Instead Bruno Heller (The Mentalist) has crafted a clever prequel based around the character of Jim Gordon, who famously went on to become Gotham City’s Commissioner Gordon. Just as Smallville‘s universe revolved around a young Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, Gotham similarly revels in the mythology of its characters years before they became DC Comic characters.
But the tone of Gotham is nothing like Smallville nor, for that matter, is it anything like the campy 1960s Batman series. Instead it nods to the big screen reimagining by Tim Burton: its often dark, sometimes gothic and creates a character of its backdrop. But I also see a bit of Dick Tracy in it’s visuals too, there is a strong use of light, even neon, to offset things becoming too grim.
The scene is set with the slaughter of Bruce Wayne’s parents in an alleyway, watched on by an agile cat-like Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). Bruce (David Mazouz) is just a child when this traumatic event changes his life. But Detective Jim Gordon (Ben Mackenzie) plays the good cop here, gaining the trust of the young boy and vowing to find his killer.
Gordon is partnered with Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), initially something of a rogue cop, whose close ties with criminal elements imbue the pilot episode with plenty of conflict.
“This is not a city for nice guys. Understand?” Bullock tells him.
Gotham has no shortage of baddies, including mobster Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) who delights in exerting power over both friend and foe. Amongst her followers is a young Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), destined to become a more familiar Penguin.
Another set for greater glory is a young Ivy Pepper, no doubt with poison on her mind in subsequent episodes, a coroner who loves riddles and butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee) who adds a bit of British pomposity to the story.
Bringing the romantic element is Gordon’s fiancée Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), who is yet to add much depth to the opening plot.
Gotham chugs along as a procedural crime series with a popcorn attitude, and works best in its action scenes rather than its drama, which sometimes resorts to earnest dialogue. Visually it’s quite stylish, embracing its New York skyline, and sitting in a non-descript year. It feels like it’s the past yet they are using flip phones -so it’s not exactly the present, either.
Ben Mackenzie has a bit of the Russell Crowes about him. He’s brooding, centred, and virtuous, yet prepared to get tough on the right side of the law. Jada Pinkett Smith has a bit of a romp with Fish Mooney.
Gotham also gets pretty violent, not so much for its gore value, but for appearing to enjoy it. It’s not exactly ideal viewing for the kiddies hoping for a bit of caped crusader content.
But the mix of action, ‘mythology’ and conspiracy theories makes for a promising opening.
Gotham begins with a double episode 8:30pm / 9:30pm Sunday on Nine.