September 22, 2014



GOTHAM:  Monday 8PM on FOX – If Nothing Else Is On…

PLAYERS:  Batman (and if we’re being honest, Christopher Nolan, even though he has nothing to do with this show).  Series creator Bruno Heller, who was also behind The Mentalist and HBO’s Rome.  Star Ben McKenzie, and a supporting cast headed by Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith.  Pilot director Danny Cannon.  Warner Bros. Television and its corporate affiliate, DC Comics.

PREMISE:  The iconic moment of young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) witnessing the killing of his parents on a Gotham City street is usually depicted in Batman movies as a flashback, or else just before a time-lapse cut to the adult Caped Crusader.  Gotham takes place during that time-lapse, and although Bruce is a continuing character, its focus is on not-yet-Commissioner Jim Gordon (McKenzie), here presented as a war hero and idealistic GCPD detective.  His partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is weathered, cynical, and in the pocket of mob boss Fish Mooney (Smith).  Jim has a loving fiancée in Barbara (Erin Richards), but in this version of the story, she has something of a past as well, one involving Jim’s fellow detective Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena).  Meanwhile, there are plenty of other familiar faces dotting Gotham City, including to-be versions of Catwoman (Carmen Bicondova), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), the  Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Poison Ivy (Claire Foley)–along, of course, with Bruce Wayne’s stalwart butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee).

PILOT:  Gotham‘s guilty little secret is that it isn’t a comic book superhero series at all–it’s a cop show, and on the basis of its pilot, just a moderately interesting one.  It remains to be seen how Heller is going to justify Little Bruce (who’s just a mournful rich kid here, although at least David Mazouz gets to speak, which is more than he did in Touch) and Little Selena hanging around every week, and although this version of the Penguin introduces him as a young gangster working for Fish, and the Riddler is an annoying techie who works for the cops, they’re not at the center of things either.  Just as last season’s FOX drama Almost Human was a police procedural that dabbled in science fiction elements, Gotham is one that plays to the side of a superhero universe.  (It’s more Sin City than The Dark Knight.)  The relationship between Jim and Harvey is a familiar one (although the pilot hints that Harvey may be less corrupt than he looks), and pitching them into exaggerated sets and having them interact with comic-book characters gives the show an uncertain tone.

Nevertheless, there’s a fair amount to enjoy in the Gotham pilot.  As with The Flash, DC and Warners–determined as they are to seize the television medium before Marvel controls that too–have spared very little expense in creating a visually impressive hour of television, filled with luscious CG landscapes and large-scaled production designs.  (The likelihood of all this luxuriousness persisting into regular episodes is, of course, less than certain.)  McKenzie manages to be likable even as Heller’s script gives him little to play besides being the voice of uncompromised morality, and Logue is always fun to watch in yet another variation of the genial, scheming rogue he’s recently played on Copper and Vikings.  Smith seems to be enjoying herself as a baddie.  It’s too soon to tell whether the mannerisms of the young supervillains will become exasperating in this context over time, but that’s definitely a possibility.  Cannon, an action series directing veteran (lots of CSI shows, Nikita, The Tomorrow People), provides scale but not much in the way of memorable style.

PROSPECTS:  Gotham has a clear path to success in the ratings, because although there are high-rated shows airing against it (especially in the first month of the season, when CBS will berth The Big Bang Theory on Mondays while it has football on Thursdays), they provide little direct competition, as reality contests The Voice and Dancing With the Stars will duel it out against Big Bang and then the far weaker 2 Broke Girls.  For those seeking action in the hour, only The Originals is chasing an overlapping audience, and that’s more of a gothic soap.  The show may not have a breakout start like last season’s Monday hit Sleepy Hollow, but if viewers like it, it could find fair success in its hour.  The question is whether audiences will be disenchanted once they realize they’re watching more of a cop drama than a superhero saga.  Gotham will have to provide some gripping content to make up for that conceptual bait and switch.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."