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Everything We Learned from Fox’s 22-Minute ‘Gotham’ Preview

They’re definitely playing hide-the-Joker, they’re gunning for realism, and Jim Gordon’s going to fill the Bat-Signal-shaped hole in the premise.

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What better way to prepare for a new TV show than watching an episode-length preview for that exact show? In “The Legend Reborn,” we get a few visuals and a lot of spoken-word hype about Gotham, the hour-long Fox drama that’s got a 16-episode order and a September 22 premiere. The series stars Ben McKenzie (Southland, The O.C.) as a young James Gordon trying to solve the Wayne family murder case. The only place you’ll see Batman is in the eyes of young Bruce Wayne, already working on his pathos face. Here are the takeaways from the featurette:

Gordon seems to be filling that Bat-Signal-shaped hole in the premise.

McKenzie does the Dark Knight’s/Michael Keaton’s trademark throat-grab, and he distinctly growls his lines in multiple spots. He appears to be completely game for the role, though — and for extending the mythology of “one of the iconic figures in … comic-book law enforcement.” Ah. While true, that is a humorous identifier.

They’re definitely doing something sneaky with the Joker’s identity.

If you’ve been tracking Gotham, you heard a rumor that the powers that be are going to play hide-the-Joker for the entire first season, presenting various fellows who could wind up becoming Batman’s archnemesis. This preview confirms that. McKenzie, rattling off the villains we’ll become familiar with, gets coy and noncommittal when it comes to the Joker. DC COO Geoff Johns says, “We might meet a character who we think is the nicest character in the world and they turn out to be the worst villain in all of Gotham City.” He tries suggesting the inverse right after, but it feels like a tossed-off red herring.

Bruce Wayne looks pretty good, and he might be a major character.

A decent amount of the preview is spent discussing how interesting everyone finds the slightly aged-up preteen Bruce. The actor, now-13-year-old David Mazouz, seems strong. “The cool thing about the show,” according to Mazouz, “is it’s all the psychology that goes on behind Bruce Wayne’s mind to become this awesome character, to become this vigilante that fights crime for Gotham.” Mazouz is clearly being saddled with those dark Bat-vibes, but he could offer an intriguing portrayal.

Gotham is probably overselling itself in the originality department.

“We’ve never really seen where the Penguin comes from, or why he does what he does, or the Riddler, or even Catwoman.” That quote’s from Johns, who I assume, considering his top-ranking role at DC Comics, has read lots of comic books and perhaps even seen movies like Batman Returns and Batman Forever and Catwoman and The Dark Knight Rises, where all those allegedly missing origin stories appear, at length?

The Penguin might be the biggest villain.

Other than Ben McKenzie, Robin Taylor — who seems great — is the actor we see the most in “The Legend Reborn.” This could just mean he’s one of the first villains to be introduced, since it’s impossible to tell if this preview pulls exclusively from the pilot or also from other episodes in the series. But everything’s pointing toward the Penguin being a big deal.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney may not be long for the series.

The newly created character is being positioned as a serious power on the come-up, and also as a key nemesis for Jim Gordon. Between that and the way Smith talks (and laughs, and laughs) about the series and her character, I’m getting the feeling she might be a one-and-done season player. We’ll see, though. She did do Hawthorne on TNT for three years.

It’s going to be a busy show.

Conflicts identified in the preview: mob family versus mob family; Fish Mooney versus cops; Gotham PD major crimes unit versus Gotham PD homicide unit. “There’s tension kind of all across the city, and between every character that’s involved,” Johns says.

The visual effects will be light, and maybe awesome.

Gotham’s calling on film noir, Blade Runner, 1970s New York, and the works of Sidney Lumet and William Friedkin. The show spent 10 weeks building a gigantic two-story police precinct set. And it’s all filmed in New York, with very light CGI.

These guys are all on the Christopher Nolan tip.

Jim Gordon has returned to Gotham after spending some time away (at war), like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. The music has Hans Zimmer’s fingerprints all over it. And realism is the order du jour.

About that realism …

“What the show looks at is why a town like that will eventually need a vigilante to help them,” says director/executive producer Danny Cannon. “What makes a town so crazy, what makes a town so out of control that villains begin to wear costumes?” Good question, and certainly an interesting one to try answering, if it’s handled well. It seems like the villain-heavy show will spend a decent amount of time not only mapping out origin stories, but also attempting to humanize typically cartoonish characters. “I think Robin Lord Taylor’s portrayal of Penguin is going to be a real revelation to people,” McKenzie says. “Because what he’s doing is not just playing sort of a villainous, evil mastermind, but he’s sort of sympathetic; he’s sort of likable.”

The modern-day setting will feel anachronistic at times.

Like when Bruce Wayne and his parents are in the alley after the opera, and Bruce calls the show “kinda lame” and his dad calls it “totally lame.” Or when Gordon steps out of a ’70s New York cop car while texting on an iPhone.

The dialogue won’t be perfect.

This preview, while 22 minutes, is essentially a sizzle reel and a bunch of talking-head spots. So if we’re seeing snippets — exemplary snippets — of the show in which people say things like, “This is very perilous stuff you’re messing with” and “There will be chaos! Rivers of blood in the streets!” then we don’t need to waste time expecting pristine Mad Men dialogue. Oh, and so many clunky mentions of Jim Gordon as “the most honest man I’ve ever met,” etc., etc.

And this is the first live-action portrayal of Detective Harvey Bullock.

He’s been a recurring comic-book character since 1974, and he’s got a 3,000-word Wikipedia entry. Donal Logue (Grounded for Life, Vikings) seems like a solid fit and a great foil for Gordon. He’s also the final piece of the puzzle that reveals Gotham, like Sleepy Hollow, Hannibal, and Under the Dome, to be an almost preordained page-to-screen network TV success. Logue deserves the win, too — it’s been four years since FX killed Terriers after a single season, but it still hurts like it happened yesterday.