Gordon and Bullock

Review by C.J. Bunce

Creating a Gotham City derived from the dark and sleazy world of the 1989 Batman film, but with a “Gotham Confidential” film noir spin, Fox’s new series Gotham managed to hit all the right notes in its Monday night premiere episode.  Like LA Confidential, it even stars a ringer for Russell Crowe, actor Ben McKenzie (Southland, The O.C.) as the rookie cop James Gordon.  But it’s the supporting cast and some tight writing that sticks to key parts of the DC Universe backstory that will have us back again next week.

Some elements are modified for this TV adaptation, of course, like the presence of a young Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) at the murder of the parents of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).  And Batwoman Kate Kane’s girlfriend and cop Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartegena) shows up far earlier in the DCU and, if we’re picking up the innuendo right, seems to have had a similar relationship with the would-be Barbara Gordon (now Gordon’s fiancée, not his daughter).  Will this Barbara Gordon (Erin Richards, Being Human, Merlin) go on to be Batgirl and/or Oracle?

Bruce Wayne in Gotham

But the most riveting and engaging performances in the pilot come from Gordon’s senior partner Detective Harvey Bullock, played by the ubiquitous Donal Logue (Vikings, Sneakers, The X-Files, Ghost Rider), almost reprising his gritty cop roles from the short-lived crime drama Life and the film Zodiac, and the introduction of a new villain, mid-level mob moll Fish Mooney, played in a sultry Eartha Kitt-inspired performance by Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne, The Matrix Reloaded).  Logue proves again he could carry a TV series all by himself, and Smith also owns every scene she appears in.

From the picture-perfect Frank Miller Batman: Year One introduction to Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee, real life son of Doctor Who’s third incarnation, Jon Pertwee) watching over young Wayne, you get the feel that the showrunners are pulling the right elements from world-building previously created and built upon by DC Comics writers of the past Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and Bob Kane.  Less fun than the pilot for CW’s Arrow, but still a good start, one challenge will be not letting the show get too dreary.  Don’t look for over-the-top comic book filming angles as with the Dick Tracy or George Clooney’s Batman Forever, although in a foot chase we do get to see an unusually shot sped-up film “Jim Gordon Cam.”

Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney

We witness the set-up for key Bat-villains, and surprisingly we don’t seem to mind the absence of Batman as Batman, and even can see the possibility for a Joker to later resurface a la the 1989 film.  So we meet a freakish Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (Robin Taylor), an imbalanced GCPD staffer Edward Nygma/Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and the very young but already on a bad path Ivy Pepper/Poison Ivy (Clare Foley).  It’s a Gotham that will be familiar to readers of the even darker, current “New 52” Detective Comics, the title from which Batman original sprang 70 years ago.

Gordon and Wayne

Other nice but brief performances that fill out this already dense inaugural hour include a humorous thug named Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell), a savvy mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Doman), a well-cast Richard Kind as Gotham’s mayor, and McKenzie, who has the unenviable position of playing do-gooder Gordon, and who must somehow make something interesting of a one-note straight arrow opposite all these shady and interesting characters.

Gotham appears Monday nights on Fox.