Fall TV 2014

I’m a traditionalist, so I am a sucker for how fall tv means hope and curious stuff (not that I’ve fully figured out how new stuff has rolled out just about any time of year now or how cable tv has a weird thing of splitting up seasons so far apart that I can never tell if I’m still in this season or the next season – like how FOX broke up the final season of “Breaking Bad” or how USA or AMC ridiculously break up or spread out one season of “Suits,” “Mad Men,” and “Walking Dead”).  (sidenote: You can always check out the previews/analyses over at Entertainment Weekly (I enjoyed this year’s dead tree edition of the fall tv preview)).

Like how last year, I was so hopeful about “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” I’m glad it survived to renewal for a 2nd season, but I fell off the bandwagon well before the half-way mark, and I didn’t get back on, even though I was curious to see how “Captain American: The Winter Soldier” totally hit the reset button on SHIELD (spoiler: oh, yeah, it did, but I’m so behind, I really can’t say what anyway). I’m debating whether to try and catch up; we shall see. I still like Agent Coulson (I’ll still call him “Agent Coulson”), and I’m still curious to see how SHIELD can pull something off.

But, more of my comic affection leans heavily to DC Comics. Ok, I am still not on the Arrow bandwagon, as I’ve noted previously on this blog.  But, I am curious about the newest version of The Flash (even if it is the Barry Allen incarnation again; goodness, even “Smallville” played off the idea of which Flash was on the screen).

Ok, I didn’t watch the pilot episode of “Gotham” until the next night, while on demand. Like Erik Adams over at AV Club observes, this is a very noticeable prequel: we get the (practically traditional now) scene of the brutal death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, right in front of a traumatized Bruce. A tv critic mentioned it similarly (whose name and location is now not in my head): after that scene – in the old Batman movies of the late 1980s and 1990s and the Christopher Nolan trilogy, and the cartoons and comics – we usually make the jump to a future, some 8 to 15 years later, to, say, the “Batman: Year One” era, when Bruce completes his travels and takes the plunge to fulfill his vow for … well the symbol of the Bat. Or the time jump goes to the present, when Bruce is in his prime and dealing with the evildoers of Gotham.

This time, we don’t get that time jump. Nope. We’re stuck in Gotham and Bruce’s immediate traumatic childhood – something that usually doesn’t get portrayed (which is weird enough, if one thinks about it, even after 75 years of Batman). What is Gotham during that period before Bruce takes on the mantle, but after the loss of the Waynes? What even makes Gotham worth the trouble of saving? I’d like to think those are the themes that a prequel series would tackle; I’m just not sure if the pilot episode convinced me that that’s what this series will do.

On the positive side: actor Ben McKenzie’s back on broadcast tv! On a very superficial level (because of course I’d go there): he’s still cute. His “Southland” experience has given him a good amount of seasoning to play a more hardened than expected cop (apparently, his character was in a war – which war, well, who knows anymore, but not so hardened yet, because his character Jim Gordon is going to go through way more bad stuff first). This is the story of Jim Gordon, not quite Bruce’s story – since, in a world without the Bat, guess who’s going to try to fight the good fight in the meantime?

Pro: the first episode looks visually good. I could tell that they were filming in DUMBO (and there were parts of downtown Brooklyn that were closed earlier this year for the filming – I saw the signs!). And, making Gotham persuasively pretty (prettier?) and gritty would be a way to convince me why Bruce still loves this hellhole of crime and madness, no matter how much trauma has been done to him.  Director Christopher Nolan did a nice job of that with his movie trilogy and the “Batman: The Animated Series” did too –  you got some nice cityscape eye candy to play with, use it! And, honestly, what other city was going to be the stand-in for Gotham but… you know… the city that has the old nickname of Gotham?

(my understanding is that Metropolis and Gotham get to fight over who’s the stand in for NYC, and an alternate universe somehow places these two imaginary cities in Delaware/NJ/or wherever. In my imagination, Gotham was NY, Metropolis was Chicago – hence, Smallville, KS, got to be a bus ride away – and Bludhaven got to be – what else? – Newark, as Gotham’s bastard unpleasant cousin).

