Its an amazing time for fanboys and fangirls out there right now with the fall calendar bringing us so many superhero-powered TV shows premiering in these next few weeks.
Tonight, Gotham premieres at 8 PM on Fox. The show, as has been well documented, is about a city (and primarily a police department) before they had the help of a Caped Crusader, working to curb the spread of crime throughout a modern metropolis (pardon the pun).
So far the reviews of the pilot have been mostly positive, but as with most TV pilots, its more about posing the questions than compelling the audience. And the few negative reviews seem to ask the same question: how long can we watch a show about Batman’s homebase without seeing Batman himself.
I am quite excited for what we will see tonight, but I have to acknowledge that my excitement has been tempered, somewhat, by my expectations. Should we expect Law and Order, but with supervillains? Will I expect to have a thrill seeing a sad, but driven young Bruce Wayne? Will there be any heroes in Gotham before Batman shows up? Will this template be served by a 22-episode storytelling feature? Will the first season be be-draggled by typical 22-episode TV series tropes like forced romantic relationships, bottle episodes, faux-mysteries-revealed-at-midseason, or weekly procedural dreariness.
What should our expectations be of any of this? Can you have compelling TV without the iconic characters that inspire the stories?
I remember waiting eagerly for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year, but not questioning my expectations as much as I was anticipating just what I would see. Marvel had been producing films for about 7 years prior to the premiere of MOAS, but had yet to extend their world into TV. They promised to bring a lot of the features of the films (action, adventure, humor, mystery, fun) into the TV world with an extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s espionage-tinged storyline, but we probably would not see many super-powered heroes. This was most assuredly about the bureaucratic aspect of the MCU.
What we really got seemed more like a dumbing down of a spy series with cheesy effects, cheesier dialogue, and a complicated serialized mystery that was impacted, not by the show’s storytelling, but instead by a separate film. Now, I will admit I had no idea what to expect seeing Hydra emerge out of the muck of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the story turn was inspired. However, it generally did not change the stakes significantly enough to alter perceptions of the show. The group was rudderless, but the show would still have a mystery to solve each week without an Avenger showing up.
Similarly, Gotham must find its footing without the most popular comic book character in the world showing up. The show will give us the beginnings of various rogues in Batman’s gallery, but only the police will be there to protect the citizenry. Sounds potentially interesting, but this poses some problems with the show like how compelling will it be if The Penguin isn’t a real threat. If the supervillains are just common criminals, then why would we need a masked hero if the police can apprehend them?
Another potential issue is that Jim Gordon, or at least Ben McKenzie‘s portrayal of him, has to toe a line between being a good (in terms of quality), but struggling enough that he must rely on Batman to handle his harder cases. How does the character not end up looking like he’s falling upward? If the police department and Gordon at that taxed with Gotham crazies, then how does he eventually ascend to the rank of commissioner? In Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight, he essentially wins the job because other candidates are dead, he then catches the Joker, but only to be fooled by the villain who wants access to another prisoner. Failing upwards.
I supposed with that said, I guess its been pretty difficult to convince audiences that Gordon isn’t a fumbling idiot anyway in the 75 years of Batman history.
Batman becomes the symbol for law and order in Gotham, so who is the shining light before him? The showrunners have been fairly plain in their responses that we are not likely to see any other DC heroes show up before Batman. But, begs the question that if Gordon becomes the hero Gotham needs, then why do we need Batman?
Another unenviable task for the writers on Gotham is that they must also weave a series-long story to show just how 9 year old Bruce becomes the Bat. Gotham sets up a realistic world that literally turns into a fantasy on the edges, so a grieving 9 year old boy turning to vigilantism fits this construct. The unenviable task comes with showing this boy’s change without, again, making him look psychotic or a child who is destined to become a killer rather than a savior.
I think Gotham would be a success if after 5 years of the show, Gordon and the GCCU have done a great job cleaning up the city, granting peace to the citizens, but one major event requires Batman to show his face and stick around. Ultimately, in Nolan’s version, it was Gordon who helped craft Gotham’s reality, but we find out that’s mainly through a lie.
So, I believe, the show has some difficult work to do to show us just why we need a Batman. A story I care a lot more about than about how Gordon gets his mustache. I would love an crack at a story like this, as would just about every other TV or movie writer who has an inkling of the Dark Knight.
Do you have any of the same concerns about Gotham and what to expect?
Will you watch tonight?