Thursday, October 30, 2014

'Gotham,' before the super-heroics

(Oct. 1, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Batman and the rest of his DC Comics ilk get the prequel treatment in the dark and gritty “Gotham,” set several years before the appearance of the iconic Caped Crusader.

Prior to the series, DC character Superman was reimagined for TV via “Smallville,” which mostly chronicled the years prior to Clark Kent donning the costume. It lasted a whopping 10 seasons.

Gotham” starts with a variation on a familiar tragedy: Young Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents are killed by a masked mugger in a dark alley. This has been done countless times in the comics, cartoons and films, but this version is no less painful to see. This time, however, the young thief Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), the future Catwoman, is a silent witness to the grisly crime, and the case is investigated by cops James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).

Gordon is quickly established as a noble detective, new to the world of compromises involving his police force, and the cops’ dealings with shady characters. He eventually butts heads with a gang leader, Fish Mooney (a mesmerizing Jada Pinkett Smith), with whom his partner Bullock is cozy.

Future villains are introduced as well. Apart from the future Catwoman, there are a few other characters that aren’t too subtly presented—whether they’re around future props or weaponry, or are exhibiting odd behavior already, the debuts are on the heavy-handed side. Nevertheless, they are intriguing components that add complexity.

Gotham” has aesthetic consistency, in that it often sports a metallic blue hue to match its tone and coldness. But while the environments utilize a realistic edge, the artificiality of certain venues allows more imaginative sets and subworlds.

McKenzie, playing another cop so soon after the series “Southland,” fits as the idealistic and optimistic detective—qualities that will make the character a great commissioner someday (perhaps in this show’s final season).

Logue is surprisingly good as the jaded, cynical partner who understands the city’s complicated hidden politics. Still, Gordon’s presence may introduce positive changes to Bullock.

Pinkett Smith is also a pleasant surprise; the new, violent character Fish is interesting, thanks to the actress’ magnetic charm and semicampy disposition. A cool, alluring villain figure ultimately destined for doom (antagonists do help in making prequels engaging), Fish is being geared as instrumental to the ascent of a few other bad guys.

As with “Smallville,” it looks like this reimagining may speed up encounters between future enemies, so viewers should expect some drastic—possibly even more playful—deviations from the source material.

Gotham” is visually sleek, and opts to focus mostly on the heroics of mere mortals—its initial episode already presents regularly dressed do-gooders out to get (future) freakish fiends, a promising new chapter in—and an inevitable expansion of—the Dark Knight’s ever-shifting saga.

("Gotham” airs Thursdays, 9 p.m. on WarnerTV.)

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