagonist. The pre-hero model has been explored before, most notably in The WB’s Smallville, which gave a ten-year story of Clark Kent in his pre-Superman days, but this offering is different, less of a Batman origin than an origin of the city itself, showing the development of its future protectors as well as the figures who will plague it.
The show opens with a tweenaged Selina Kyle swiping a jug of milk and a wallet from passerbys on the street. After an obligatory “She stole my wallet!” moment, Kyle manages to escape and finds her way into an alley, where she feeds a cat with the recently stolen milk (by now the audience is supposed to know that they’re looking at the future Catwoman, if that wasn’t already evident). Kyle runs to hide as a group of pedestrians makes its way down the alley. As the camera pans to the group, the viewer realizes that they are going to be shown a familiar scene as a young child watches as his parents are robbed and killed by a mugger. But there is no fast forward to a fully grown Bruce brooding in the Batcave, rather a cut to the Gotham police headquarters where we are introduced to Gordon, currently a rookie detective.
Gordon goes to the crime scene where he comforts the grieving adolescent Bruce and spends the rest of the episode investigating the crime. Along the way, we are shown Edward Nygma, who works in the GCPD forensics department while irritating detectives with his endless riddles, Oswald Cobblepot, a henchman in a Gotham gang who hates his demeaning nickname, “Penguin,” and a young girl named Ivy, who lives in an apartment full of potted plants with her unstable family.
Ben McKenzie, of The OC fame, gives a fresh take on Gordon, who is a Batman-lite of sorts, having a set sense of justice and willingness to stray from the usual path of law enforcement but still struggling to adjust to the harsh realities of the city in which he lives, and of course, lacking the top flight mental, physical, and financial capacities of the adult Bruce Wayne. Recognizable names Jada Pinkett Smith and Donal Logue also lend their talents to the cast as gangster Fish Mooney and Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock, respectively.
The show is put together in a style that straddles the reality-based concept of Christopher Nolan’s movies and the comic book-esque idea of the Tim Burton’s films (let’s forget that the Schumacher pictures ever happened.) The program’s style shows a cloudy, noir, city and all of the serious elements that would come from a regular action-drama. But, the show’s characters are not the psychopathic terrorists of Nolan’s movies, but closer to the caricatures that audiences were used to seeing in pre-2005 Batman media. Gotham is not afraid to give dedicated Batman fans all of the Easter eggs they desire, but still takes itself seriously enough to draw in viewers unfamiliar with the Caped Crusader’s lore.
In moving away from the solitary focus on Bruce Wayne, Gotham gives the viewer a better look at the fictional city as a whole, and will, presumably, give insight into the growing pains of much of Batman’s rogues gallery. Smallville went stale because it tried to tackle heavy Superman plots while adhering to its “no tights, no flights” rule. But if Gotham stays the course, viewers may just stay entertained without ever catching a glimpse of the Dark Knight.