Spoiler Alert! GOTHAM's Gordon Far Too Super to Be TV Hero
Superheroes have been a part of the television landscape almost since the medium was invented. From the days of George Reeves' Superman, to Adam West as Batman, to Hayden Panettiere on HEROES, we have always had a fascination with the idea that extraordinary people, both physically and morally, might be living amongst us.
However, as the television landscape has shifted over the last decade, so have our expectations of our heroes. Far fewer viewers are looking for the white knight in a colorful costume. Now, we expect our heroes to blur the line between black and white. Which is why I was simultaneous excited and disappointed by the series premiere of Fox's newest superhero drama, GOTHAM last week. Though the story is a prequel to that of Batman, and, thus far, has no plans to feature any "superheroes," Detective James Gordon is set up to be a "super hero" amidst the morally decaying Gotham City Police Department.
GOTHAM, which focuses on the early career of the detective who will become commissioner, opens with the infamous murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, the singular event that leads to the billionaire orphan later donning a cape and cowl to extract his high-tech brand of vigilante justice. While I am not an expert on all of the iterations of the DC Universe, as far as I know, James Gordon is nothing but the honest, upright bastion of truth and justice that he is portrayed to be in the pilot episode.
Ben McKenzie, as Gordon, utters such good guy clichés as, "There will be light," to a distraught Bruce, still on the scene of his parents' murders. However, this brand of do-gooder seems almost as passé as the "Pow" graphics used in the 60s. Nowadays, TV viewers aren't looking for superheroes, they're looking for antiheroes; Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Lorne Malvo.
Colorfully caped crusaders who fight for truth, justice, and the American way (despite their own personal moral idiosyncrasies) still fly on the big screen, as the movie theatre allows for a much wider scope, where the heroes can be part of a larger, grand epic. However, though the size of the average TV screen is continuing to increase, television, try as it might, is just not equipped to deliver the breath-taking grandeur that movies can. Instead, television's recent resurrection as an art form has thrived on the intimate and introspective; the damaged and the dangerous.
That is why I found Gordon to be only mildly compelling, based mostly on McKenzie's appeal, while I was thoroughly captivated by Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma, though he was only in a small scene, and Camren Bicondova's Selina Kyle, who never spoke while prowling around the outskirts of Gotham. It doesn't take a comic book enthusiast to know that these two will eventually become Batman's nemeses The Riddler and Catwoman. So the fact that we already know that these characters are, at best, morally ambiguous, makes them that much more fascinating.
Though 13 years ago SMALLVILLE turned into a cultural phenomenon, as millions tuned in to see a teenaged Clark Kent grow into Superman, that specific brand of "awe-shucks" naiveté just won't play on television today. While I don't expect GOTHAM's Gordon to be as hapless as Tom Welling's Clark was at times, I do expect him to fight the same good fight that we saw in the pilot; doing right when no one else will; many, many times over.
So, when I choose to visit GOTHAM, which probably won't be every week, it will be in an effort to see what makes a coroner into a Riddler, a street kid into a Catwoman, and a mob snitch into a Penguin.
You've read what I think; what about you? Does Detective Gordon have what it takes to be a TV super hero? Have your say in the comments below, or let me know on Twitter @BWWMatt. Also, don't forget to follow @BWWTVWorld on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for all of the latest TV news, reviews, and recaps.
Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio | Fox