“Tell me the story I’ve heard before for the first time ever.”
That sounds quite impossible but in many ways is exactly what the folks at Gotham have been tasked with. Batman is celebrating his 75th birthday this year and his origin story has been told every one of those 75 years. Normally, in the story a young Bruce Wayne witnesses the gruesome murder of his parents and then flash forwards to Bruce Wayne coming back to his home-town after traveling the world learning to become a crime-fighter.
But what if the story didn’t flash forward? What if it stayed with young Bruce and the city that both saw and birthed the murder of his parents? This is how Gotham seeks to do something new while living in the borrowed clothes of the “Bat”verse.
My initial reaction to the announcement of the show being produced was to immediately think of Smallville, which is one of my favorite shows of all time. That being said, those comparisons can lead to loft expectations. Can Gotham deliver? Time will tell, how successful the show will be, but it’s clear from the pilot that they are moving in the right direction but that they also can improve.
The first test for Gotham to pass was to get the right “feel”. This show “feels” like the Gotham City DC fans will recognize, as well as the more casual viewers can get immersed in and in that way they have passed this test. This will be one of the show’s biggest strengths, fans of the police-procedural will find familiar tone and tropes while at the same time be able to enjoy an environment rich in mythology. It is just that, mythology, as the biggest area Gotham will have to tread lightly and improve as the series continues.
I think the producers of the show have rightfully realized that the “Bat”verse is rich in mythology and that it can be a fun sandbox to play in, however it can also be a mine-field. It is one thing to add to the beloved mythology (think Paul Dini’s creation go Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series) it is another thing to alter existing and closely held canon. For example, within 10 minutes of the pilot, Gotham begins its tinkering by having a young Selina Kyle witness the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. This event has traditionally only had young Bruce Wayne as the only eye-witness, a fact that plays into the isolation Bruce carries with him. I’m not ready to say that this is a good or bad creative decision, but the reality is that it is one that is full of potential, but positive and perilous. Clearly, Gotham wants to pave its own way, but must do so at its own risk.
Gotham has also helped itself in their casting of Ben Mackenzie as Jim Gordon. Mackenzie is no stranger to Batman, previously voicing the Caped Crusader in the animated adaption of Batman: Year One. Mackenzie seems a natural fit as a young, perhaps naive, detective in a place where morally ambiguous decision must be made. His experience on Southland seems invaluable in this regard and should serve to help him carry much of this show. In the pilot, Gordon is faced with a dilemma, execute Oswald Cobblepot for the mob, or let him go and face danger for himself, his girlfriend Barbara and his partner Harvey Bullock? Mackenzie plays this moment with as much intensity as needed but he also shows the other side of Gordon when later meeting with Bruce Wayne. In this meeting, Gordon counsels Bruce about the nature of fear and has to ask Bruce to keep silent about the truth of his parent’s killer. Both scenes needed a strong performance, but with different pacing and tone and both delivered.
Perhaps the biggest success of the pilot is that it gives me confidence in the series. Beyond making me want to “see what happens next” it gives me hope that it will be so well made and received that it is worth investing my time into amidst an often frustrating landscape of television where shows that need time for satisfying payoffs never get to see that light. “There will be light” Gordon says to the distraught Bruce, it seems he was saying that to us as well.