Gotham is one of this fall's most anticipated new TV shows: the story of Jim Gordon and Gotham City, years before Batman. We obtained what appears to be a draft of the first episode, although it could be fake or draft that will change a lot before filming. If the script is for real, then Gotham has some terrific potential — but it also may have much bigger issues than Batman being 12 years old.
Update: The script draft is dated Jan. 31, 2014 and labeled "Second Network Draft," so if it's real, it's not a particularly early draft. But that said, it's hard to judge a work in progress, and a lot can change before and during filming. With that out of the way, some spoilers ahead...
The pilot of Gotham is primarily about new detective James Gordon getting the tour of Gotham City from his new, morals-challenged partner Harvey Bullock, while they try to solve the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents (who is by all accounts is a 10 or 12 year old in the show). What at first appears to be a simple mugging turns into something much more, and you'd have to have never read a Batman comic or watched a crime procedural to not realize that corruption infests Gotham at all levels, not just on the streets.
The main problem with Gotham is that it's the most exposition-filled, perfunctory TV episode I've ever seen. Not only does Gotham want to introduce its entire cast, which it does without subtlety or any attempt at characterization, but it derails the entirety of the show, because Gordon and Bullock have to stop everywhere and introduce everybody while ostensibly trying to solve the crime. It's not the least common problem for a pilot to have, but Gotham is over-stuffed even before the script has to spend 20 minutes just spelling out the Batman-ness of it all.
And boy, does Gotham want you to know it's a Batman show, despite its lack of Batman. The show clearly has no faith in its premise, because it simply screams everything that eventually becomes a part of the Batman mythos, as if it knows people would rather be watching a show about regular Batman and his villains. It's like it's concerned that it will only be seen by people who have never seen a Batman movie or read a Batman comic before. Those people might appreciate the fact that whenever young henchman Oswald Cobblepot shows up, someone mentions "He looks like a penguin" every single time, but for everyone who even has a passing knowledge of Bat-lore, it's like being bludgeoned to death with the Bat-signal.
That's the sort of thing that can be overcome in later episodes. Gotham's second problem is Gordon and Bullock, who somehow manage to twist the rich comics characters into a standard "naïve young rookie cop partnered with jaded, disillusioned older cop who cut corners." Bullock, played by the excellent Donal Logue, reads pretty much like every cop character Logue has ever played, which means he's a bit more of a charming slacker than the gruff, bitter Bullock we know from the comics and cartoons, which is fine.
But young Jim Gordon is painfully naïve. I understand Gotham wants to contrast Gordon's idealism with the grim realities of Gotham City, but it does so at the cost of making its lead character often look like a moron. Gordon is supposed to have grown up in Gotham, and yet he's constantly boggled at every single crime that happens. Gordon does awaken somewhat to Gotham's grim realities by the end of the pilot, so hopefully later episodes will feature a more savvy Gordon, one who can navigate the treachery of Gotham's underworld and politics.
My biggest worry, though, is the dialogue. The script was written by Bruno Heller, co-creator of The Mentalist and writer of many episodes of HBO's Rome series, so he has some chops. But Heller seems to want to include a touch of '30s gangster-speak in Gotham, and it stretches the show's already thin suspension-of-disbelief way past the breaking point — unless you regularly call people "mopes," "loonybirds," "skell huggers, "sugar bunnies," or "a cool glass of milk."
Honestly, I'm still not sold on a Batman show where Batman is 12, because even if the show gets to the point where Bruce Wayne does become Batman, most of his enemies will be pushing 40. But I don't have a problem with any of Gotham's Batman-ness (other than how they shoehorn in and awkwardly introduce 'em all). Gotham's real problems are its uninspired writing, stereotypical characters, and most egregiously, its dialogue. I hate to say it, but this might be a job for 12-year-old Superman.
Want more plots details and specifics? Here's the SPOILERS section:
• Here's the proto-villains introduced in the pilot: A 14-year-old Catwoman, already cat-burglering and associating with cats; the Riddler, who is working for the GCPD as a coroner and who tries to present all pertinent case information as riddles; the Penguin, a mid-level thug, who as mentioned earlier is repeatedly referred to as looking like a penguin.
• Additionally, Gordon and Bullock enter a run-down apartment where a little girl named Ivy lives with her shitty parents and, according to the script, a lot of houseplants. Could this perhaps be Poison Ivy? Well, in the comics, Poison Ivy's real name is Pamela Isley. Is Gotham giving us a clever feint here? Probably not.
• There's also a comedian telling jokes in gangster Fish Mooney's club, jokes straight out of Reader's Digest circa 1942. Mooney laughs hysterically, and, just in case those feelings were somehow opaque to the audiences, she tells the comedian she likes him. A lot. Repeatedly.
• Major Crimes detective Renee Montoya used to date Gordon's fiancée, because LESBIANS. And for bonus points, Bullock even calls her a dyke. Fun!
• Alfred appears to have a crazy cockney accent, and I swear to god this is real dialogue from the script:
ALFRED: Oi! Master Bruce! Stop playing silly buggers! Get your bloody arse down off there!
• One more line for the road from Gordon's fiancée:
BARBARA (blithely): Jim, you are the cleverest, bravest, goodest man in Gotham.