As a rule, I tend to be pretty skeptical about prequel series. After all, when you know where characters are going to end up, it’s hard to be too surprised about where they’re going, which makes the most you can hope for a mild surprise of satisfaction if the characters’ journey lives up to the one you already had in your head.
That being said, FOX’s new series GOTHAM does a pretty good job of giving us the Gotham City we know and expect, while still delivering a few new wrinkles in the story. Opening with the only story about Gotham City that really matters, the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the series swiftly introduces us to Detective Jim Gordon and his corrupt, mostly drunk partner Harvey Bullock as they make their way through Gotham’s underworld in the search for the Waynes’ killer.
Along the way we meet a mess of familiar faces from Batman’s world, including younger, pre-supervillain versions of Catwoman, Penguin, the Riddler and Poison Ivy, as well as GCPD mainstays like Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen. And for the most part, they’re all portrayed pretty well. The Penguin and Riddler have never had particularly strong origin stories in any incarnation of Batman, be it comics, movies or TV, so I’m perfectly happy to see where GOTHAM’s producers plan to take the characters here.
The real surprise here is Jada Pinkett Smith as underworld boss Fish Mooney, who managed to create one of the series’ most intriguing characters without the benefit of fanboy recognition of a long-running Bat-character. Smith’s Mooney commands the screen every time she’s on it, and I found myself wanting more every time the show cut away to someone else, which is exactly what you want on an ensemble show like this. The series’ other standout is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, whose innate humor and likeability is a necessity to humanize an otherwise pretty awful character in Bullock.
Can the series sustain itself over the long haul? Hard to say. The problem is that traditionally, Bruce Wayne’s childhood takes place in the flash between panels, cutting between the tearful orphan swearing to revenge himself on all criminals and the now-grown Bruce Wayne after years of training, preparing for his war on crime just before his legendary encounter with the bat crashing through the window of his father’s study. The years in between are terribly sad ones of a traumatized boy growing up without a family, and I’m not sure we need to see that on television every week.
Still, GOTHAM far exceeded expectations for me, and I’ll definitely be back next week to see where it goes. Is it the best comic-book TV show of the year? Hard to say, there’s a lot of competition for that this season.
AGENTS OF SHIELD, you’re up. Let’s see what you’ve got.