Television

'Gotham' Is No Place for Nice Guys

Gotham is off to a good start, so good that it's possible to watch the entire premiere without missing Batman one bit.


Gotham

Airtime: Mondays, 8pm ET
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Jada Pinkett Smith, Robin Lord Taylor, Clare Foley, Cory Michael Smith, Camren Bicondova, Erin Richards, Sean Pertwee
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Director: Danny Cannon
Air date: 2014-09-22
Website
Trailer
Amazon

"You're a nice guy," veteran detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) tells rookie detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). "This is not a city or a job for nice guys."

The city in question is, of course, Gotham City, star of Fox's new Batman prequel Gotham. The series begins with the infamous murder of Bruce Wayne's parents; it's the incident that puts the young Wayne (David Mazouz) on the road to becoming Batman. While most Batman stories skip ahead from the Wayne murders to Batman's debut, Gotham stays put, attempting to fill the gap between the two. The premiere episode does so through the eyes of Gotham City police officers, as Bullock and Gordon try to solve the Wayne murders.

While this perspective is unusual, Gotham certainly isn't the first time the fabled city has been brought to screen, and different artists have had wildly different visions of it. Gotham's executive producers Bruno Heller (of The Mentalist and Rome) and Danny Cannon (The Tomorrow People and Nikita) might have followed Tim Burton, who made the city loom large in its gothic darkness.

Or they could've followed Joel Schumacher, who made it more cartoonish and full of garish neon colors. Or they could've followed Christopher Nolan, whose most recent take on Gotham felt grittier and more familiar. Then again, they could've done the opposite, and made the city campy like the '60s television series.

From the series premiere, it looks like Gotham fits somewhere between Burton's and Nolan's creations, not quite as stylized as the former, but not quite as contemporary as the latter. It's dark -- even the daytime scenes feel overcast -- and the streets feature little retro touches, like checkered cabs. The striking visuals make clear that Gotham really is about the city first and foremost. While the first episode mostly follows Gordon, it does so to explore the city's institutions (legal and illegal), how they overlap with each other, how each vies for control.

The institutions are premised on the individuals they affect as well as those who wield power. And, like most first episodes, this one offers a quick overview of the series' players. Gotham feels like a fully populated town, almost akin to The Simpsons' Springfield. Batman fans will recognize a few of the names, like Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley), and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). Since it's too early in the Batman timeline for them to give in wholly to their villainous tendencies, right now they're just townsfolk, however eccentric.

Some of the characters aren't able to achieve the same balance between fantasy and realism as the rest of the show. Taylor's Cobblepot is definitely an oddball, with a certain Crispin Glover-like strangeness too him. But his creepiness is noticed by those around him, and it bothers him, which helps us sympathize or at least try to understand. Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney (invented for the series) isn't as successful. She's much broader than anyone else on the show, and seems like she'd be a better fit for one of the Schumacher outings.

Thankfully, Mooney isn't as central a figure here as Bullock or Gordon, who together are fully capable of carrying the series, even without young Bruce. Logue gives an especially strong performance as Bullock, an exhausted, veteran crime-fighter who remains likable and charismatic even as his various failings seem inevitable. Bullock's a victim of circumstance as opposed to a villain.

McKenzie's Gordon is less shaded, serving as a sort of straight man to all of Gotham City's vibrant craziness. Gordon and Bullock's partnership is a typical pairing of a cop who plays by the book and a cop who plays by his own rules, but the actors make it feel, if not fresh, than at least specific to this show.

Gotham's premiere covers a lot of ground, sketching characters and situations efficiently. Cannon, who directed the first episode, keeps everything in motion, swooping the camera across the skyline. Such mobile framing and noirish agitation, along with the people who can't seem to stay still, invite us to feel involved and on edge, even when the cops are doing something routine like interviewing witnesses or talking on phones.

With a couple of handheld-looking action scenes in the mix, Gotham's premiere episode feels like a mini-summer blockbuster condensed for TV. With such a rich cast of characters and extensive history, the series has a lot to play with as Gordon and Bullock negotiate what look to be many levels of corruption, violence, and politics. It's off to a good start, so good that it's possible to watch the entire premiere without missing Batman one bit.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.