Couch Grouch

TV review: New series Gotham scores with super villains

Gotham rogue's gallery: (from far left) John Doman as Carmine Falcone; Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman; Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney; Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin; and Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma
Gotham rogue's gallery: (from far left) John Doman as Carmine Falcone; Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman; Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney; Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin; and Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma, the future Riddler.PHOTO: WARNER TV
Gotham rogue's gallery: (from far left) John Doman as Carmine Falcone; Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman; Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney; Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin; and Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma
Gotham rogue's gallery: (from far left) John Doman as Carmine Falcone; Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman; Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney; Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin; and Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma, the future Riddler.PHOTO: WARNER TV

Gotham, the series about Batman before he turns masked hero, trots out the baddies before they turn bad

The best thing about Gotham - the very watchable Batman crime-drama series before Bruce Wayne, his alter ego, becomes the masked hero - is that it is not Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

That overhyped series was so stingy with its gigantic stable of super-powered characters that it featured none for a long time and disappointed a whole lot of fans, particularly me.

In Gotham, Christmas arrives early because so many gift boxes of familiar characters - mostly the Batman super villains - were opened in the opening episode that it became a fun game of Spot The Baddies. To be precise, the game is Spot The Baddies Before They Become Baddies.

This new happening series is like Gotham 90210 where the famed rogues' gallery is a burgeoning gathering of young, unformed outcasts and seriously disturbed misfits.

You will be thrilled to pick out the future Catwoman slinking on rooftops as young urchin-thief- nosy voyeur Selina "Cat" Kyle (Camren Bicondova does an amazing impression of a young Michelle Pfeiffer).

An annoying riddle-spouting police tech geek Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is destined to become the Riddler.

My personal fave is a strange little gardener girl, Ivy (Clare Foley), who hates cops (she calls them bast**ds) and will surely grow up to be the nefarious plant-controlling Poison Ivy.

The most suprising is minor hood Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), a much-bullied wannabe- gangster who is pitiful, cruel and psycho-level vicious at the same time. I never knew that the absurd Penguin could be the main villain to kick off a Batman series, but kudos to head honcho Bruno Heller, creator of The Mentalist, here for picking this up.

Viewers are reminded constantly of where those freaks come from - the murky, soul-sucking city of Gotham where propriety and splendour glitter above while crime and violence fester below.

The non-superhero holding the fort is a junior detective-not-yet-commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie from The O.C., Southland). Wayne himself is a moping, super-rich kid (Touch's David Mazouz) who has just witnessed his parents' brutal murder in a dark alley.

"I promise you, however dark and scary the world might be right now, there will be light," the cop Gordon assures the little billionaire Wayne.

Oh, and Alfred the butler (British actor Sean Pertwee), previously portrayed as a kindly old gent, now resembles a stern regimental sergeant major who barks orders at his young charge to instill some tough spine.

Gotham is closer in tone, feel and aesthetics to Tim Burton's film version - at the ground level, it's all post-industrial grime and noir; underground, crime is a lucrative industry.

If this was just a standard police procedural series, McKenzie's purposeful Gordon and his dubious partner, Harvey Bullock (Vikings' Donal Logue), are already quite fine as a dynamic, if dysfunctional, duo. But with the comic-book fiction of super- beings being somewhere there, you get a double bonus of anticipation.

And, importantly, at what point will Bruce Wayne the lad decide to spoil everybody's fun and become Batman? We may find that out in Gotham Season 3.

For another entertaining group of misfits, check out Scorpion.

If Mind Games, Monk, The Mentalist, Lie To Me and other shows about eccentric smarties were combined in one series, it could well produce the G Team at Scorpion.

That is both the Genius and Geek Team led by computer super-whiz kid, Walter O'Brien (Body Of Proof's Brit actor Elyes Gabel), who is actually based on a real person.

He leads a bunch of high-IQ, low-EQ social outcasts, including behavioural expert-profiler Toby Curtis (American Pie's Eddie Kaye Thomas), maths guru and human calculator Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham) and mechanical engineer and requisite Asian person Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong).

These brains are hired by a Homeland Security agent Cabe Gallo (Last Resort's Robert Patrick), a gruff government guy harbouring a previous beef with O'Brien, to do the rescue missions which need computer hacking and last-minute heroics.

This show is ridiculous but nevertheless fun and very easy to watch because it understands the main rule about brainiacs: Viewers, generally, do not like them if they are too smart, too smart-a**, too pushy and too grating on the ears (witness Steve Zahn in Mind Games).

I kind of like hanging out with the Scorpion folks because, besides being the world's smartest people, they also have the world's worst and most quirky idiosyncrasies such as high anxiety, gambling addiction, germ phobia and bad manners.

Two cast insertions here are totally vital and satisfying: American Idol alumus Katharine McPhee is an ordinary, nondescript actress who actually fits her role here as Paige Dineen, a single mum and non- genius who plays liaison between the geeks and the generally dumber folks around them. Patrick, tough G-man (government, not geek), ingratiates himself into the team with funny dinosaur moments.

"Before computers, people actually talk to each other," he reminds these hectic hackers.

Indeed.

stlife@sph.com.sg