WHAT CAN WE take away from a show that wants to be a part of TV’s current superhero boom, but doesn’t have a superhero? Is young cop Jim Gordon’s rise through a corrupt, sometimes inept police department enough to keep us tuned in week in/week out — especially since in this new show, he’s not having rooftop meetings with the Dark Knight? And how long can the mystery behind the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents keep us on the edge of our seats?
None of those questions can be answered after viewing the series debut of “Gotham,” which aired Monday night on Fox. But one episode in, it looks as though Batman’s supporting cast, along with a whole lot of future villains, could have what it takes to make a weekly visit to “Gotham” required viewing — for fanboys and mainstream viewers alike.
Here are key moments from the debut:
* “Gotham” begins not with Bruce Wayne or Jim Gordon, but with Selina Kyle (Carmen Bicondova), who is still very much a young girl here — and far from the Catwoman she’s destined to grow up to be. Rooftop heights don’t scare her as she jumps from building to building until she’s in downtown Gotham, trying to blend in with the night. Among the large crowds, Selina spots her prey: a woman overloaded with grocery bags and a man not paying attention to his back pocket. Some nifty knife-work and quick hands net her a gallon of milk (naturally) and a cash-fat wallet.
This is how “Gotham” plays to Selina’s work as a thief — though it’s not addressed why she’s already resorting to a life of larceny. We hardly get any answers to any questions regarding Selina, in fact, in the first episode.
Instead, we get her connected to the event that defines the entire show. While feeding one of her alley-cats with her newly scored milk, Selina hears voices approaching the alley she’s using for cover. It’s the boy Bruce Wayne and his parents. “Gotham” shows its defining moment very early in the show. The Waynes are murdered by a masked gunman right in front of Bruce. Selina, too, sees it all. The viewer now knows that this will define how Bruce’s life is connected to Selina’s — but Bruce doesn’t know that. We’re left wondering: When will they meet — and will she ever tell Bruce she was a witness?
* After the future Batman’s defining moment, we’re inside the Gotham City Police Department. Within 30 seconds of being there, a criminal being lead to a jail cell gets a hold of a policewoman’s gun and holds her hostage. Not even a minute into our first visit with the GCPD and we’re seeing why they’ll need the help of a masked vigilante one day.
Every gun in the place is aimed at the crook. And here is where we meet our young protagonist, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie); he might be a rookie cop who’s new to Gotham, but he’s also apparently a master hostage negotiator. Gordon takes command of the situation, gets the gun from the crook, frees the policewoman and hands over the bad guy to the good guys. The good guys proceed to beat the daylights out of the crook for making them look bad. Welcome to Gotham, buddy!
It might be Gordon’s first office triumph, but he’s schooled by his new partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), who explains that proper procedure in such a situation is just to shoot the bad guy. In a show full of questions, Bullock might be the biggest mystery of all. (I’d have said “riddle,” but we haven’t gotten to him yet).
On a force where there might not be many good guys, where do Bullock’s loyalties lie? After one episode, it’s hard to know. Once you realize that about Bullock, you then realize you are not watching “Batman:The Animated Series.”
* Before Bullock can finish chewing Gordon out, he’s informed there’s been a double homicide and that he and his wanna-be S.W.A.T. rookie partner need to get over to the alley where the bodies are. Bullock and Gordon get there to find the Wayne parents — slain. Gordon goes over to comfort a young Bruce — in a special moment framed as one of the series’ most important meetings.
Bullock, upon learning that the bodies in the street are the Waynes, decides he wants absolutely nothing to do with this big a case — this could involve people he’s not ready to go up against. But he’s stuck on the case. Why? Because Gordon has already questioned the young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).
Gordon promises a young Bruce that there will one day “be light,” and that they’ll catch his parents’ killer. Alfred picks up Bruce — in our first sighting of the trusty butler. Bullock high-tails it with Gordon to the nearest diner, where he explains to dumb-rookie-kid-cop that they want nothing to do with this Wayne case. That’s when Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) walks in with her partner (it doesn’t matter his name; what matters is that we get our first scene with Bullock and Montoya together — a geek moment for “Batman: The Animated Series” fans). Montoya and her partner, from the major crimes unit, try to take the case off of Bullock and Gordon’s hands. Bullock gets insulted and tells Montoya where she can go and what she can kiss, and just like that, he and Gordon are on the case.
Bullock and Montoya are not friends. It’s a fanboy buzz-kill, but entertaining nonetheless.
* Bullock goes back to GCPD. He wants no part of Gordon on the case. He’s too green. He complains to the captain. She doesn’t care. Apparently young Gordon’s dad was a hot-shot district attorney. Bullock is told to deal with it. Not only are the cops possibly corrupt, but there’s also some good, old-fashioned nepotism. Bullock is not impressed, but he’s stuck with the rookie.
