The phrase “golden age of television” may be becoming worn out through overuse, but it certainly applies to current stream of great comic-book TV shows currently making their way to our screens.
The CW’s Arrow keeps going from strength to strength while Marvel’s Agents of Shield is finally finding its feet after a lacklustre start, and they will soon be joined by the likes of The Flash, Agent Carter and Constantine later this year as the networks look to capitalize on the genre’s enduring popularity.
But one show that has the potential to blow all others out of the water is Fox’s Gotham. The Batman prequel series, which revolves around Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as a young detective rising through the ranks of the GCPD, debuted to rave reviews in the US last week, which only made the anticipation for its UK arrival on Channel 5 that much more unbearable.
With a few weeks still to go before we finally get to see the show for ourselves, here are five reasons why Gotham could be the best comic-book spinoff yet.
1) It is in no way connected to the movie franchise.
Marvel’s Agents of Shield’s biggest problem is that its close connection with the Marvel Cinematic Universe often blunts its own creativity. The fact is that a TV show about a bunch of suits being outmatched by supervillains just can’t compete with the super-powered heroics seen in the movies – a problem exacerbated by Marvel producers giving Joss Whedon and co first dibs on all the best villains, leaving MAOS with second-rate antagonists such as melted-toy soldier Deathlok.
Gotham, however, should have no such issues as it operates independently of Dawn of Justice, the planned cinematic outing for Ben Affleck’s caped crusader. As Fox president Kevin Reilly recently said: “This is not an adjunct companion series. This is the Batman franchise, just backing it up [in chronology].” This means series creator Bruno Heller has free reign over the Batman canon, which should supply plenty of material for gripping and surprising storylines whilst also helping to avoid any pesky comparisons with the big budget movies.
2) Ben McKenzie is perfectly cast as Jim Gordon.
Some fans may initially be surprised to find that this is not a Batman origin story. Though David Mazouz will feature throughout the series as a young Bruce Wayne grieving after the murder of his parents, Gotham is really all about Jim Gordon.
McKenzie may be best known as The OC’s Ryan Atwood but his performance here is closer to his role as Ben Sherman in Southland. Told early on by his sleazy partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) that “this is not a city for nice guys”, McKenzie is great as the morally righteous Gordon, who can’t quite believe he is the only cop in the city who’s not crooked.
The best Batman stories have always explored the concept of morality in the face of corruption and it will be interesting to see how much Gordon will have to compromise his values in order to do some good as the series progresses.
3) Gotham is overflowing with colourful villains.
One big advantage of basing a series on a comic-book is that the stories come with an instantly recognizable rogues gallery. Gotham wastes no time in cashing in on the Dark Knight’s most formidable foes, teasing the audience with glimpses of The Riddler, a cherubic Poison Ivy, a young Catwoman and a brief appearance by a comedian who may or may not turn out to be The Joker.
The pilot episode focuses on Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, introducing Robin Lord Taylor’s character as a snivelling mafia minion before setting up a series arc of Cobblepot’s rise to power. This is the beauty of a series sans the caped crusader: his absence leaves plenty of room to explore other creatively rich characters in greater detail, allowing Heller to bring them to life in a way we’ve never seen them before.
4) Jada Pinkett Smith’s character is a great creation.
Gotham is not just about the already established villains, though, and the first episode rocks up packing its very own colourful antagonist.
Jada Pinkett Smith’s power-crazed mob boss Fish Mooney makes a big impression in the pilot. Formidable and just-the-right-side-of-camp, Mooney is so infinitely watchable because of the way she drifts between sides – first acting as a dutiful ally to crime kingpin Carmine Falcone, then switching to sneaky police informant. It’s hard to know exactly which side she is on (my guess is it’s a side all of her own) and that’s a risky game to play on the mean streets of Gotham.
5) The City of Gotham has never looked so good.
From the title we know that Gotham will be an essential character to the series, mirroring the internal battle for Gordon’s soul in the police’s attempts to retake a city infected with crime and corruption.
Heller and director Danny Cannon have therefore put a great deal of effort into making Gotham as aesthetically noirish as possible. Seemingly ripped from the panels of Frank Miller’s Sin City, Gotham is shadowed by towering skyscrapers stacked against perpetually rain-lashed skies, its dark, shadowy streets shrouded in a dense fog that must be ideal for concealing late-night acts of skulduggery.
Click here to watch the trailer for Gotham