Riddle me this, “What do you call a Batman show with no Batman?” The answer? Why, Gotham, of course. Fox’s latest drama plumbs the depths of D.C. comics, hoping of capitalizing off the Dark Knight without ever actually having to show him on screen. It’s a risky move, but if Marvel has taught us anything, it’s that you can pull success from even the most insane ideas. It’s time to find out if D.C. can do the same.
Gotham opens on a scene that most comic book enthusiasts will know well: It’s nighttime in the city, the Waynes and their son are walking home from the theater when suddenly, out of the darkness, steps a man with a gun. Two shots ring out, and just like that, the journey from Bruce Wayne to Batman begins. Gotham’s narrative then shifts to Det. James Gordon, the newest member of the GCPD, and the show’s main protagonist. Gordon swears to find the man responsible for the Wayne’s gruesome murders, but he may be the last uncorrupted cop in Gotham city, and the bad guys are all sharpening their knives.
Devoted Batman followers can expect plenty of fan service from Gotham. In the first episode alone we’re treated to early glimpses of Catwoman, The Riddler, and Poision Ivy, as well as a multitude of inside jokes only the staunchest D.C. fan will comprehend. A long-running drama can’t survive on inferences alone though, peel away Gotham’s superhero veneer and you’ll find a relatively average crime procedural. The show will need to build off something more substantial if it hopes to live another season. Fortunately for Gotham, syndicated superheroes have a way of surviving.
Right now Gotham’s strongest asset is its cast. Each of the actors involved doesn’t just look the part, they feel the part. Ben McKenzie takes on the mantle of a young James Gordon almost effortlessly, while Robin Lord Taylor and David Mazouz practically disappear into their roles as The Penguin and Bruce Wayne. Even the rarely seen Edward Nygma (aka The Riddler, played by Cory Michael Smith) is staged to perfection. It’s particular fun watching Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, an ambitious mob leader who’s as likely to flirt with her enemies as kill them.
Unfortunately, several performances are marred by extremely campy dialogue. It’s uncertain if this is done intentionally, perhaps as some kind of homage to early Batman comics, but the results leave the characters feeling extremely watered-down. This is something Gotham can’t afford to do, since it’s first few episodes have been almost mind-numbingly predictable. And it’s here we find Gotham’s biggest weakness: we already know how it ends. James Gordon won’t clean up the city, Penguin will eventually become a criminal mastermind, and Gotham, along with its sundry characters, will be on standby for when Batman swoops in.
If played right, the show could turn this to its advantage. It would be interesting to see the road these characters go down to reach their new identities, but given how our young Bruce is still a good ten years away from studying ninja tactics, it’ll be a long wait. For a Christian audience, Gotham will be nothing special. While it’s encouraging to watch someone stand up to corruption and wickedness just as Christ commanded us to do, it’s similarities with the Christian walk end there. At the very least, the series requires very little caution (the violence is largely bloodless).
In the end, if you’re a curious viewer who’s familiar with the Batman Universe, you should know exactly what to expect from a trip into Gotham.
*Watch Gotham Mondays on Fox