Gotham starts off well but why did they kill Lucy Lawless off so early in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? writes Russell Baillie

With his less-than-super powers but his magnificent toys, Batman always suited the ground level world of television.

Dude couldn't actually fly but that didn't matter. Just leaving the house was exciting: Like when he and Robin slid down the Batpoles into the Batcave and roared into Gotham in that Batmobile? That pretty much took us up to the first ad break. Even before we got to Zap! Pow! or, indeed, Kaboom!

Such was the much-repeated 1960s show.

Flash forward to the 90s, and as Tim Burton's movies absorbed the increasing darkness of the DC comics, Batman: The Animated Series gave the character its own stylish small screen spin-off.

Advertisement

Now, after Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy raised the bar for superhero movies comes tv show Gotham.

It's yet another origin story - of sorts.

Both Burton and Nolan already covered the reinvention of Bruce Wayne in their respective franchises. Nolan devoted almost an entire movie to it in 2005's excellent Batman Begins.

This though, centres on the pre-cape'n'cowl years and it makes Master Wayne a supporting character in his own story.

Instead, it's mainly about young Detective Jim Gordon - who as Bat-fans know will one day be Commissioner Gordon - finding himself as the only honest cop in Gotham.

Sunday night's season opener had Gordon and his dubious partner Harvey Bullock as the first investigators on the scene of the alleyway murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of young son Bruce.

That double murder is as familiar to Bat-fans as the Zapruder film.

In the usually emotionally weightless world of a television fantasy show, its rendition here gave Gotham's debut episode an affecting opening, nicely establishing the Gordon-Bruce relationship as he consoled the boy.

Advertisement

As Gordon, Ben McKenzie may not have cracked a smile during the entire debut episode. True, Gordon did perk up a little when he had a quiet night in with his well-to-do art dealer fiance Barbara whose glam-factor seemed a little out of kilter with Gordon's seeming loner of a character. But maybe that's the point.

McKenzie is well cast, bringing a Russell Crowe kind of intensity to scenes, whether he's telling young Bruce about the virtues of fear ("fear is good ... it tells you where the edge is") or suggesting at gunpoint to Oswald Cobblepot that he best not return to Gotham.

Yes, that poor Oswald is destined to become The Penguin.

We know this because as gopher to underworld diva Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) that's what he gets called.

But part of the fun of this first episode was spotting the other baby Bat-villains. We got cameos from junior versions of Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Riddler and, possibly, Joker.

Er, Fish Mooney? New one on me. But Pinkett Smith does seem to be channeling Eartha Kitt's slinky 1960s Catwoman in the role.

Tonally though, this isn't going for knowing camp. On the ol' Bat-spectrum, Gotham seems to navigating a middle-ground between Burton's neon fantasia and Nolan's dour reality and doing a pretty good job first up.

Design wise, Gotham exists in its own noir-ish time. Gordon's partner Bullock is permanently fedora-ed. There's the occasional cellphone but hardly any cars apart from generic police vehicles. The Gotham city police department hasn't seen a lick of paint since it was first drawn in the mid 20th Century. The all-too-frequent rooftop chases aren't dodging satellite dishes.

Read more:
Five superhero shows flying onto screens
TVNZ promises spring treats
Gotham star's gruesome on-set head injury

So yes it looks the part, though sound-wise its annoyingly funk-metal soundtrack does attempt to drag things into the 90s. It's enough to make you wish for a spot of na-nah-nah-nah-Batman or a revival of that tune Prince wrote for Burton.

Still, on first look Gotham's residents are already offering some intriguing prospects. Now we've got young Bruce on his way to his Bat-destiny, it seems the villain origin stories might offer something fresh and entertaining to add to all that Bat-lore.

That said, as Master Wanye, David Mazouz (last seen as the number-crunching mute genius son of Kiefer Sutherland in Touch) still created quite an impression in his few scenes.

Just hope the kid stays in the picture.

Last night, TV2's schedule went from a Batman show without Batman to an Avengers show without any Avengers: Right after Gotham came the debut of the second series of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Like half its viewership, I admit I gave up on the first season.

It was like a slightly fantastic spin on yet another American crime team show, a kind of paranormal NCIS, and its ties to all that superhero stuff couldn't make up for its own lack of storytelling or excitement.

Last night's second series debut brought us up to speed on the fall-out from S.H.I.E.L.D's infiltration by the evil Hydra, as seen in the rather good last Captain America movie.


The cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

And it got pretty exciting as the core team dealt with this week's threat, SuperPhotoShopMan, sorry Absorbing Man - a least a guy who can cut and paste the materials around him into his own body.

That wound up with Lucy Lawless as rogue Agent Isabelle Hartley lying dead, having just had her arm hacked off after getting to grips with one of those mysterious cosmic objects that Avenger-world depends upon rather too much.

But given that lead character Agent Phil Coulson has died at least once but is still in charge, she may spring back to life in future episodes. Or possibly in fan fiction ( I see Agent Hartley and Agent Coulson as the Mr and Mrs Smith of S.H.I.E.L.D myself).

Lawless's quick exit was a disappointment in a first show that was otherwise fairly exciting.

But it was still the start of chapter two in an action fantasy series that still feels hamstrung by the feeling that the real action and the really fantastic stuff is happening somewhere else.

Oh well, at least for this season Coulson and his A-team have acquired an invisible plane.

Just can't wait to see the bit where Wonder Woman goes nuts when she realises someone has taken her hangar parking-space ...