Review by Dan Aquino
Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge Batman fan. I don’t mean that in the “I saw the Nolan trilogy and now I’m a Batman fan” sort of way. I’m talking about being there from the campy Adam West Batman right through the George Clooney Bat-nipple catastrophe and I never wavered in faith. To this day, people still call me Bat Dan and I will definitely have that on my tombstone (sorry future kids I have). That being said, I was very wary about Gotham when I heard that this would be a show based on the city and characters before Batman became its protector. Now my good friend Mark Myers has already written a review about the premier of Gotham and you should totally read it, but I am coming at this review from more of a fan boy perspective as opposed to a television perspective.
Needless to say I went into viewing this show with high expectations. Gotham is arguably one of the best settings in all of comic book history. It’s a city so dark and void of hope and good, it’s kind of like rolling Detroit, Oakland and New York in the ‘70’s all into one city and it still might be worse. The best thing Gotham has working for it is its villains. Gotham is the home to such a wide range of baddies from petty crooks to mobsters to super villains. Gotham introduces us to some of the famous rouges gallery before they became the big names they are today as well as Detective James Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie, who of course is one of Batman’s biggest partners in fighting the never ending evil in their city. Without having the Caped Crusader to focus on, it falls on Gordon to carry the show.
This is where I’m afraid this series might fall flat. Gordon himself only works well as a character when he dances on the line of law and order in the traditional sense, and allowing Batman to dish out his own brand of vigilante justice. It shows how far the character is willing to go in order to clean up his city and without that extreme end of the spectrum it might not show fully. On the other end, I feel the same way with the villains, many of them only work when trying to bring down Batman. Gotham is going to have a hard time getting us involved with such characters like The Riddler and Catwoman who rely very heavily on their chemistry with The Dark Knight.
Where the series needs to focus on is the strong mob influence that runs the city. Some of the earliest and best Batman story arcs revolve around him trying to loosen the strangle hold that the major crime families have on his city, and it seems that this is where the show might be heading in the first season. One of the most prolific crime figures Carmine Falcone seems like he is going to be the main focus of the series, while having his lackey’s like Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, handle all of the grunt work like taking out people who get in the way and dealing with the cops which he has in his pocket. If you’re trying to create a world that is grounded in reality, like Batman is, than having Gordon deal with working in a crooked police department and mob violence is really the only way to go.
Even though Gotham is a prequel, the Wayne family is as much a corner stone of the city as the criminals that help define it. We see right away the murder of Bruce Wayne’s father and mother which of course starts Bruce on the path to becoming Batman. We also get a chance to see Gordon interacting with Bruce which is a nice nod to the eventual partnership these two will eventually form, and you obviously need that to develop, but hopefully the writers keep that to a minimum which I think will help Gotham stand apart from other adaptations of the cities mythos. The writers have already put their mark on the story of the Wayne murder by putting a mob spin on it, hinting that maybe one of the crime families had the Wayne’s killed to send a message instead of the normal Thomas and Martha Wayne walking down a dark alleyway for some reason instead of having their butler waiting to pick them up from the theater story line. While it might shake things up with this story, I was always a fan of the notion that sometimes bad things happen to good people. It’s why Bruce becomes Batman in the first place, so that no one will have to lose their loved ones to senseless crime as he did.
Gotham certainly has potential, especially since Smallville and Arrow have both done well. Obviously both of those shows focused on the hero instead of a secondary character, but I think by taking the road less traveled, Gotham could venture deeper into its criminal underbelly in a way none of the movies have done to this point. And while you can’t always stick to the canon of such a long and rich history of characters, it’s important to not stray too far away or else you might lose the characters all together.