5 Questions And 500 Words: “Gotham”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Gotham” premieres September 22 at 8 pm EST on FOX

As a comic-book fan, are you in the bag for “Gotham” at the outset?

I’d say that as a non-fan of prequels, I was decidedly out of the bag for “Gotham” going into the pilot. Some might say that’s unfair bias, but there’s no point hiding that personal preference, and anyone who has read my work over the past few years knew this already. While “what” happens is always less important than “why” is happens, there’s something about this show that’s limited from the outset. The hook here is that this is a story told in the Batman universe, but that hook might ultimately work against the show’s benefit in the long run.

How so?

There’s no one way to tell a Batman origin story. But the pilot of “Gotham” is so chock-filled with characters we know will be around in a few decades that any threat upon their lives is met with derision. “Death” need not be the only thing that creates dramatic stakes, but there’s a crucial scene in this pilot that is robbed completely of any tension because we know the show won’t follow through with its established conflict. Had the show (literally) pulled the trigger on that moment, I’d say my fears going into the show were unfounded. As such, “Gotham” feels like a gorgeous prequel that is floating in the air rather than tethered to the ground.

But this isn’t a Batman story, it’s a Jim Gordon story. Is the police stuff any better?

A grimy noir about a detective trying to keep his soul in a city of sin is a great, re-usable premise. Putting Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue at the center of that story is an even better idea. But putting this idea in Gotham City means there are dozens of other competing elements that drown out a simple but effective police story at the heart of this show. The hint of anarchy and trauma in this Jim Gordon’s eyes is a much more fertile territory for storytelling than, “How does Edward Nigma turn into The Riddler?”

Meaning?

That Jim Gordon’s story isn’t as covered as Bruce Wayne’s is as this point, and therefore is a smarter central focus. Everything I’ve read about this show’s development suggests this was originally less focused on Wayne and his eventual Rogue’s Gallery and more focused on Gotham as a fertile place for those figured to eventually dominate. But it’s far easier to sell “Gotham” on the premise that we’ll get to see young versions of Catwoman and The Penguin than see how Gordon avoided falling into the same pit of corruption as the rest of his colleagues.

Still, isn’t it more fun to see big-name characters like The Penguin over the third-tier characters that “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” trot out?

Simply seeing big-name characters doesn’t mean a show is good or bad. “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has a host of bland characters on top of bland villains. “Arrows” uses second-tier villains (while hinting at huge DC baddies) but uses them for emotional resonance as well as bad-ass fights with the already solid primary players. The big names in “Gotham” suggest less fan service so much as narrative panic: These villains don’t add anything, but rather distract from a semi-hollow core of masculine overcompensate at the center of this show’s storytelling. This is a show that deploys heavy rock music and attention-calling camerawork to try and trump up a story that should be focused more on the power of will than the power of might. That’s what “Batman” is all about, but the pilot for “Gotham” misses that point so badly that it makes me worry about future installments.