A Batman show without Batman? Can it be done?
That's probably the biggest question anyone will be asking when watching Gotham Season 1 Episode 1 and over the course of Gotham.
Bruce Wayne does appear, albeit a very young version, dealing with the aftermath of the bloody murders of his parents by a mysterious killer. It's a scene that seems almost right out of the pages of the graphic novel "Batman: Year One," featuring a pan away shot of Bruce letting out a powerful scream. And boy, can actor David Mazouz scream.
And it's that murder of Bruce's parents that ultimately sets up the main drive of the hour and presumably will have an effect throughout the season, as the who and why are still left hanging in the air for the series to further follow.
Because at its core, Gotham is less about the tale of Bruce becoming Batman (unless some major time jumps occur) and more about Jim Gordon, a war-hero taking to the streets for the "action," trying to serve police justice in a city rife with corruption. But that will be a long and tireless road, and most likely, Gotham will continue to fall before Batman finally realizes the need to put on the cape and cowl to assist in bringing the city back towards the light.
On the flip side of “good,” characters such as the villainous Oswald Cobblepot and Fish Mooney (a character made just for this show) will be making their rise. Actor Robin Lord Taylor stands out as the pre-Penguin in such a quirky yet scary way from his mannerisms to the general look given to the character. He’s definitely someone people will remember when talking about the show. Though, why they even call him Penguin remains somewhat a mystery, but he really, really hates it.
Truthfully, I like the casting for all the characters and the grim moody setting that encompasses this crime drama that won't (or shouldn't) just be a cop procedural. The fact that FOX seems willing to go for something a bit more serialized is exciting.
But sometimes I wonder if Gotham knows just what it wants to be, and certainly with time it can iron that aspect out, but there seems to be varying tones, some dialogue that sounds so ridiculous it will make you groan, and an overabundance of DC characters and references that really try to bring home the fact that this is in a Batman universe.
While characters such as Jim, Bruce or even a more militarized and gruff version of Alfred (love this change to the butler-y character we're used to seeing) seem to belong in a world that evokes Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, characters such as Fish, Harvey Bullock or even Edward Nygma (the future Riddler) teeter on the edge between serious and campy.
Fish calling Jim a “cool glass of milk" or cackling at a joke from a comedian that’s not even that funny, or Harvey, who has that hard edge, says things like “That pill head looney bird,” makes me want to facepalm.
Or Edward, while I love that he works for the police, is so in-your-face with riddles it feels forced and unnecessary. Ugh, or even Harvey’s response, “If I want riddles, I’ll read the funny pages.” Funny pages? Really?
Ben McKenzie, who was great on Southland, and Donal Logue (miss you, Terriers) bring some great chemistry to their characters of Jim and Harvey. I really want to see that relationship explored, see the two butt heads and see them work together to bring them closer so we don’t have any more exaggerated office rants about dropping the “new kid.”
It's a scene such as where Harvey tells Jim they are at war and Jim needs to kill Oswald that pulls me in, makes me want the series to get deeper and really explore these characters. That’s a dark concept, especially that Harvey can not only ask that but admit that he’d kill Jim if he didn’t follow through.
And I’m pleased that Jim is determined to find the actual killer of the Waynes, not just from the fact that he keeps his promises, but its a good character trait for him. He’s willing to get things done no matter how tough they are.
So why, other than wanting to admit a mistake, does he really need to even go tell Bruce that they didn’t get the real killer, only to tell him to please be quiet and don’t tell anybody? Why would Jim feel so beholden to a child? I know, I know, it pushes Bruce towards that eventual Batman role and connects the two characters.
Guess we'll see if the real killer is brought to justice, though I am curious just how much the city and its crime will wear on Jim over the course of the show.
And I worry that the absence of Batman will only make me want Batman that much more, but if Gotham can really key in on its plan, telling compelling stories that just happens to have DC characters and mythology, showing these "origins" without being too overly ridiculous or forced, then there's plenty of hope.
There's so much potential here, a solid cast, a new take on the Batman universe that seems ripe with possibilities (I don’t even really care that seeing many of the Batman villains older than Bruce means he could be fighting them with their walkers when he becomes Batman), but that journey can only be more fully understood, ironed out of its kinks with those varying tones and dialogue with some time.
So much like Jim says to Bruce, "There will be light," I'm hoping that a positive beacon of storytelling and entertainment will shine over the course of Gotham Season 1. It's a show worth giving a chance to see where it all eventually goes.
Did you enjoy the Gotham premiere? Who's your favorite character? Did you catch all the nods to the Batman mythology? See them all when you watch Gotham online right now.
Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.