The Batman story has been told over and over again; so Gotham – premiering hours after the US on M-Net's Express from the US on Tuesday (23 September) at 1am and on prime time on September 30 at 8.30pm – decided to remove the caped crusader from this town's tale.
The show focuses instead on the city that created Batman as seen through the eyes of young cop on the beat James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Executive producer John Stephens calls the show a "crime opera", more serialised Mafia drama than superhero tale.
"I would say 75 percent of the episodes will have a procedural story," said Stephens. "But that will always be balanced by the serialised crime drama we'll be telling."
He cited Frank Miller's Batman, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, and Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central as points of reference for the show. "It's a world that feels real, but heightened."
The pilot has a lot of the elements of a traditional "taking down the Mafia" story: Gung-ho newbie Gordon learns how to navigate the muddy waters of corruption with the help of his veteran partner Harvey Bullock, played with grizzled and biting wit by Donal Logue. Logue's Bullock walks the line between crime and the law with a welcome grace, setting the show's voice.
The arrogant swagger of Gotham's major crimes unit (Victoria Cartagena and Andrew Stewart-Jones) contrasts nicely with the tough but fair approach of Captain Essen (Zabryna Guevara).
On the other side of the blue line, Jada Pinkett Smith as a Mafia boss casts a violent counterpoint to her rival, the ominous, yet dignified head of the Falcone mob family played by John Doman.
The pilot's real MVP, however, is Robin Lord Taylor as a pre-Penguin Oswald Cobblepot. It's a slightly unhinged portrayal that resonates with the story's comic book origins without betraying the show's realism.
"He's a strange actor, God bless him, Robin. He's a genius," said director and executive producer Danny Cannon. "He turns something slightly odd into something very real."
The producers saw a lot of people for that role, "but Robin's take was fascinating. We wanted to learn more. We had a take on it, but he brought a take that we found ourselves drawn to".
The city itself, as the name implies, is the show's real star. It's a timeless Gotham, with elements of the late 1970s to early '80s New York of Mean Streets as well as the neon grittiness of Blade Runner.
The show's creator, Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist), said: "It's a mash-up of different time periods; it's everybody's memory of 20 years ago. Even if you're 25 years old, you should get a sense that it's not ancient history, it's not tomorrow, and it's not today. It's a dream world."
One of the perceived weak points of the show is the young teen element. Many long-time comic fans fear some version of a high school romance between Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Selina Kyle (newcomer Carmen Bicondova).
As Gotham's first episode goes, those fears are unfounded. By the end of the hour, we see Bruce Wayne already forming the inner resolve that will become his legacy.
SPOILER ALERT: In the last scene, Gordon comes to apologise to Wayne. He thought he had fulfilled his promise to catch the killer of Bruce's parents, only to find he had caught the wrong man.
Gordon is torn between the desire to do right by the law – reveal the deception, thus ending his career – and the desire to do right by this young boy by covering up the crime and delving deeper into Gotham's corruption to find the true culprit.
The power young Mazouz wields in those last moments is astonishing, more than holding his own against the grown-up actors.
"What he has is intense focus and internal strength," said Heller. "To find someone that young who has all the instincts of an intense actor is such a gift, because it means you can tell real stories, which you can't often do." – YahooTV
PIC: Robin Lord Taylor, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cory Michael Smith, Clare Foley, Donal Logue, Ben McKenzie, Camren Bicondova, David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee.
Picture: Fox Broadcasting Co