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Fox's Gotham an "origin" series with originality as well


Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie front the cast of Gotham. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 22nd at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith, Robin Lord Taylor, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz, Eric Richards, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart Jones, John Doman
Produced by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon, John Stephens

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Fox is taking a big, bold swing with Gotham. And it packs a solid first punch with this hardly comic prequel to the Batman playlist.

Premiering in tandem with with Sleepy Hollow Monday night, Gotham has a cinematic big-screen look, a vivid, well-cast ensemble of characters and some violence that’s anything but cartoonish.

The centerpiece scene, violence-wise, is the early robbery and murder of pre-teen Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha. Young Bruce (David Mazouz) screams out in horror while future Catwoman Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) by happenstance sees it all from one of her upper perches.

Future commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie from Southland), a newcomer to the force, is soon on the scene with his hardened older partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).

Gordon quickly consoles the boy, assuring him “There will be light” and promising to “find the man who did this.”

The script at times goes wanting, as when Bullock snarls, “This is not a city or a job for nice guys.” And Gordon snips back, “You’re a cynic. A slovenly, lackadaisical cynic.”

But the writing can be a kick, too, with the amoral Fish Mooney (deliciously played by Jada Pinkett Smith) sizing up Gordon for the first time by telling him, “Well, aren’t you a cool glass of milk.”

Pinkett Smith bites deeply into every scene she’s in. But one of her henchmen, future Penguin Oswald Cobblepot, is played with even more relish by Robin Lord Taylor. Whether laughing maniacally while wielding a baseball bat or cowering when his betrayal is uncovered, Taylor reduces all previous Penguins to rubber duckies. By the way, he hates being called Penguin.

The other “origin” story in play during Episode 1 is future Riddler Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who for now is on the side of justice. Gotham’s companion detective team is Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen (Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart Jones), both of whom are at odds with the sneering, easily corrupted Bullock.

Logue, whose duplicitous King Horik met a nasty demise on Season 2 of History Channel’s Vikings, has grown accustomed to playing sneering heavies. He’s also become adept at it, although it can be tough duty navigating a line such as “I haven’t been ashamed since I was 12 and my mom caught me jacking off.”

Not to overly worry, though. This is a rousing beginning, with McKenzie a sturdy presence as a knight in shining armor who’s still no Dudley Do-Right. The action scenes are crisply staged and the look is close to noir-ish, except when flip-top cell phones are used.

Head executive producer/writer Bruno Heller, in a session with TV critics this summer, called it a “mash-up” of looks and feels. “In this Gotham, it’s a kind of timeless world. It’s yesterday, it’s today and it’s tomorrow all at the same time, because that’s the world that dreams live in.”

Well, if he says so. And for now none of this is really a distraction -- just as long as no one gets on Twitter or Facebook.

Fox should be commended for making a Big 4 broadcast network series seem big, special and distinctive. There’s definitely not a lot of that going around these days. Comic book adaptations are hardly novel -- on big screen or small. But Gotham feels like a larger-than-life event. The challenge will be to build on that -- or at the very least hold steady.


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