* Time to get some ballistics on that bullet. And who handles that? None other than Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who is beyond delighted to ask Bullock questions he won’t know the answers to. Seriously. Nothing makes this guy happier than you not knowing the answer to his questions. When Gordon actually gets the answer to one of Nygma’s riddles, poor Eddie looks as if his world has come crashing down. But we all know the path Eddie is going down. What’s surprising is that he has his start with the GCPD. Not too much of a push. In Scott Snyder’s “Zero Year” for DC Comics, a retelling of Batman’s origin, Nygma is an employee of Wayne Enterprises before he becomes the Riddler. He’s also an employee of Wayne Enterprises in “Batman Forever,” but this show is a positive Batman moment. We won’t go there.
Despite making it obvious that he’s destined to put on a mask and giggle profusely in the future, Nygma provides some pretty strong evidence in the Wayne case. The bullet that killed Thomas Wayne can’t be traced. Seems like a lot of trouble for a “random” murder. All of a sudden, the Wayne murders aren’t so clear.
* Gordon somehow finds time to spend with his fiancee, Barbara. Nice name. Hey, isn’t that Batgirl’s name? It is — but no kids yet. Don’t worry. Just because she’s not carrying a caped crusader in her womb yet doesn’t mean Barbara doesn’t have a surprise for Gordon. And boy, is it a doozy.
* We meet Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney. She works for Carmine Falcone (John Doman), the biggest mob boss in Gotham. This is the only character who has no origin in the pages of the comic books. And guess who works for her: Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor), the not-yet Penguin. Although when the other gangsters call him that, he doesn’t like it too much. Right now, Oswald is more rat than penguin. When he’s not holding Fish Mooney’s umbrella, he’s spilling his guts to Montoya and her partner. A concerned citizen? More like someone trying to take the top spot for himself.
* Bullock and Gordon get a lead on the Wayne killer. Who is surprisingly the father of Ivy Pepper, whom we will not call Ivy Pepper. She’s Poison Ivy. Not that she’s reached her villainous-form yet, but she’s already watering plants every time we see her. She’s further along than everyone. Ivy’s father is wrongly accused of killing the Waynes. Evidence has been planted in his home — but by whom? The answer to that leads us to our real killer. In the meantime, Ivy’s father is killed (will she mourn for him and demand vengeance?). Bullock kills Ivy’s dad when he leads them on a wild chase and tries to kill Gordon rather than go to jail.
Bullock and Gordon think they have their man. They’re dead wrong.
* Montoya decides to give Barbara a visit. Gordon’s Barbara? Sure is. She thinks the GCPD set up Ivy’s father to take the fall for the Wayne murders. Barbara is insulted. Montoya thinks Gordon is bad news, and not the right man for her. She says she doesn’t know Gordon, and that Gordon doesn’t know Barbara like she does. It’s at this point you realize that Montoya and Barbara used to be a thing. No surprise for Montoya if you read the comics, but Gordon’s wife being an old flame? That’s new, and very interesting. It’ll be quite the episode whenever Gordon finds that out — especially considering that he hates Montoya’s guts for accusing him of being a dirty cop and being possibly responsible for the Wayne murders/cover-up.
*So remember Oswald’s ratting to Montoya? Fish finds out. She’s not happy. Oswald needs to die. And considering that Gordon almost dies when he starts asking Fish his own questions (Bullock unsuccessfully tries to stop it — a moment where you almost think he’s not as crooked as “Gotham” makes him out to be), a favor is owed to Fish and her big boss Falcone (who personally prevents the deaths of Gordon and Bullock for sticking their noses in too deep in a bad smell).
The Gotham mob wants Oswald dead. Bullock is chosen to do the deed. He tells Gordon this is how it has to be for there to be order. Either Gordon kills Oswald, or Bullock will kill both of them and never look back. This moment, at least for now, makes Bullock look like a very bad cop. (Not sure how Bat-fans will feel about that, but every adaptation can’t follow every comic page word for word, panel for panel).
Whatever good feelings you have for Bullock when he tries to save Gordon from the mob are washed away when Bullock tells Gordon to ice Oswald. Gordon, realizing he’s in a no-win situation, walks Oswald far away from Bullock, toward the Gotham waters, and tells Oswald to run and never come back. Gordon fires his gun, not killing Oswald, but making it look as though he did. Oswald gets a new lease on life (and will obviously return), and Bullock thinks Gordon is rolling with the program.
Ultimately, we get very little Bruce Wayne, and only one hero, Gordon, who may be the only trustworthy cop in Gotham City.
Is Bullock really this much of a dirty cop? Will Selina and Bruce cross paths? Will Ivy run out of water for her plants? Is Oswald coming after Fish (ironic that the person he has to take down for revenge is named after his soon to be favorite treat). “Gotham” leaves you with many questions and few answers (Nygma would be so happy).
This is Gordon’s show so far. His efforts to clean up his city and his police department are what this show is all about. But still there, lingering in the margins, is the kid who will eventually be Batman.