What’s it about?
The show is set in the early years before Bruce Wayne grows up to become the Dark Knight, and focuses on the Gotham City Police Department as well as some of the origins of Batman’s numerous rogues. James Gordon, a detective with the GDPD who will eventually become the police commissioner and one of Batman’s allies, is the show’s protagonist. He must combat influential organized criminal organizations that control the city streets; he must also protect himself from the immense corruption within the GDPD and city government. Bruce Wayne is a young boy and a supporting character in the series. Their relationship begins after Bruce’s parents are brutally murdered and Gordon is assigned the case. Gordon is determined to solve the case no matter where the truth leads.
When I first heard that Fox was doing a Batman television series without Batman I said “What the…?” What about Adam West and Bert Ward scaling a wall in weighted boots (“Holy cement shoes, Batman”). Then I thought of shows like Smallville (Red-Blue Blurr anyone?). Come on; it was on for like 10 seasons! (I know some episodes better than others.) I had dreams of Law and Order meets The Sopranos meets Arrow. Excited yet? I was! So sitting down for the premiere I was ready to watch the young Jim Gordon from Frank Miller’s, “Batman: Year One” (see the four-issue story arc of Batman comic #404 – 407 printed in 1987) and this is what I got…
The show opens with a beautiful night shot of the city of Gotham. The camera scans the city skyline as a mystery girl is running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop as effortlessly and agile as, I do not know … a cat? The show never identifies her by name but we all know who the mystery girl is due to FOX’s marketing campaign of the show. She is Selina Kyle aka “Catwoman” (Carmen Bicondova) and the Bat-verse is now alive on the small screen again.
Selina seems to watch the city and the people below as though she was stalking prey. As she moves through the crowd of people she begins “appropriating” necessary items, a half-gallon of milk from a woman’s grocery bag and a man’s wallet from his coat pocket. She then proceeds to scurry back up on the rooftops from where she came. As she feeds a cat from the milk she procured, a seemingly happy family walks down an alley laughing as a shadowy figure approaches them. He asks for their money. The man says “no problem” (I will admit I rolled my eyes a little) and the well-dressed man hands the thief his wallet. He asks for the woman’s pearl necklace, which she nervously gives him. The shadowy figure snatches the necklace from the woman breaking one of the strands of pearls. As single pearls fall to the ground like white raindrops counting down the inevitable, many Batman fans as well as novices know what comes next. The young boy witnesses his parents’ deaths and both he and the city are changed forever.
The show then follows Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his cynical partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as they investigate the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, which in this story is staged as a random robbery. As the show progresses, we snag peeks into the futures of some of the DC Comics rogues, including Pepper aka “Poison Ivy” (Clare Foley), Oswald Cobblepot aka “The Penguin” (Robin Lord Taylor), Edward Nygma aka “Riddler” (Cory Michael Smith), Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Selina Kyle aka “Catwoman.” Every one of these iconic figures has already, more or less, fallen through the cracks of Gotham’s organized societal construct. The show ends with Gordon making a choice that will progress the story into comic book legend.
The city is the star. Gotham is created to be a visually engaging version of the city that’s both luminous and putrefying at the same time, as well as being decisively rendered to represent several eras throughout time as a way to enhance the show’s noir element.
The casting is very good. McKenzie proved he could play an idealized hero and his chemistry with Logue’s occasionally unprincipled character makes for an amusingly dysfunctional combo (think Axel Foley and Billy Rosewood or Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman). The tandom got better as the show progressed and I look forward to seeing how the creators of the show cultivate the relationship into even more odd couple type situations. Another standout for the episode is Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot. Cobblepot is a low-level gangster whose motivations and perverse genius begins to be exposed throughout the episode.
Selina Kyle’s character seemed to be our “watcher on the wall” observing all of the happenings from the onset of the episode. She transitioned the story from playing the street rat, to witnessing a murder that set the story in motion, to watching over Wayne manor at the end of the episode as Bruce gives Gordon his “Valyrian sword,” or in this case, his badge, so that he can keep his oath of catching the shadowy figure in the shiny shoes who killed Wayne’s parents.
