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Review: Gotham 1x1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Posted on September 23, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Fox's Gotham

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Will air in October

There have been a lot of Batmans over the years. I don’t just mean actors or even characters who have become Batman in the comics. I mean that tonally, Batman has changed many times since he was first created 75 years ago. Whether it’s the comedic Adam West Batman of the 60s, the gothic, operatic Tim Burton Batman or camp Joel Schumacher Batman of the 90s, the dark, quasi-realistic Batman of the Christopher Nolan movies, the borderline psychopath of the Frank Miller comics or the back to basics action hero of Denny O’Neil, these Batmans have all had often radically different tones.

Importantly, though, they’ve all been consistent. You couldn’t have had Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Adam West TV series; Frank Miller’s Batman would have scared the living daylights out of Danny DeVito’s Penguin; and so on. Plus they all would have looked really, really stupid mish-mashing genres like that.

I mention this because Fox’s Gotham, a Batman prequel that follows the origin stories of not just a young Batman but all his enemies and allies, as newbie police detective Jim Gordon tries to clean up the city, makes the near-fatal mistake of trying to be all Batmen to all people.

At its base, we have a fine script from the always wonderful Bruno Heller (Touching Evil, Rome, The Mentalist). It feels like a Nolan script and touches base with Batman continuity points at every turn, with everyone from Alfred the butler to Poison Ivy, The Riddler, The Penguin, The Joker (maybe) and Catwoman putting in a pre-grotesque appearance. Many a Batfan’s heart will be a flutter as they spot who’s who and what’s what, I’m sure, and if you know the origin story of Batman well, you’ll appreciate how close it sticks to the comics as well as innovating in its own way - particularly nice is the way Selena Kyle keeps watch over the young Bruce Wayne, having witnessed his parents’ murder, but the Penguin is also the obvious standout character from among the various assembled Batman villains taking their first baby steps.

The cast is fine as well. We have Ben McKenzie, who was so brilliant as a cop in Southland, playing ex-soldier Jim Gordon; Sean Pertwee is a redoubtable and authentically working class English Alfred; Donal Logue (Terriers, Life, Vikings, The Knights of Prosperity) is his usual furry, Irish, working-class cop self as Gordon’s partner, the corrupt but still well intentioned Harvey Bullock; John Dorman (Borgia, The Wire) is mesmerisingly contained as crime boss Carmine Falcone; and the child cast (David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, Clare Foley as Ivy Pepper) are all very good, too. Even the more unknown supporting cast, as well as crime lady Jada Pinkett Smith, do well.

The problem is everything is working to completely different Batmans. In fact, the director, Danny Cannon, picks several - at times going for a Nolan Gothan, at times for a Burton one, dragging the set designers along with him. Just for luck, he even tries a bit of Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow, awesomely failing to pull off either.

The cast seem a little unsure, too. A lot of them think they’re in a campy Joel Schumacher Batman, while others pick and choose depending on their mood, sometimes being gamely operatic à la Burton, sometimes going for a gritty Nolan. McKenzie even growls and postures like he thinks he’s really Christian Bale’s Batman, assuming Bale had forgotten he wasn’t wearing his Batman outfit.

As for composer Graeme Revell, I’m not even sure he knows this is a Batman show, so largely plumps for generic syndicated 80s action show, right down to the ubiquitous guitar riffs that envelope pretty much every scene. If ever I’ve taken Murray Gold’s name in vain, I apologise - there are composers who are far worse and more ruinous than he, it turns out.

This is a pilot, of course, and over time, I’m sure everyone will manage to pick a style - hopefully the same one - and stick with it. Heller does well at giving us a heroic Jim Gordon who ultimately is going to fail in his quest because he’s no superhero, but who’s going to do his best for the next decade or two anyway, and it looks like he knows how to tell that story in an interesting and semi-realistic way.

However, at the moment, Gotham feels more like an homage to every Batman there’s ever been, rather than a show that knows what it is in and of itself. It’ll probably be worth tuning in for subsequent episodes, to see if it can settle down, but this isn’t the slam dunk that Fox was undoubtedly hoping for.