(or, if one were to take the Christopher Nolan route and digitally combine his favorite cities to make Gotham look amazing…).

But, the danger of a prequel series (yep, looking at you, “Star Trek: Enterprise”!): you could lose me if I keep wondering what the hell? Are you going to hit me with an anvil on the “foreshadowing”? Or you’ll keep disappointing me on the “Oh, I really would like the present/future here, because the past sucks.” For me, in the pilot episode, there were too many moments of “Wait, Batman would pop in right about… now, with the cops in trouble, but, oh, yeah, no, this is still pre-Batman: Year One. Crap.” So far Detective Gordon and his partner, the slovenly Detective Harvey Bullock, are alive, but Gotham is a crazy town, so…

…but I also liked the little Alfred and Bruce moments – the roots of their co-dependent relationship! I’m using the term “co-dependent” imprecisely, I’m sure, but years of Batman cartoons, comics, and movies surely have taught us that Alfred has struggled with being Bruce’s enabler, protector, and mentor, and yet the one who has to convince Bruce to stop being crazy, or try to be a functioning crazy (yes, I’m using the term “crazy” very loosely). 

Actor Sean Pertwee is another one I’ve liked – he livened up “Elementary” last year as the crazy and not that talented Inspector Lestrade. Pertwee so far comes off believable as an Alfred who probably did a stint in British military and/or British intelligence, and as the ever loyal Wayne family retainer.  I liked Donal Logue, and he’s making Bullock into something that resembles a person (not one of my favorite characters from the old Batman: The Animated Series, but he has his moments).

Of the kid characters (ok, I can’t help but call them “kids” because that’s what they are!), Bruce Wayne (played by David Mazouz) is the most curiously interesting: yeah, he’s traumatized, but there’s a sense that he’s already up to something (like, what is he doing on the roof? Not that he’s suicidal, but… is he already doing the experiments on handling fear? Bruce!). He’s smart, already taking into consideration Jim Gordon’s advisement to be real careful about knowing that his parents’ murderer is still out there.

I don’t know what to make of young Selina (a.k.a. future Catwoman),  the street urchin who loves cats or Ivy Pepper (let’s take a guess that she’ll be Poison Ivy – although I had to be reminded elsewhere on the Internet that Poison Ivy had a different real name), as they barely had lines (or in Selina’s case, none). Too soon, I guess.

Jada Pinkett Smith was ok as the brand-spanking new character, Fish Mooney. She came across as someone with that Gotham-special potential crazy. But, on the con side: I was a little disappointed by the rest of the women. While it’s nice that the show has a Barbara after all – whether she will be the future mother of Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl/Oracle) and James Gordon, Jr. (the scariest villain – not a spoiler! – in “The Black Mirror“) – well, we’ll see!  Don’t be boring, I suggest. Or at least be more than “the worried, supportive significant other of the cop.”

Renee Montoya – in “Batman: The Animated Series,” she was awesome! (clip!) But, in this tv version – that Montoya’s already thinking Jim Gordon’s on the take? Huh? It’s nice that the powers that be kept her sexual orientation from the comics, but Montoya’s supposed to be a smart detective (and got to be a costumed hero too, not that that’s a spoiler). I expect more from the women of the Gotham world.

In some ways, I can see how this series could be inspired by “Gotham Central,” the comic series about the cops in Gotham, working the hard way while Batman’s around (as even Alan Sepinwall noted over at Hitflix).  But, this is Gotham PD without Batman; what will make this different from any other cop show?

On the other hand – the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is going to have to be the arc of Jim Gordon – how close to the edge will he go? (will he go there?)  If Alfred is Bruce’s enabler (for better or worse), someone’s got to balance it for Bruce, and Jim did give the “there’s hope” monologue in the episode. And, then, how dark can this series go?

