Fox Fall part 1: Gotham

Gotham-TV-Show-Fox-LogoFox television groans with the weight of mythology. And you thought it was the audience.

It probably says something significant that the fall season premiered without so much as a by your leave, and I didn’t even notice. That may only be that I’m oblivious, but it may equally be that I’ve become jaded to the very idea of network television as being something worth watching. Still, I’ve been looking forward to the premiere of Gotham and the return of Sleepy Hollow. Get it right this time, Fox!

Gotham attempts to tell Batman’s story without actually having Batman present. Bruce Wayne is there. The origin story is addressed in the opening 5 minutes of the show, taking the mondo elephant in the room, pointing it one direction and giving a poke with sharp stick. As for the rest? I dunno. Some things stand out pretty quickly. Donal Logue delivers as Harvey Bullock. Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin promises to be the most entertaining villain of the piece. And this is going to be a show all about cameos from the Batman mythology.

In the premiere episode we are introduced to: young Bruce Wayne (Batman!), Alfred Pennyworth (valet and guardian), Jim Gordon (our hero), Harvey Bullock (burned out good cop), Renee Montoya (do-gooder cop who later becomes the Question), Crispus Allen (token black cop who later becomes the Spectre), Barbara Kean (Gordon’s first wife), Sarah Essen (Gordon’s Captain and second wife), along with a host of familiar villains in their civilian guises (Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Carmine Falcone). At least the script writers aren’t trying to anything more than wink and nod at the characters, patiently waiting for them to develop. If Fox gives the show the chance.

Gotham-castBut what kind of television is it? So far, it’s okay if not inspired. Episode one got the Wayne murder out of the way and demonstrated the system corruption of the city. Episode two starts to give the bit players a chance to depart from the shadow of the Bat. We got a villain of the week and some recurring plot lines. It all seems to be pretty standard fare for a crime drama, if a bit heavy on the drama and light on the crime for my taste; standard and not necessarily memorable.

It’s not really fair to judge something of this scope on just two episodes. The show is reaching for something pretty big. I’m afraid the show’s grasp is exceeding its reach. We’ve had two episodes to establish an overall premise for the series, or even a goal for the main characters. So far we’ve had nothing of the sort. Gotham looms over the whole of the story, an oppressive presence that cries out for someone to stand up for justice amidst the corruption. But if Gordon can do it, why would we ever need Batman? And if Gordon can’t do it, the show becomes a frustrating exercise in the depravity of the bad guys. There is so much history and so many characters connected with this mythology that trying to bring them all in – even tangentially – is a recipe for disaster. I would have liked to have seen Gotham without any of the Batman mythos; leave the super villains behind and give me a cops-and-gangsters show. As it is, I fear the show is headed for an insurmountable reef.

Still, there’s at least one high point for me. Donal Logue plays Bullock as a burned out cop mired in the scum of the city, perfectly willing to do bad things to bad people. It’s not quite the Bullock I’m familiar with, and Logue’s playing the “dirty cop” vibe pretty hard. But something about his interaction with Captain Essen and their insistence that Gordon “get with the program” has me hopeful that we’ll find them to be hard-nosed good cops putting Gordon to the test. But hope only goes so far, and I’ve got far too many other things clamoring for my attention. As long as the episodic format continues, I’ll continue watching.