Journalists attending the TV critics press tour on Wednesday got a look at the Batman origin series, "Gotham," and the final verdict is that it mostly lives up to all the buzz.
That should come as great news to Fox, a struggling network in desperate need of a hit. "Gotham" delivers a fun, dark, moody and well-paced first hour that puts juicy story lines into motion and gives us glimpses -- albeit tantalizingly brief ones -- into the formative years of colorful criminals-to-be such as Catwoman and the Penguin. All in all, I have more confidence in this show going forward than I did in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" at this time last year
I was sucked in by the atmospheric look of "Gotham," set in a sprawling city that production designers have made just the right amount of grimy. (Of course, it looked way cool up on the big screen at the Warner Bros. lot). Ben McKenzie as intense rookie cop James Gordon has a commanding presence, and Donal Logue as his veteran, jaded partner Harvey Bullock, brings his usual rumpled charisma to the screen.
But stealing the pilot is Jada Pinkett Smith, who gobbles up scenery as Fish Moony, a fierce, sneering gang boss who wears black leather and decorates her hair with red streaks. With swagger to spare, Moony isn't afraid to mix it up with the bad boys and she's an absolute blast to watch.
I don't want to spoil anything (and we'll have a full review closer to the Sept. 22 premiere date), but it's not giving too much away to say that "Gotham" revs into action with the horrific murders of billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne. It's at the crime scene that Gordon meets a 12-year-old Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) for the first time and promises to track down his parents' killers.
"No matter how dark and scary the world is right now, there will be light," he assures the boy, with whom he feels an instant kinship. Cue the gun fights and chase scenes.
"Gotham" is the story of Gordon, the man who will eventually become commissioner. At this point, he's a callow -- but tough-minded -- former war hero with "a little danger" in his eyes and is just learning to navigate the multiple layers of corruption that suffocate the city. The Wayne double murder is an ultra-high profile case and there are hints of a cover-up at work.
With no superhero to build plots around, the success or failure of "Gotham" might largely hinge on how well it is able to differentiate itself from a pedestrian police series on a week-to-week basis. Of course, no other police procedural can rely on villains as wildly out-there as the Riddler and the Joker, but it remains to be seen if the actors playing those roless will be able to capture our imagination and hold our attention in this setting.
For now, all we know is that the city of Gotham is perilously poised "on a knife edge." And come September, I predict viewers will be on the edge of their seats.