Review of Gotham (TV series)

Gotham is here!

Like a lot of you, I was really looking forward to this show. But, as usual, I had my misgivings about certain aspects of the characters that were being modified from what has been “established” in the comics. (Yes, I realize that there have been at least 3 versions of the “main” version/timeline of the DC Universe, not to mention various other, simultaneously existing Earths and their cosmos — making it a DC Multi-verse, I suppose. But, as usual, I give primacy to the post-Crisis/pre-52, “New Earth” history.) So, please allow me to get a few things off my chest…

1) Jim Gordon was not a “returning war hero” when he became a detective at GCPD. Rather, Gordon’s return to Gotham was when he transferred from a 15+ year stint at Chicago PD. (This also means he should be a few years older — say, early- to mid-40s — and already married to Barbara Kean for some time.) This occurred roughly the time Batman first appeared.

2) Harvey Bullock should be several years younger, not older, than Gordon, and he was never Gordon’s partner.

3) Sarah Essen was not Gordon’s superior. She was a detective and Gordon was a lieutenant, when he transferred to Gotham from Chicago and they became partners (and, later, had an affair).

4) Rene Montoya and Crispus Allen should be closer to Bruce Wayne’s age. Same goes for Selina Kyle. (Possibly younger.)

5) Bruce Wayne was 8 when his parents were killed, not 12 or 13.

6) Alfred should be roughly in his early 30s at the time of the Waynes’ deaths, not 50ish. (He would be the right age for Alfred when Batman debuted, though.)

7) Neither Gordon nor Bullock were involved in the case of the Wayne murders.

Ahem… I could probably go on, but I won’t.

Gotham promo posterDespite those irksome details, I am trying to watch the show as an “alternative timeline” or re-imagining of early “origins” and events in the Batman mythos. And, to be fair, that is exactly what the producers of the show told us that it would be. So, with that in mind, I have to say that I really liked the pilot, and subsequent episodes have been equally enjoyable. (Note: I didn’t want to just review the pilot episode, so I waited until I had watched three before commenting.) That isn’t to say that I don’t still have quibbles, too. But, maybe I should address each in an orderly fashion….

Characters and Cast:

Ben McKenzie does an admirable job as Det. James Gordon — the straight-arrow, new detective in town, trying to figure out how he can make a difference in the violent and corrupt city of Gotham. It will be interesting to see how he deals with various difficult situations, while struggling to maintain his integrity and stay alive. Still, there are a few iconic visuals that are missing: cigarettes, glasses, bushy mustache, trenchcoat. I won’t be surprised if the PC police in Hollywood prevent Gordon from smoking (as they have with the title character of the new “Constantine” show), but I really hope the other three accessories eventually get incorporated into the character.

I am sort of getting used to Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, though he still isn’t quite right for it, imo. I like Logue in other stuff, but, for some reason, I’m unsure of him in this role. (Physically, for example, Bullock should be heavier and more slovenly.) Since there isn’t that much we know about Bullock’s earlier years (other than that he was a corrupt cop), I’m willing to go along to see what they do with him. Plus, the interaction between good cop Gordon and ethically-challenged Bullock could be quite entertaining, especially with these two, fine actors.

Detectives Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) bug me. Part of it is the way they went after Gordon, assuming he was as corrupt as the rest, even though he was new in town. Part of it is the casting, which doesn’t quite work for me. Sure, they are a Latina woman and a Black guy, both attractive, and both actors can play tough cops. But, that isn’t enough. (That reminds me, I need to do my own fan-casting for them in the next few weeks.) On the other hand, I like that they are among the few good cops at GCPD who haven’t “sold out” for a few extra bucks. I’ll try to reserve judgment, for now.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of Erin Richards’ Barbara Kean. The character isn’t exactly prominent in the comics. (At least, she wasn’t while I was reading them regularly.) DC wiki says she was a former waitress and has no mention of her coming from a well-heeled family. Also, I am pretty sure she never had a relationship of any kind with Rene Montoya. Their drug-taking past would have been an interesting enough complication, but making Kean bisexual, too, seems like just a PC way of highlighting Montoya’s own sexual preferences. Regarding the news Montoya gave her about Gordon, it seemed odd to me that Kean would have any doubts about Gordon’s innocence, knowing the man as she does. Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to have insisted that Montoya doublecheck the reliability of her source? Again, I’m somewhat ambivalent about the character. I guess we’ll see if she is good for Gordon, or not.

I find it a little odd that the producers chose a Latina, Zabryna Guevara, to play the rather non-Latino (Germanic?) character of Sarah Essen. Still, not a big deal. (Besides, at least the last name can be explained via adoption or marriage.) I haven’t decided if I like the character or not. She seems to be a stereotypical boss, who gets yelled at by her superiors and then takes it out on her underlings. She also seems to be part of the problem, in that she looks the other way when those in her command get rough with suspects, and, like the mayor, she appears to be more concerned with public appearances than with justice. I haven’t figured out just how corrupt she actually is — limited screen time, after all — but I hope she ends up an ally for Gordon.

Edward Nygma, as portrayed by Cory Michael Smith, is a somewhat goofy forensic analyst with an obsession for riddles. Personally, I would have made the nascent Riddler a more serious character, and I thought I remembered him being an accountant or something. Anyway, he could be a fun character to play with, I suppose. As with all of the villains and future villains, I hope he doesn’t evolve too quickly to his more familiar persona.

