Gotham, Channel 5 - TV review: With production values like these who needs Batman

 

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The Independent Culture

Batman returns, Batman begins and sometimes he even rises, but Batman rarely recedes into the shadows and lets someone else have a shot at the limelight. In Channel 5's new US import Gotham, however, the pre-Batman Bruce Wayne is really only a minor character in a crime-fighting epic with a city-wide sweep.

The murder of young Bruce's wealthy socialite parents was a key event in last night's opening episode, just as it has been in almost every version of the Batman story. Here, however, it's just the opening murder mystery in an ongoing detective series.

Some reviewers in the US have suggested that a police procedural set in a superhero universe is an uncomfortable fit, but I see no problem. Ever since Batman's first appearance, in a 1939 issue of Detective Comics, the character has been defined not by any sci-fi trope or super-power (unlike Superman, he has none), but by his obsessive vigilante purpose.

Since Ben McKenzie has only just finished playing another idealistic young law enforcer in the More4 import Southland, it's also no stretch to imagine him as Commissioner Gordon's younger incarnation. He's paired with Donal Logue as cynical veteran Detective Harvey Bullock. It's a character dynamic as old as the medium of television, but did that stop these two spelling out their respective characteristics in the dialogue? It did not. "Jim you seem like a nice guy," said Harvey wearily, "but this is not a job – or a city – for nice guys."

About that city… As the title suggests, not only has the young Batman been relegated to a supporting role, but even the detectives play second fiddle to Gotham itself. We're already familiar with this mean metropolis, where the sun never rises, let alone shines, but now production designer Doug Kraner has filled out its dark corners to create a living, breathing city that you feel you could almost step inside. The deliberately indistinct period details – part 1940s LA, part 1980s New York, with a touch of 1890s London – help sidestep potentially confusing continuity issues, but are also surprisingly evocative.

If half of the fun is in spending time in the city, the other half is in matching Gotham's denizens with their supervillain alter egos. Riddle me this: who's that unusually agile teen who steals milk to feed her feline friends? Why is young Oswald Cobblepot so sensitive about his beaky nose? And what little girl would decorate her home with creeping vines?

Yet it was a brand new addition to Batman lore who charmed us most. With her broad Boston vowels and red-streaked hair, Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney is almost cool enough to get away with that ridiculous name.

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