Some of the “super hero/action comic” lines used in the show hit that sweet spot and made me feel all Last Action Hero inside. Some memorable ones included “You have a little danger in your eye… I wonder what you plan to do with that?” (Mooney to Gordon); “I am a businessman… you can’t have organized crime without law and order.” (Falcone to Gordon); and “Fear doesn’t need conquering… fear tells you where the edge is… fear is a good thing” (Gordon to Bruce). My it-is-so-campy-it-is-cool line was Fish Mooney’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) come-on to Gordon upon meeting him, “Well aren’t you a glass of cold milk.” I laughed and then said “What?” and laughed again.
The show dances to its own tune. While some fans (me included) are weary of having to sit through another version of Bruce’s parents being murdered in crime alley, the show isn’t bound to the source material. One instance being mid-level mob boss Fish Mooney who is a totally new character created for the show. The flamboyant Mooney plays an influential part in Cobblepot’s transformation into our future monocle wearing villain and although Smith is completely over the top, she hits most of her lines and adds a pleasant contrast to an otherwise forbidding environment. Furthermore, we see a fairly different Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) than we may be used to as Master Wayne’s devoted butler. In this iteration, Alfred is a pessimistic hard-ass who takes a more hardline approach in parenting Bruce after his parents are murdered. It seems as if they took a page from Geoff Johns’ “Batman: Earth One” version of the character – more no nonsense than Downton Abbey’s matriarch, the Countess of Grantham.
Easter eggs abound! The show seems to want to take us into every nook and cranny of the Bat-verse. I can see the show outright showing the audience or giving a nice little wink and a nod to fans as they paint their scenes. We even got a very funny comedian who may be more than what he seems? (See Alan Moore’s one shot “The Killing Joke”).
The overall tone of the show is a little uneven. The show is much darker than what viewers might expect from network TV, and when the show tries to lessen the gloom, it feels like Adam West is right around the corner (“pill head loony bird” is actually said at one point). Not exactly the hardened dialogue the show’s setting would denote.
One scene that really did not work and had me saying, “oh no!” happened within the first 4 minutes of the beginning of the show when Gordon was first introduced. It was a short scene in which a disturbed man was being brought into the police station for some unknown crime. As the man was being walked to a holding cell, he is constantly asking for his pills. As no one is paying him any attention he decides to take matters into his own hands and takes a police woman’s gun and holds her hostage. As all the cops have their weapons drawn and are ready to kill the man—and likely also the policewoman, our hero, Gordon, strolls in and takes charge. He proceeds to talk the man into taking a pill from an ordinary bottle of aspirin and before the man can fully react to these not being “his pills” Gordon is on him, disarming the man and saving city taxpayers the cost of about a hundred rounds of ammunition. The dialogue itself calls into question the whole scene beginning with Gordon announcing to a room full of more experienced cops to stand down, “I got this,” he says, a rookie detective barking out orders . . . do I have to say anything more? Watch the show and you be the judge. I understand this made the main character’s introduction a memorable one, but this seemed to be over the top and completely unbelievable.
One item that was a blaring omission from the story was the reason Bruce and his parents were in the alley that fateful night. In the “best” stories from the comics, Bruce got scared during a show at the theater and asked to leave the show early. His parents took pity on Bruce and left the theater via that dark vacant alley. After his parents were killed, Bruce would replay that day over and over again in his head with overwhelming self blame – if he had just been brave enough and not asked his parents to leave the show, his parents may still be alive. Bruce loses himself in this irrational thought process and it is partially what drives him to want to conquer fear and to avenge those who could not protect themselves.
Some of the dialogue fell flat and seemed forced. Almost like they had a list of lines they wanted to use and could not decide which ones would work best. So the creators’ solution was to throw them all in the pilot and see which ones stuck. Some examples of lines that were just bad were, “However dark and scary the world might be right now…there will be light…there will be light, Bruce” (Gordon to Bruce); “There is nothing that can stop what happened… but you can be strong… be strong” (Gordon to Bruce).