David Mazouz (formerly of “Touch” w/ Kiefer Sutherland) does a great job as young Bruce Wayne. His anguished scream in the alley after his parents were gunned down sent a chill down my spine. I don’t remember a comic telling of the incident that included Bruce’s letting loose like that. (Maybe there was. Regardless, actually hearing it….) So far, Alfred and Bruce seem to live with an odd tension, with Alfred doing his best to be a good guardian and parental figure, yet still taking orders from “the young master” at times. I suppose Alfred is hoping Gordon will be a good influence, too. It will be interesting — however much the writers delve into it — to see Bruce continue to process and deal with his parents’ death, its violent nature, his fear, rage, desire for vengeance and/or justice, growing attachment to the city of Gotham and empathy for its citizens, etc. Also, I am curious how much influence Alfred, Det. Gordon, and the soon-to-appear Dr. Leslie Thompkins will have on Bruce and in what ways.

Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth is, I have to say, not to my liking. I’ve enjoyed Pertwee in other things, and I’d like to see him in a comic-related role somewhere. But, his look is all wrong (see my fan-cast post), as is his voice — too gravelly, and a bit hard to understand. Plus, there’s the age thing I mentioned. Disappointing. But, as I mentioned, I am curious to see how his relationship with young Bruce develops.

Selina Kyle is cute, sassy, mentally and physically quick, stealthy, with some gymnastic talent (among others). Aside from the age issue I mentioned before, I think I’m going to enjoy this character. I like how they made her a witness to the Wayne murders and interested (concerned?) in Bruce. I am assuming this is because she is (for all intents and purposes) an orphan herself. The one thing that bothers me about Selina is that her hair seems too bushy, or something. Regardless, Camren Bicondova seems to be a decent actress, and she may turn out to really shine in this her first major role. (She even looks like a young Michelle Pfeiffer!)

Oswald Cobblepot, played by Robin Lord Taylor, is one of the most intriguing characters of the entire cast. Granted, I tend to prefer a shorter, squatter Penguin. Taylor’s voice — which is very familiar, but I just can’t place it — doesn’t fit how I think the character should sound. (My preference would be something like a cross between Paul Williams and Kelsey Grammer.) But, his narrow, slightly longish nose looks great for the part! Also, Cobblepot’s “origin” working for (and being beaten by) Mooney, faked death, and return to Gotham is compelling — especially Gordon’s involvement. Taylor does a wonderful job playing the somewhat sympathetic character as a polite and seemingly harmless momma’s boy, who nevertheless has a sadistic streak. Watching him build his criminal empire (and get his vengeance) could be dark fun!

‘Fish’ Mooney is, as you probably know, a character created new for the “Gotham” TV show. Her links to both Falcone (the dominant crime boss) and Cobblepot (her lackey, who will soon become a rival), as well as her connections to certain (semi-)corrupt cops, put her in an interesting position, story-wise. She is clearly an ambitious, low- to mid-level crime boss, not afraid to grab what she feels she deserves, yet patient enough to strategically bide her time. She is both a canny businesswoman and a “thug” who can be quite brutal and merciless. Jada Pinkett Smith is clearly having far too much fun portraying Mooney, and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Don Carmine Falcone is portrayed perfectly by the wonderful character actor John Doman. Doman always does a great job with “heavy” characters — from mafiosos to politicians to federal agents to police brass. On the one hand, I hope they don’t use him too much; keep him in the background as an ominous threat to whomever gets in his way. On the other hand, that probably wouldn’t work, since they already established that Falcone is trying to hold onto his shaky criminal empire (including Fish Mooney’s territory/business) in the aftermath of the Waynes’ deaths. Either way, great casting.

Gotham CityGotham City:

The producers decided to begin with a dirty, 1970s New York City look, then added in some gargoyles and other characteristically-gothic architecture. I think this was the right way to go, since it grounds the city in reality, while still giving it that somewhat “off” element. I look forward to seeing what else they do to make it feel distinctly Gotham-esque. Besides, it’s fun to see what little “Easter eggs” they leave for us in the backgrounds, possibly tying into future characters, story-arcs, or the larger DC universe. (Note: As I am writing this, the “Arkham” episode has aired but I haven’t seen it, yet. So, I can’t comment on that particular Gotham/Batman icon, but I have high hopes that the mental asylum becomes a character (of sorts) itself, and one that is relatively faithful to the source material.)

Story:

The basic story idea — the evolution of select cops and criminals (as well as young Bruce Wayne) in pre-Batman Gotham — is an interesting one, though it isn’t the direction I would have gone, if I was developing a non-Batman series tied to the Batman mythos. (Or, if I did, I would try to keep it closer to the post-Crisis/pre-52 source material.) I will be anxiously waiting, along with everyone else, to see how the various characters develop, personally and professionally.

And, of course, we are all curious to see what other familiar faces will be introduced and in what form in the show. Personally, I hope the writers & producers don’t overdo it, swamping us with a ton of characters right away, one after the other. I would much rather have the “biggies” spread out. I know that’s hard to do, when they don’t know how many seasons/episodes they’ll have. But, with the enthusiasm being displayed so far from viewers and network* alike, as long as the quality is maintained, they should have at least 2 or 3 seasons to work with. Besides, there are plenty of stories to tell with brand-new (or, would they be old?) villains, from mob bosses (e.g., Fish Mooney) and their thugs/soldiers to more garden-variety murderers, firebugs, thieves, drug dealers, etc.

If you’ve been watching “Gotham”, chime in and let me know your impressions….

* Apparently the network was also suitably impressed with ratings. As I was writing most of this post on Tuesday, the announcement was made that a full 22-episode season has been approved. Good sign.

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