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Review: Murder In The First 1x1 (TNT)

Posted on June 13, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Murder In The First

In the US: Mondays, 10pm (ET/PT), TNT

TNT’s an odd network, a sort of in-between house on basic cable between regular old vanilla, commercial, network TV and the no-holds-barred, challenging world of premium cable. With no real identity of its own, it churns out shows that would largely sit very happily on any broadcast network were it not for the occasional swear word: Falling Skies, King & Maxwell, Perception, Memphis Beat, Dark Blue, Leverage, Saving Grace, Trust Me, Rizzoli & Isles, Franklin and Bash, The Closer, Major Crimes - the list goes on and assuming you hadn’t forgotten that pretty much all of those shows ever existed, you’d have been hard-pushed to remember they were on TNT and perhaps even cable. The network’s one truly good show was Southland… which it picked up from NBC then slashed its budget.

At most, you might think of TNT as 'The Crime Channel', because of the 13 shows listed above, 11 involve cops, lawyers and/or robbers, and the rest of the time, it’s broadcasting reruns of Law & Order. But you don’t. It’s just TNT. It’s just… there.

I don’t think it’s escaped TNT’s notice that it’s not very noticeable, either. It’s got an ambitious summer schedule of dramas lined up that includes spy thriller Legends, for example. But it’s starting us off gently with another crime drama, except to make it a bit more memorable, it’s gone once again to Steve Bochco, who previously gave the network Raising the Bar (make that 12 out of 14 shows).

Young people might not have heard of Steve Bochco (and let’s face it, they're probably not going to be watching TNT, since it leans towards a much older demographic, anyway), but together with Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM Enterprises, he was pretty much responsible for launching the second wave of great American television that began in the 80s. He started it off with the innovative Hill Street Blues before giving us LA Law, Doogie Howser MD, Hooperman, NYPD Blue and (oh horror) Cop Rock, which I guess was innovative, too, given it was as the name suggests, a musical drama about cops:

Possibly Bochco's greatest creative achievement, even if it wasn’t a ratings success, was the almost-theatrical Murder One. As with Hill Street Blues, Murder One was unusual for its time in having story arcs - a season-long high-profile criminal case in Murder One’s case. It was filled with a fantastic cast that included Patricia Clarkson, Mary McCormack and the magnificent Stanley Tucci and Daniel Benzali, who presided like a Renaissance Pope over his cadre of lawyers:

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that for his latest show, Murder In The First, Bochco has pitched at that older demographic who liked his previous shows. Giving Murder One a slight Law & Order twist, Murder In The First follows a criminal investigation by San Francisco police into two murders linked to a celebrity all the way through to the trial and (presumably) conviction of the killer. It also adds in a dash of Hill Street Blues, with its focus on the domestic lives and working relationships of the cops.

Starring Taye Diggs (Day Break), Kathleen Robertson (Boss), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Steven Weber (Studio 60), Nicole Ari Parker (The Deep End) and Draco Malfoy himself - Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movies - it’s not exactly what you’d call ground-breaking, but is probably going to be a passable piece of summer viewing. Well, better than everything else on TNT, anyway.

Here’s a trailer:

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Third-episode verdict: 19-2 (Bravo)

Posted on February 13, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Barrometer19-2.jpgA Barrometer rating of 1

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9e/6p, Bravo

Time to pass verdict on 19-2, Bravo Canada's English-language remake of the French Canadian show, 19-2. Canada's combined answer to Southland, it follows two cops, one a veteran, one a 'rookie' from the countryside, as they patrol the mean streets of Quebec, facing all kinds of problems, ranging from gangs to annoyed Chinese restaurant owners to superior officers and police politics to their own personal demons. 

Now, the first episode was somewhat cliched, full of situations you'll have seen before, resolved in the ways you'd expect, and with characters and dialogue no more original than that. However, since then, things have improved decidedly. While it's hard to actually like any of the characters, the show has now taken them all in reasonably original directions and fleshed them out, giving them nuance, so they no longer fit the comfortable boxes into which the first episode slotted them. The plots have also started to become more unexpected, with aspects of both the season arcs and the episodic arcs taking turns you probably couldn't see coming. In particular, the domestic violence thread in the third episode was both harrowing and challenging.

It's not an easy show to watch, not quite having the right amount of humour to make the misery of the show bearable, although by the third episode, our two colleagues have at least started to have some fun moments together, rather than constantly hating each other. There's still enough cliches bubbling under the surface to make you groan when they rise to the top (of course the tough (only) female cop turned out to be gay). The ensemble cast don't quite gel yet, either, and the dialogue doesn't exactly sparkle.

But all the same, 19-2 is a compelling show and certainly the finest cop show, if not drama, that Canada's produced in a long time. One to watch.

Rating: 1
Rob's prediction: Should run for a good long time

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