We gave it a B
The Arrow, with his noble jaw. His charming comrade-in-abs the Flash. Those cheerful quipsters on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Sorry, guys, but the depravity and decay of Gotham make all of your series look like Saturday-morning cartoons by comparison. On Fox’s new DC Comics-based drama, the so-called good guys are nearly as damaged and psychotic as the bad guys — and they all live in the belly of a city that’s run like Arkham Asylum. ”Gotham represents the urban id,” says costar and on-set philosopher Donal Logue, who plays the cynical Det. Harvey Bullock. ”It could be the 1940s. It could be futuristic. You don’t know the time and place. I saw Gotham City described in a DC comic as ’11:11 p.m. in a bad alley in a bad part of town and the wind is blowing.’ That’s what Gotham is.”
What Gotham decidedly isn’t, however, is a Batman show. Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is here — but he’s only 11 years old and just beginning his education with Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) after the murder of his parents in the pilot. Instead, the series’ main protagonists are the straitlaced Det. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his rule-bending partner Bullock, who clear cases as budding criminals like the Penguin (breakout Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and a tweenage Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) develop into the baddies we know and love. Each season will chart the ascent of one major villain — with the Joker and Mr. Freeze expected to join the fun eventually — while also serving up procedural-style crime stories every week. The second episode, for example, takes on a child-snatching ring that targets street kids for overseas export, and the third introduces the Balloon Man, a killer who ties his victims to hundreds of balloons and sets them aloft. Says McKenzie, ”The crime is big and weird and eccentric and often has a lot of dark humor in it.”
Gotham has brand-new faces as well, including nightclub owner Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), who runs a street gang and wields a mean baseball bat. ”She is a ruthless woman,” says Pinkett Smith, who drew inspiration from unhinged faded star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. ”She’s not just tough but deeply insecure and wounded with something deep to hide.” From the moment her character was announced, DC fans speculated that Pinkett Smith might not last long — especially since season 1 chronicles the rise of the Penguin, who has a falling-out with Mooney in the first episode. And we all know what penguins eat… ”I know something is coming between Jada’s character and my character, so when people make that joke, part of me can’t wait to see what happens,” Taylor says. ”She runs part of the show, but he wants to run the whole show. His moral depravity surprises even me.”
But the quickly exiled Penguin, also known as Oswald Cobblepot, occasionally helps the straight-arrow Gordon. ”On paper, we’re enemies. But we need each other,” says Taylor, who wears a slight prosthetic extension to his nose for the role. ”It’s like baby steps to becoming a supervillain.” Cobblepot will also cross paths with another bad-guy-in-the-making, a loner police forensic tech named Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who has acquired the odd habit of speaking in riddles. ”[Edward] knows he’s brilliant,” says Smith, who appropriately doodles question marks on his notepad between takes. ”We’ll see him start to get more leeway, and his superiors will start to recognize his genius.”
If you haven’t guessed, Nygma will become the Riddler (no, this show doesn’t exactly operate with a light touch) — one of many examples of evil triumphing over good in Gotham City. Though there will be small victories for the PD along the way, Gotham is a highly unusual series in that its heroes are destined to fail. Ultimately, Gordon and Bullock must lose their fight so that young Bruce Wayne can transform into the Caped Crusader, a moment that won’t happen until the very end of the series. ”The city has to fall apart in order to manifest Batman,” McKenzie says. ”Gordon’s ascendance marks the descent of Gotham, so he has to be the good guy trying to keep it together as the whole place is — very entertainingly — falling apart.” But as a great man once said: Whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger.