Few TV shows have been graced – or cursed? – with the level of hype accompanying “Gotham,” Fox’s new drama chronicling the early days of James Gordon’s career in the eponymous city’s police department.
It’s years, decades even, before Bruce Wayne puts on the cape and cowl of Batman. But the new series opens with the familiar death of his parents as the three walk through an alley after leaving a theater. It is an iconic moment, one that has been used to set up the adventures of Batman in most interpretations.
Not here, though. In “Gotham,” rather than fast-forwarding, we’re left alone with the corrupt cops and politicos of a city long before Batman.
For some, this seems an odd choice. A Batman show without Batman? Well, not quite. It takes its premise more from the comic series Gotham Central, which followed the city’s police against the backdrop of masked vigilantism, than it does from any Bat-centric story. It appears to be more accurately portrayed as a show about a horrifically corrupt and crime-ridden city spiraling into decay. In other words, something we’ve all seen many times before. But this time, the city is the one that will eventually become Batman’s.
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So, how good is it? The critics have had their say, and for the most part, the consensus seems to be that it does its job well, but not without some potential pitfalls.
The New York Times’ points to the show’s stylishness as a unique asset in an otherwise crowded genre:
The real star of the “Gotham” pilot is its consistent style, a combination of production design, cinematography and writing that manages to evoke both the bang-pow 1940s spirit of the original “Batman” and post-”Blade Runner” neo-noir. If you’re going to make yet another show or movie about an honest cop in a corrupt city, you’d better make it look good, and this Gotham City, with its nightmarish gothic skyline under perpetually gray skies, looks pretty good.
Meanwhile, Variety’s Brian Lowry says that while the show has a potentially steep challenge on its hands, it also has promise:
The casting alone distinguishes this as a show worthy of attention, whatever the genre, including “The Wire” alum John Doman in the role of mob boss Carmine Falcone, a character featured in “Batman Begins,” who pops up late in the festivities. There’s also a potentially interesting exploration of morality in the face of corruption, concerning just how much Gordon will have to compromise his values to survive, and in the process do some good, in this seamy world.
Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall says the “Gotham” “pilot is among the best you’ll see this fall,” thanks in large part to that great cast and visual style. Still…
The problem is that the very design of “Gotham” means that there can’t really be light until well after the show itself ends. Things in Gotham have to get staggeringly worse over the next-decade plus to convince an older Bruce that extreme measures are required to fight this crime epidemic that only deepened on Jim Gordon’s watch. That means “Gotham” has to be a show where the cops are constantly fighting a losing battle.
And Indiewire’s Matt Brennan thinks the lack of Batman is no problem. Instead, this Gotham City benefits from a fresh angle and sleek design, even for an admittedly Batman-apathetic viewer like him. He calls Bruno Heller’s new series “the perfect antidote to superhero fatigue.”
Time will tell how “Gotham” fares, but at the very least, it looks to be off to a good start.