Watch it and hope for the best. I really did like our first time out in this city of Gotham. The show had its misses, but they were not so bad as to take a viewer out of the story. There is a lot of material to work with and much of the series’ interest will derive from the tension that builds when Gordon’s unrelenting heroism collides with the pulpy villainy of Gotham’s many degenerates, delinquents, and scoundrels. I am very hopeful of this show considering most TV pilots are not the best and show creators and actors don’t really get going until the middle of the first season. All in all, this show is very much worth watching if you are a Bat-fan or just a TV watcher who loves over the top cops and robbers. It is not The Wire but it is a nice “down in the weeds” peek into an origin story most people have never really had a chance to experience.
- Thomas and Martha Wayne get murdered with Bruce looking on.
- Gordon is a take-charge cowboy and disarms a mentally unstable prisoner.
- Gordon and Bullock are called to investigate the murder with the highlight being the introduction of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon.
- Gordon talks to Bruce about his own loss as a child and Alfred Pennyworth is introduced.
- Gordon and Bullock go back to the station and the forensic examiner, who has a compulsion to talk in riddles, Edward Nygma, explains the bullets used in the Wayne murder were high end ammunition and that is all he was able to gain from the crime scene so far.
- Bullock knows the crime boss, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) who controls the area of town where the Wayne’s were murdered and thinks it might be a good idea to pay her a visit.
- Gordon and Bullock visit Mooney’s nightclub and it seems she and Bullock may be a bit friendlier than a crime boss and a Gotham detective should be. During this scene we meet an overly enthusiastic henchman named Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor) who people like to say looks like a penguin. He does not see the resemblance.
- Bullock calls Gordon to tell him he may have a lead in the case which he conveniently acquired from Mooney which points the finger at a habitual offender, whose daughter seemed to enjoy plants a little too much.
- While being questioned the suspect runs and almost kills Gordon but is instead killed by Bullock when he tries to kill Gordon.
- With the case all nice and neatly solved, and Martha Wayne’s broken necklace found in the now dead suspect’s home, Gordon and Bullock get some press coverage and cheers from the office.
- Meanwhile, Cobblepot goes to two police officers from the major crimes division, Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) and Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartegena), and reports for his own selfish reasons, that the heroes of the day and with the help of Mooney planted the evidence that was found in the suspect’s home.
- After the Wayne funeral, Montoya pays Gordon’s fiancé, Barbra Kean (Erin Richards) a visit. As they seem know each other from the past, Montoya drops that Gordon may have planted the necklace.
- After Kean drops the “did you do it” line, Gordon goes back to the suspects home to look at some shoes. As we all guessed, no shinny shoes.
- Gordon then goes to Bullock who does not believe him and tells him to lay off and just enjoy the win before he does something they will both regret. How many of us think Gordon is going to back off with a show of hands?
- Gordon then goes back to Mooney and questions her. Which goes over really well and Gordon finds himself upside down on a meat hook.
- After Gordon does not come home, she tells Bullock and he then goes to the meatpacking factory where Gordon is being held and finds himself at the end of a hook as well. Was anyone else waiting to see Rocky and Mickey in there?
- Before Bullock was swinging from a meat hook, he had relayed to Mooney that someone from her organization had told the police of the set up. It did not take long for Mooney to ascertain who the stool penguin was.
- So now our heroes are upside down and about to be butchered by the masked version of the Texas chainsaw guy when the real crime boss of Gotham, Carmine Falcone (John Doman) comes in and saves the day.
- After being cut down, Falcone and Gordon have some nice dialogue in which Falcone talks about his friendship with Gordon’s father and how he loves the city and will fight for it.
- Gordon and Bullock are seen out by the docks and Gordon is given the choice to kill a little bird who likes to snitch or have him and his fiance always in danger. Gordon of course being our “boy scout” in the story chooses not to kill Cobblepot but instead makes it look like he did instructing him never to return to Gotham. What are the odds of that?
- The next to the final scene shows Gordon going to the Wayne manor and telling Bruce he did not get his parent’s killer. He asks for his forgiveness and gives Bruce his badge. Bruce says he is glad he is still alive because he wants to see him again and gives Gordon back his badge.
The final scene shows Cobblepot rising from the water, killing a fisherman on the shore and eating his sandwich as he looks on at the city skyline.