‘Gotham’ and the ‘Smallville’ problem


It’s no surprise, but “Gotham” – the recently announced Fox series about the early, pre-Batman series of Bruce Wayne – would appear to have a “Smallville” problem.

Now, I watched “Smallville,” on and off, and enjoyed some of it. I faded during the seasons when the show seemed to revolve around Clark’s girlfriend, Lana Lang, but always enjoyed the show’s treatment of young Clark and Lex and the Kent family.

Having said that, we now know it’s not impossible to do a good TV series about a superhero on a TV budget. “Arrow,” in its second season, has brought to the small screen more comic book authenticity, more characters, more action, than “Smallville” did in its entire run.

So here’s my concern about “Gotham.” It’s utterly and completely based on the “Smallville” model.

The premise of the series is that the stories will begin with the killing of Thomas and Martha Wayne and the investigation – and police career – of Jim Gordon, who begins the series as a young cop and, presumably, ends up as the police commissioner we know.

Along the way, we’ll meet younger versions of the Penguin and other characters, including good-cop-gone-bad Harvey Bullock.

gotham bruce selina

And we’ve already seen the young actors playing Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, who will grow up to be Catwoman.

Camren Bicondova who plays Selina Kyle was pictured on her Catwoman costume on the set of the 'Gotham' Tv series in Downtown, Manhattan, New York City

The two look right for the part and look to have charisma.

But here are my fears for “Gotham”:

The stories might go nowhere. With eight or ten years to burn through before the ultimate moment when Bruce puts on the mask, will we see 19 or 20 episodes a season acting as filler before those “aha” moments like Bruce seeing a bat and realizing it has some strange role in his destiny? (I think I just wrote the first season finale’s last scene.)

The acting – particularly that of the young actors – could be awful. Remember how wooden the guy who played Aquaman was on “Smallville?” I really, really hope they vet all the players.

The foreshadowing and Easter eggs could be fun or they could be painful. How many Halloween costumes are we going to see that suggest the ultimate look of the characters? Even “Arrow” had a thudding moment in its first season with a reference to Black Canary’s fishnet stockings.

Will it compel us to care about young Bruce? The idea of prequels – curse you, George Lucas – just leaves me cold. An extended look at a character before he or she gets interesting? Sure, sign me up.

The ending might fizzle like “Smallville.” This is what I worry about the most. In its final seasons, “Smallville” was actually building to a compelling climax for Clark’s story. But the series seemed so averse to showing Clark in the Superman outfit that … well, it never really did. We got a quick shot of Clark’s face with some red and blue below his chin and a long shot of Superman flying. That’s it.

It’ll be a while before we know if “Gotham” is more like “Arrow” than “Smallville.” In the meantime, we can only hope.


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