Amid High Expectations, ‘Gotham’ Cast Hopes to Deliver
LOS ANGELES — It was a warm day in July when the cast of Fox’s Batman prequel Gotham spread across the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel for a round of interviews for a show that the public is still two months away from seeing.
At the moment, Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith are a few interviews into what will be a long day, but, thanks to the journalists who’ve already sat in front of them, they’ve already been made privy to a popular opinion: Gotham could be huge.
That could be a lot of pressure, especially for two men whose careers are very much in their infancy. (Smith comes from the stage world and Taylor’s most Googleable credit is his bit part in AMC’s The Walking Dead.) But both Smith and Taylor aren’t fazed by the expectations set in being one of the most anticipated shows of the fall season.
“Everyone keeps saying that today,” says Smith. “It’s not that I’m not aware of it — maybe I’m in denial and I’m going to live in this state. I feel really calm; I feel really confident.”
He has no reason not to.
Fox’s ‘Gotham,’ starring (from left) Robin Lord Taylor and Ben McKenzie, is among one of the most anticipated shows of the new fall season.
Image: Jessica Miglio/FOX
The show, set roughly 20 years before Batman would become a word, follows Detective Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) fight to stay true of heart in a city that has seemingly lost its own — a classic hero’s tale at a time when the good guys are making a comeback. (See CW’s Arrow, ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Netflix’s forthcoming Daredevil.) And Gordon is anchored by a host of villains that are as beloved as they are respected. Taylor plays Oswald Cobblepot, or The Penguin, who has a few key scenes with Det. Gordon in the pilot that will propel the series and change the nature of his relationship with partner Det. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). And Smith brings to life Edward Nygma, aka the Riddler, in a brief pilot appearance that will turn into a larger role in episodes to come.
If anything, says Taylor, the anxiety came in the time between filming the pilot in March and the cast’s first episode back. “Once we got back to shooting, I felt like, ‘We got this.'”
Behind the scenes and not, everyone’s certainly hoping that’s true.
In the time since first announcing their intension to take a slice of the comic book-comes-to-TV pie, Fox has not skimped on promotion for the show. They splashed walls of San Diego with the faces of their heroes and villains during Comic-Con 2014, produced tie-in websites, and seemingly not worried much about tempering expectations for those who might tune in for a show about Batman, only to realize it’s a show about Gotham.
Detectives Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) investigate a murder scene in the first episode of ‘Gotham.’
McKenzie, meanwhile, is hoping to make that distinction clear.
“It’s pretty strange to describe it as a superhero show because I hear superhero and I think, ‘super hero’ — a hero that has super human powers. And none of these people do,” he says. “This is very much grounded; it’s a crime show. It’s a crime show with a mythology built in.”
Logue, whose most recent of many solid TV gigs was an arc on Law & Order: SVU, is banking on that mythology serves their story well. “The reason [Batman] lasted so long, 75 years, was that there’s such this provenance; the mythological structure of this world obviously resonates with people and you don’t have to worry about structuring a world that peters out after a year,” he says.
Yeah, limited series TV, this is not. And they have no shame in that — even in a time when 10-12 episodes is cable’s recommended serving size. It’s a show that belongs on a broadcast network, says McKenzie.
“One thing [a broadcast] network can do is spectacle, and there’s an aspect of this show that is spectacle driven. We need a big budget and the ability to cast Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney — major star power to drive home that this is a three-ring circus. We’re not coming in like a monkey on a bike,” he says, laughing.
Det. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) shows his intense side during a visit to an associate in the first episode of ‘Gotham.’
To Logue, who is somewhat of a staple on FX for his work on the critically loved one-season wonder Terriers and Sons of Anarchy, part of the project’s draw was the scale and scope. “Look, it’s nice to do meaningful work that resonates with sometimes a smaller group of people who are heavily invested — like Southland or Terriers, for example,” he says. “It’s also fun to be in a band that’s like ‘We just played Rio and 200,000 people came.’ We want to reach a really broad, awesome audience with this. And I think our best chance is with [broadcast] network television.”
Creator Bruno Heller has taken one lesson from the cable counterparts, however, he says: the art of the slow burn. “People like something that lives longer and really speaks to them and really takes its time to speak to them and doesn’t rush them,” he says. “I feel very lucky that we’re doing a network show that’s going to have great patience.”
But will the audience? Heller hopes so, especially when it comes to paying off appearances from young villains like Camren Bicondova’s Selina Kyle and Clare Foley’s Ivy Pepper, both of whom appear in the first episode.
“It’s very much about a saga and how it plays out over time, so it’s important not to throw all the Easter Eggs into one basket and sell the basket before the eggs are hatched,” he says.
Gotham premieres Monday on FOX. Will you be watching?