Christopher Nolan’s reign of shadowed superhero aesthetics has mercifully come to an end. What goes down must come back up, as they say, it’s implied. “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” were beautifully done, introducing something fresh to the style of big-screen comic book adaptation, but eventually everything fresh rots. ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ Nolan’s conclusion to his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, pushed the limits of grim (sure, you said you enjoyed it at the midnight premiere, but do you genuinely have any desire to watch it again?). It appears we’re on an upward trend once again, with comic book adaptations looking a bit brighter and featuring the dreaded fun. Of course, we never want to tumble into Joel Schumacher territory again unless parodying, so contemporary adapters are focusing their attention on blending the much-loved realism with fun. And I am so on board.
One of this fall’s most talked-about television series is Fox’s ‘Gotham.’ The story takes place during Bruce Wayne’s childhood years, starting with the tragic death of his parents during a mugging. But the series is not about Batman’s childhood, much. While there are some nice scenes with young Bruce and Alfred, the series largely centers on Jim Gordon, good cop of Gotham. Gordon is played by baby-faced Ben McKenzie of ‘The O.C.” and “Southland” fame, who seems to have some deep-seated aversion to showing any signs of joy. The villains, on the other hand, have a ball; Jada Pinkett Smith in particular is delightful as the smooth-talking, vicious underground crime goddess Fish Mooney. We also get to see young versions of Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy. More will come; I am positive I’m not alone in my excitement about meeting a young Mr. J.
If you’re a fan of the Emmy-Award-winning “Batman: The Animated Series” from the 1990s, which you absolutely should be, you’ll enjoy “Gotham” with a vague sense of nostalgic giddiness. “Gotham” is dark yet glinting, offering the sort of exaggerated characters one would find in a cartoon series Ñ not one-note by any means, but distinct in their mannerisms beyond any recognizable reality. The amount of villains might feel suffocating at first, but if you ride with it and let the show’s energy do its thing, there’s enjoyment to be had. I like to compare “Gotham” to one of my personal favorite episodes of the animated series, titled “Almost Got ‘Im.” The episode centers around a poker game in which Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc share tales of how they almost took out the Caped Crusader. It’s endlessly entertaining. There’s nothing better than watching a troupe of familiar villains interact; ‘Gotham’ gets that. No pretenses, just pure, unadulterated fun.
Picture Tim Burton’s Gotham but a bit less silly, now think of Chris Nolan’s Gotham but remove the tired staunch realism. There you have “Gotham.” Tightrope walking like that can be tricky. Thus far only five episodes have aired, so obviously problems are present. Certain lines of hammy, awkward dialogue crop up more frequently than they should, the show couldn’t transition between scenes to save its life and there is a noticeable lack of consistency with episode quality. I found the most recent episode, “Viper,” for example, to be much tighter than the third, “The Balloonman,” but not as well-constructed as its immediate predecessor, “Arkham.” But first halves of premiere seasons are rarely flawless, and for a show this unique and enjoyable, I’m more than willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. With its newly acquired six episodes Ñ the first season episode order recently increased from 16 to 22 Ñ “Gotham” has time to settle into something great.
Tune in to Fox on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. if you’re at all intrigued; previously-aired episodes can be found on Hulu and iTunes.