Arts & Culture Editor
Even for people who aren’t fans of comic books, one thing comes to mind when they think of Gotham City: Batman. However, what was the iconic city like before the iconic superhero rose to prominence? “Gotham,” a new show on Fox created by Bruno Heller, chronicles Gotham before Jim Gordon became commissioner, before supervillains like the Penguin, the Riddler and Poison Ivy ruled the criminal underworld, and before Bruce Wayne became Batman.
As an origin story of some of the most famous characters in the DC Comics universe with a younger Jim Gordon as the main character, hype for this show has been built up for months. Part of the hype is seeing if there will be an interesting dynamic between the rookie Detective Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne, or if the young Bruce Wayne will play a major part in the show. In the more recent “Dark Knight” film trilogy, Gordon was not only an ally to Batman, but a hero to him as well. “Gotham,” hopefully, will be taking a similar approach to their relationship.
The pilot opens with a pre-Catwoman, teenage Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) leaping from the rooftops of Gotham and pilfering a carton of milk and a man’s wallet. As she wanders into an alley and pours milk for her cat, she witnesses a heinous scene – billionaire Thomas Wayne and his wife Martha are robbed and gunned down, leaving their traumatized son (David Mazouz) screaming in anguish over their dead bodies. Detectives Harvey Bullock (character actor Donal Logue) and Jim Gordon (“The O.C.” alum Ben McKenzie) arrive on the scene, where Gordon makes an immediate connect with Bruce, consoles him and promises to find the man who killed his parents. It’s a familiar scene, done in an emotionally charged and powerful way, but thankfully it doesn’t slow down.
The pilot does a great job establishing the main characters, and a few future supervillains even make appearances. Jim Gordon may be a rookie, but he has witnessed his share of violence in the army, and his partner, Bullock, who he describes as a “slovenly, lackadaisical cynic,” isn’t afraid to blur the line between corruption and justice. Edward Nygma (the future Riddler, played by Cory Michael Smith) shows up briefly as a forensic scientist for the case, and Oswald Cobblepot (the future Penguin, a jittery Robin Lord Taylor) is a goon for the ruthless and seductive mob boss of Gotham’s theatre district, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith enjoying every minute she’s on screen). After being accused of framing Mario Pepper (the brutish father of Ivy Pepper, the future Poison Ivy) for the Wayne murders, Gordon’s struggle to clear his name gets him in trouble with criminal underworld he’s trying to bring to justice.
Although a superhero show without the superhero is risky, “Gotham” has a strong enough cast that it can carry its own weight without Batman. McKenzie plays Gordon as a straight-as-an-arrow rookie detective who’s fresh out of the army, and has a rude awakening in a city deep in corruption and a cynical police force. It could’ve been a tough role to pull off, but McKenzie finds the perfect balance between the idealistic rookie who might’ve been given more than he bargained for, and the determined detective who will stop at nothing until justice is served.
Logue, though, steals the show, bringing intensity, rawness and humor to a character that was only mentioned in the comics. He provides a great “bad cop” contrast to McKenzie’s “good cop”, and their chemistry is one of the best parts of the pilot.
The noir style really shows through and the scenery is done beautifully. The stylized, foggy atmosphere of the city is gloomy yet vivid, making it feel as though the characters exist in a comic book world. The mixture of retro (vintage cars) and modern (cell phones) is a bit jarring, but it also gives a timeless, ambiguous feel.
Overall, while the script could’ve been better, with its powerful opening and effective establishment of characters and style, the pilot for “Gotham” did an admirable job setting the stage for the rest of the series. “Gotham” airs on Fox, Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern time.