'Gotham' series premiere recap: Does the Batman backstory series work?

Nice guys always finish last, and it's especially true in Fox's new take on the Batman series, "Gotham."

Set before Bruce Wayne dons his cape and cowl, "Gotham" spares no time in setting up Jim Gordon (played by the forever-gloomy Ben McKenzie) as its hero.


The young, incorruptible Gordon is assigned to solve the grisly murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, which the writers also jumped right into showing us. The problem is that he's the only one with a badge who seems to care.

"You're a nice guy," says his cynical partner Harvey Bullock (Donald Logue). "But this isn't a job or city for a nice guy."


There are enough action-packed scenes to make any Batman fanboy/fangirl squee with delight, even if Bruce Wayne isn't the focus of the show.

The setting and costume design is steady with the somberness of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" films, but the writing wavers on the cheesy punch-lines of Joel Shumacher's drek.

Bullock is the worst offender, rattling off cop movie clichés like his gold watch depended on it. "Listen, hot shot," and "rookie mistake." Yawn. Next he'll be saying he's "too old for this stuff." Yup, us too.

The jaded cop's saving grace is his snarky retorts. "You're a slovenly, lackadaisical, cynic," Gordon sneers. "Lackadasical…mm?" Bullock replies with a "Ooh, look who's got a Word of the Day calendar!" tone.


The dialogue wasn't the pilot's only downside. The plot had little breathing room, ham-fisting nearly every recognizable villain before the half-hour mark: Catwoman, the Riddler, the Penguin, Poison Ivy.

Two words for Bruno Heller (show creator): Slow. Down! You do realize you have a whole season before resorting to the lesser-knowns, right? And there's no shame in letting characters take an episode or two to develop.

Instead, the characters blurt out their backstory the first second you see them. "You don't want to talk to Daddy," the future Poison Ivy says. "He's mean." A little subtlety is all I'm asking for.

But by far the biggest eye-roller was Barbara soon-to-be Gordon's sultry entrance. She gets all dolled up for the evening just for Gordon to say he doesn't want to go out. Yup, looks like she's just there for show, no butt-kicking.

Or maybe not. "Does [Gordon] know you…like I know you?" asks Detective Montoya. What's Barbara hiding? She seems like a bad girl turned good. How will she reconcile her dirty deeds when she's in love with the only honorable crime-fighter in Gotham? By becoming one herself.

Her future married name says it all: Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl. But in the comic books, the Dark Knight's sidekick is Gordon's daughter. That's a bit of a generation leap (a very awkward generation leap, at that), but it could be possible in this 'Batman' universe.

Ultimately, where "Gotham" prevailed was in its newest addition to the dark side: Fish Mooney. Mooney is every bit sassy as she is fearsome, and Jada Pinkett-Smith delivers the sauce with each swift blow of her bat.

"Then where's my money??" she says, drawing out each syllable before pummeling a henchman who's been stealing from her.

Mercy? What mercy? Sanity? Ha! Any hint of mental stability was gone the second she started flirting with skeezeball Harvey Bullock.

But that's what's so captivating about these twisted characters: Everybody's flawed, good and bad. That's why Mooney saw a little danger in Gordon's eye. "I wonder what you plan to do with that."

Save Gotham, of course. But not to Carmine Falcone and his thugs' style. "You can't have organized crime without law and order," Falcone warns Gordon.

Gordon's not going to change Gotham in the dramatic fashion of Caped Crusader – the police department's gadgets aren't nearly as cool. But over time we'll see him slowly chip away corruption in the police department while being a role model for Bruce so that he can save Gotham from itself.

In spite of all of 'Gothams' faults, Gordon's nice-guy nature is what makes this show promising. It might not finish first, but it certainly doesn't finish last.


BEST ONE-LINER: “Boy!! If my hair gets frizzy, you gonna be!” – Fish Mooney to Penguin saying “sorry” for letting her hair get wet. An umbrella slave boy – so that’s what I need to keep my hair from becoming a giant poof ball.

BEST COSTUME: Fish Mooney's red, silky dress with the gold collar. It gives Wonder Woman's crown and cuff combo a run for its money.

BEST 'I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE' JOKE: "[Gordon] went on a stake out." Next shot we see Gordon hanging upside down in a butcher shop.

MOST TYPECAST ACTOR (TIE!): Ben McKenzie (James Gordon), who portrayed a good cop on 'Southland,' and John Doman (Carmine Falcone), who played morally questionable Captain William Rawls on 'The Wire.' Sure, Doman isn't a civic officer in 'Gotham,' but Falcone does run the police department.

BIGGEST STALKER: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, following Bruce Wayne's every move. Girl, take up knitting – yarn keeps cats entertained for ages.

BIGGEST CREEPER: Oswald "DON'T CALL ME THAT!!" Cobblepot, aka the Penguin. Next to Fish Mooney, the Penguin is the most compelling character on 'Gotham,' played by the best actor on an already outstanding cast. If I can't fall asleep tonight, I'm blaming it on Robin Lord Taylor's leers.

FEAR FACTOR: Bruce was on top of the room fighting his fear of heights. I thought it was bats? Nice to see the writers had some restraint not forcing it in this episode.

MOST FOOLPROOF ALIBI: Scuffed up shoes.

 No sign of the Joker… yet. A friend theorized that it could be the comedian who witnessed Fish Mooney beating the Penguin. Please no. The Joker is the human embodiment of every psychoses in the DSM-5. As brutal as that scene was, there’s no way that could tip a cowering pansy into the full-blown psychopath that is the Joker. Unless, of course, Fish Mooney enlists him as one of her henchmen to replace Oswald, then shoves him into a vat of chemical waste. As much as I dislike the idea, that’s probably what’s going to happen.

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