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Monday, September 22, 2014

Batman: Day One

Tonight Sylvia and I watched the first episode of Fox's Gotham, the first of a half-dozen shows based on comic books set to debut soon. 2014 is the year of the superhero on the small screen, and as first superhero out of the gate, Gotham sets a high bar for Constantine, The Flash, Agent Carter and Supergirl to come.

Pilots present a special challenge for television producers; they have to carry a heavy burden to capture audience interest, presenting a compelling setting with interesting characters and providing an easily comprehensible backstory, motivations and dramatic throughline in one (or sometimes two) hours. With all that work to do, it's no wonder that sometimes the actual stories presented in pilot episodes seem a little weak in comparison to the more solid episodes that often follow.

That being said, this is a pretty good pilot, perhaps helped along because almost everyone in western culture already knows the basics of the Batman story: young Bruce Wayne's parents are killed by a mugger, and the trauma convinces the boy to fight crime as a dark avenger of the night...the Batman.

Gotham's job is to make Bruce Wayne's formative years interesting. Whereas in the original comics of the 1940s Batman's origin was related to a few panels, Gotham will spend dozens of hours exploring both Bruce's boyhood and the city that shaped him. It's fertile ground for good stories.

The pilot's first story, then, is straightforward: it depicts the murder of Bruce's parents and introduces Jim Gordon as the young detective who must solve the case. But solving homicides in Gotham presents unique challenges - the city is pretty much owned by the mob, and most of the police force is corrupt. Jim Gordon is the one beacon of hope Gotham has right now. Even his partner, rough-edged Harvey Bullock, while well-meaning, has been tainted by the city's rot.

To make matters worse, Gotham is nurturing monsters who will eventually become Batman's rogues gallery. In the first episode we're introduced to young versions of the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy. This leaves the pilot seeming a little crowded, but fortunately the producers wisely focus mainly on the Penguin, and even he isn't presented as the story's main antagonist. That honour goes to more conventional criminals - the Falcone crime family, introduced in the seminal Batman: Year One comic book back in the 1980s.

Of the superhero dramas being offered up this year, Gotham was the one least anticipated by me, given my disappointment with Smallville, which shares the same basic concept as Gotham. That show's potential was so sorely squandered that I expected little from this variant take.

But as it turns out, Gotham is enriched by a superb cast, gorgeous production design, solid writing (workmanlike, but with touches of cleverness) and tons of atmosphere. Gotham has a lot of potential, and if, like many genre shows, it improves over time, I'll be a regular visitor to its mean streets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is it still holding up? If so, I'll have to catch up.