Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
After months of build up, Gotham – the highly anticipated new DC show charting the exploits of a young Jim Gordon – has finally made its debut on our television screens. Perhaps the greatest question since its announcement has been can a Batman inspired show work without Batman himself? Well, based on this first hour of the series, I’m inclined to believe that the answer is surprisingly affirmative.
While even viewers who possess only the most basic knowledge of the Caped Crusader’s mythology surely won’t mistake that this is a narrative set very much within his universe, it thankfully sidesteps feeling like a Batman-less Batman show. Instead it serves as a gritty police drama that just so happens to be set in a famous superhero’s stomping grounds.
The main reason for the success of this first episode is Ben McKenzie’s performance as series protagonist, Detective James Gordon. Stepping into such an iconic role was never going to be a simple task, but McKenzie manages to do so wonderfully. He plays Gordon as an honest and capable cop with a warm and caring spirit, attempting to persevere amid the corruption of his police department and city. McKenzie is immediately likable and compelling as the character, making you believe that this series will indeed work without Gotham’s legendary vigilante protector to lead it.
Donal Logue also gives an impressive performance as Gordon’s less virtuous partner, Harvey Bullock. Embracing the corruption that Gordon opposes, Bullock serves as an excellent foil to our hero. Logue and McKenzie display good on screen chemistry together and I look forward to seeing how this mismatched partnership develops as the season progresses.
The standout performances of McKenzie and Logue successfully sell the show as a drama about a city at the mercy of its seedy underworld of organised crime and save it from missing Batman. That being said, there are no shortage of references and Easter eggs to remind us that Gotham is set very much in Batman’s world, despite his absence. In fact, there may have been an effort to cram in too many for the first episode.
The plot here deals with Gordon and Bullock investigating an extremely familiar homicide case. It’s a logical way to kick the show’s premise off and doesn’t do much to hurt the fact that Jim Gordon is the main character here and not Bruce Wayne. However, outside of the familiar catalyst for the plot, there are a multitude of references to Batman’s rogues gallery – some subtle, some not so subtle, but all very obvious – that end up feeling like overkill.
I have no problem with the show introducing early incarnations of key elements of the Batman mythos, but I don’t see any need to throw in as many references as possible from the get go. It seems somewhat at odds with establishing this as a show about the Gotham police department rather than a build up to the emergence of Batman. It could be more interesting to feature unique criminal characters who have ties to established villains rather than have those villains front and centre themselves.
Jada Pinkett Smith’s role as mob associate Fish Mooney is evidence of this. Pinkett Smith succeeds in endowing Mooney with a charming yet menacing presence. The fact that Mooney was created specifically for the show gives the proceedings a sense of uniqueness and further allows it to stand on its own feet away from Batman. But the fact that she has ties to some familiar Batman villains makes for a suitably subtle connection to the source material from which the inspiration for the show was drawn. I think this potentially works much better than being slapped in the face with too many on the nose references too soon.
Overall though, the debut episode of Gotham is a success. Despite the arguable overuse of references and Easter eggs, it doesn’t fall into the trap of feeling like a Batman show without Batman. Standout performances by its lead cast and compelling story telling have set Gotham up to be a gripping police drama that just so happens to be set in the DC universe.
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