The inexplicable 'Gotham'

I’ll check it out with an open mind when it premieres, but at the moment I honestly cannot see the appeal of “Gotham,” the upcoming Batman prequel series on Fox:

It might provide an opportunity for some good film-noir storytelling about crime, corruption, and that one honest cop who rages against the darkness, with the twist being that it’s Gotham City, the one honest cop is a young Jim Gordon, and the thug he vows to track down has no idea what he unleashed upon the underworld when he gunned down Thomas and Martha Wayne.  

But that little twist is what seems to doom this project from the start.  It’s got a built-in self-destruct mechanism, as the audience taps its foot and waits for the far more interesting, operatic saga they’ll never get to see.  There have been excellent stories told about the early days of Batman, but in this case Bruce Wayne is a little kid; we’re not going to see anything but the vaguest hints of where he’ll end up.  We’ll get only cutesy little inside-joke nods at the great and terrible shadow that will soon fall across the criminals of Gotham.  And we know Jim Gordon’s quest for justice is doomed from the start, because Gotham is worse than ever when the grown Bruce Wayne starts thinking way outside the law-enforcement box.  

It could still be a good story even with that air of inescapable fatalism hanging over it – that’s not hurting “Bates Motel,” a rare example of a prequel that (usually) works.  But it works, in part, because Norman Bates’ youth turns out to be plenty creepy even before he starts barging into showers with a knife, and we don’t know exactly when the hammer will come down on the fairly large number of people in his orbit.  The show can begin telling the story we all know is coming, in a way “Gotham” cannot.  

If “Agents of SHIELD” was (until it got much better recently) a humdrum spy show that occasionally name-dropped superheroes, “Gotham” is going to be a cop show that name-drops people who will become super-villains someday.  (On that point, this series trailer goes furthest off the rails when it starts introducing those future enemies of Batman… all of whom are apparently twenty or thirty years older than he is, except for Catwoman.  Batman’s going to clean up Gotham City by beating the hell out of oddly-dressed senior citizens?)

“Smallville” worked because it was, for the most part, an interesting enough supernatural adventure in its own right, made more enjoyable by the occasional reminders of where we all knew Clark Kent was headed.  (I always thought that show hit its roughest patches when those reminders became too ham-fisted, and it should have ended when the scene shifted away from the titular Kansas town.)  If that’s what “Gotham” had in mind with Batman, it could have been fun, but from this trailer it mostly looks frustrating.