Is a Show Without Batman Still Must-See TV?

On Monday night, during the broadcast of the much-hyped return of Jack Bauer in 24: Live Another Day, the Fox network treated viewers to a first look at a similarly hyped new series that will makes its debut later this fall. That new show is none other than Gotham, and on the same day the trailer was released, it was announced that the show was already greenlit for a full season, no less.

So here’s your first taste of actual real footage below, and I’ll share my first impressions on the other side of two minutes:

I’ll be honest, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, ERMAHGERD A BATMAN SHOW!!!! On the other, it isn’t really a Batman show since Batman isn’t, ya know, in it. Still, the scenes presented in the trailer — all, presumably, from the pilot episode — are appropriately moody and gritty (it is a DC property, after all), and the series’ star Ben Mackenzie (SouthlandThe OC) is downright intense — if not quite mustachioed — as a young Jim Gordon. In fact, I kind of love the Gordon/Bullock scenes already.

PS, it’s awesome to finally get a live action Harvey Bullock and doubly awesomer that he’s being played by Donal Logue.

I was actually cool when they originally announced that the show would be all about Gordon and his adventures as a young cop. And I’ve long been a proponent of a TV show based on the Gotham Central comics. Though, it would be nice if the show could feature some of the cops of color from the comics (e.g., Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Josie Mac), but I guess they’d all be teenagers in the chronology of the show’s timeline.

Where they lose me — at least a little — are the villains. The trailer makes a big deal of the inclusion of such iconic rogues as the Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, and Poison Ivy (not to mention the main baddie Fish Mooney — newly created for the show and played by Jada Pinkett Smith). Except they’re not those iconic villains yet. Which also means they’re probably not interesting yet either. The actors all look cast well enough, but I’m worried that each episode is going to be chock full of foreshadowing and constant callbacks to the comics with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Look! Oswald has an umbrella! Pamela is watering a plant! Edward sure does ask a lot of questions!

One thing I will give them credit for is the casting of young Selina Kyle. Even though the Gotham continuity is its own thing and in no way related to either the Nolan or Burton movies, it’s kind of cool that Warner Brothers invented a time machine and cast a tweenage Michelle Pfeiffer to reprise her role as Selina Kyle.

Camren Bicondova and Michelle Pfeiffer. Which is which? You decide!

I’m not sure at which point the show creators decided to shift from a Jim Gordon origin story to a Batman universe origin story. I’ll reserve judgement until the series actually airs and I’ve got a few eps under my utility belt. But the most interesting thing about this show coming to network in the first place is the fact that this isn’t the first time Bruce Wayne’s early years was to be televised.

Way back when in 1999, screenwriter Tim McCanlies pitched a series to producers Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins about the “missing years” between the night Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered and the moment Bruce Wayne donned a cowl and cape. At the time, fans were buzzing about the prospect of a serious take on the origin of Batman, something that had yet to be explored in-depth onscreen.  Remember, this was only two years after Batman & Robin and a full six years before Batman Begins.

While there was a lot of progress made on the creation of the show — its pilot script and series outline can be found online here — it was ultimately derailed because even though WB is a giant conglomerate, it’s a giant conglomerate that doesn’t know how to communicate internally. Friction between Warner’s TV division, which was developing Bruce Wayne, and Warner’s film division, which was charged with rebooting the failed movie franchise, were at odds1. Ultimately, the film division — which was developing Darren Aronofsky’s Batman Year One at the time — won and WBTV had to find another superhero’s origin to tell. That origin turned out to be Clark Kent’s and thus Smallville was born.

Somebody saaaaaaaavvvvvveeeee meeeeeeeeee

To be completely candid, I always thought that the “prequel” approach worked better for Superman than Batman anyway. There is something intriguing about watching Clark Kent come into his powers as a young person before the persona. It’s also safe to say that Superman is who he is because of Jonathan and Martha Kent, so to see that family dynamic play out is powerful.

Sure, Smallville had a tendency to drop a pretty unsubtle Superman hammer once every five minutes, but that winking kind of works in a Superman tale. With Batman, though, I’m not sure it can work as well. Because unlike Clark, hinting at Bruce’s superhero destiny this early in the timeline just rings false to me2. Sure, the anger and rage that fuels Batman was born when Bruce was nine years old, but the training and knowledge and skills he has to develop will take years if not decades to master. I don’t think this show has that kind of time frame in mind.

This is why I hope they keep the show singularly focused on Jim Gordon. His character arc and how he evolves into the Gordon of the comics is the one that I’m most intrigued in. I just hope it doesn’t take him ten seasons to grow a mustache3.

I mean, it’s not like dude is incapable of growing facial hair.

All this said, I’m more than willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. With no DC movie on the horizon for at least two years, the television has been the place to be for DC heroes anyway. Marvel may have the movie game down, but DC has TV on lock. And even if none of their shows are related, it will be nice to see some kind of live action version of the Bat mythos on a screen near you in time for Batman’s 75th anniversary year.

  1. This fragmented approach to their superhero properties continues at WB/DC to this day. That is why you have so many competing interpretations of DC characters. Next year alone, in addition to Gotham, there will be a Flash series and the third season of Arrow on The CW and a Hellblazer show on NBC. Not to mention the Batman vs. Superman movie will be deep into production. And other than the CW shows, none of these productions will be related to the other. They’re pretty much the opposite of Marvel Studios in this way.
  2. Also, what are the odds that the writers will make Bruce mention how much he “hates bats” at least once an episode? 
  3. Yes, that was a Smallville dig. I’m a fan, so I’m allowed to make those jokes. 

9 thoughts on “Is a Show Without Batman Still Must-See TV?

  1. I am pretty hype about this kind of show, and I hope that they showed Bruce Wayne off more so that the uninitiated can recognize that “Ohhhh, he’s that police guy from the movies.”

  2. Both Renee Montoya and I believe Crispus Allen are in the show, played by Victoria Cartagena and Andrew Stewart-Jones according to IMDB. The roles exist in the pilot script that leaked awhile ago in any case, and they seem like they’re meant to be recurring.

    I believe they’re even seen about 40 seconds into the trailer.

  3. Seems like a boring show honestly….I didn’t this gotham was that intense when Gordon was young….I thought it got worse as he got older?

  4. It’s a good chance to show Gotham as a real city than a mere backdrop to many two-dimensional characters. Even in Nolan’s films Gotham never felt like a real place with history and culture. But one angle I’m hoping they’ll go is the Batman story that reveals that Gotham is haunted. In a post-Crisis story the Riddler discovered that a bunch of Freemasons performed a demon summoning that went bad. As a result a demonic spirit lies below Gotham and it’s responsible for the evil that’ grown there, including the death of the Waynes. Now that’s a tale.

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