As it is, we don’t get very much “young kid grows up to be a superhero” on tv, cartoons, or comics. The prime example is Dick Grayson, who witnessed his parents die, become Robin, and then mature to Nightwing and a stint or two as Batman. But, there are examples where it is clear that Dick managed to be way mentally healthier than Bruce, because Bruce and Alfred learned from their own mistakes with the journey of becoming the superhero. In the meantime, in “Gotham,” Bruce is on his own here – but, he kind of isn’t, if the show finds a way to keep things interesting with Jim Gordon.

“Batman: The Animated Series” and the movies (well, the Nolan trilogy anyway) showed a partnership – if not friendship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon. But, over the years, I think there’s an argument to be made that not only has Bruce Wayne as Batman – the non-super-powered superhero – inspired a generation of superheroes, but so has Gordon – in also inspiring his own daughter, Dick Grayson, and Bruce (not the gun thing, though). What made Gordon keep going without any super powers? Well, I think that way from watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” considering how – again, by now, not really a spoiler – young Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), as the stand-in for all those who admired Batman, spent just about equal time with Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Bruce (Christian Bale). Bruce even thanked Gordon for being there when his parents died.

I think there is something to be said about where one finds one’s heroes. Your hero could be the crazy guy in a cape and mask/billionaire whose pumps money into do-good measures; and your hero could be the guy who gets up in the morning and keeps trying to do the right thing, even if it’s real damn hard to do it. Time will tell if “Gotham” can make that kind of story – be that light in the darkness, and letting Gordon face that.

And, I guess it goes back to the villains. While the Bat-rogues gallery is in prequel form, do we assume that their craziness would be dialed down, assuming Batman wasn’t the reason the supervillains came out of the woodworks? Mooney represents a different kind of criminal or underworld – Gotham’s organized crime world has that veneer of respectability. The likes of Carmine Falcone and Rupert Thorne – in the comics or the cartoons, they’re just out for power and money; it’s not like they’d hang out with the Joker (I don’t think most people would anyway). In the pilot episode, it’s kind of creepy to see Falcone as someone Gordon might have as an ally – or what is Gordon supposed to think, when Falcone is all like “I liked it when your dad was the District Attorney.” Now I’m starting to wonder about Gotham’s legal community!

Edward Nygma as pre-Riddler – was a little interesting, and right now, based on the pilot episode, he is working with the cops (he has a history of going back and forth on the side of the law). But, Oswald Cobblepot – well, I am not a Penguin fan… he was weird and creepy and just plain depressing in the Tim Burton-directed movie “Batman Returns,” played by Danny DeVito. “The New Batman Adventures” (basically a slightly visually different season 4 of the “Batman: The Animated Series”) made Penguin in his more traditional version (the one I think of as the Burgess Meredith one from the old campy tv Batman series – although, I think Burgess Meredith was made to look like the Penguin, not the other way around), as the mobster/”businessman” (which makes more sense than as yet another traumatized/damaged Bat-villain, for a guy who’s also a scion of the older families of Gotham).

As for one more thing on “Gotham”: the so far sinister element of the mob and legitimate government cooperating to maintain Gotham from collapsing on itself – hmm – could be worth watching, because its the crux of that whole question of how did Jim Gordon hang on before Batman gets on the scene. Surely Gordon didn’t compromise – but how else do you get to be a Commissioner? Getting there – getting to a dark (but maybe fun?) tv series is the hard execution, and like Alan Sepinwall said in his post, I agree: I’m not sure if FOX gets that. I give FOX credit for giving us “X-Files” and “Fringe,” and granted, I am not on the “Sleepy Hollow” bandwagon, but if FOX messes up “Gotham,” I could be disappointed.  We shall see!  I like Ben McKenzie, and I’m a Batfan, so I’ll hang on longer. So, we’ll see how this goes; but I’m really not sure how I feel about watching more “Gotham cops get in trouble and not have Batman do backup.”




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