TV: My coverage of GOTHAM

This is a reprint of my story that was published in The Philippine Star on February 3, 2015. Here is link to the article:

Andrew Stewart-Jones
as the new character
Crispus Allen
MANILA, Philippines - In early December, this writer received an invitation to participate in an exclusive Mondo project for one of the top new shows on TV right now: Gotham. The event would take place over one weekend in New York. I said yes immediately. It would be the perfect opportunity, I told myself, to finally meet the cast of the critically-acclaimed series that tries to re-imagine the iconic city of Gotham, the early life of Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman and the story of the rise of Commissioner James Gordon. The series premiered last fall and has been consistently hailed by critics for its topnotch writing and talented ensemble cast.

For one entire weekend, this writer did almost nothing but just meet and chat with the cast of the show, talk about Gotham with other journalists that, afterwards, when I was back home, I already felt a certain familiarity with them and the characters that they play even if, I must admit, I have next to zero knowledge of the DC universe. I know Batman and Superman, that’s it!

Gotham is based upon the characters from DC Comics and is produced by Warner Bros. Television. Executive producer Bruno Heller wrote the much talked-about pilot, which was directed and executive-produced by Emmy nominee Danny Cannon (Nikita, the CSI franchise). John Stephens (Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl) serves as an executive producer on the series distributed worldwide by Warner Bros.

So, every morning for two days, I would brave the bitterly cold New York weather and cross the Queensboro Bridge from Manhattan to Queens to be at the Silvercup Studios. It wasn’t a press junket, technically. I never really learned what Mondo means but from what I observed, it’s a big production where the stars dress up in character costumes, get photographed, do on-camera interviews, chat with journalists and do a session with bloggers. It was a different sort of experience. There was a lot of waiting in between our interviews but it was fun.

On the first day, we had Sean Pertwee (Alfred Pennyworth), Zabryna Guevara (Captain Sarah Essen), Erin Richards (Barbara Kean), Cory Michael Smith (Edward Nygma/the future Riddler), Andrew Stewart-Jones (Crispus Allen), John Doman (Carmine Falcone) and the very sexy and very beautiful Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays the villainous Fish Mooney.

Gotham takes us back to when the embattled city was still fighting the criminals under the command of Detective Gordon. Bruce Wayne is still young and Batman, as we know him, is not born yet — although most of his future nemeses are already taking roots in the city. The series features familiar characters before they evolve into the standard characters fans have come to associate with the world of Batman.

Take Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler, for example. In the series, Alfred is unlike the calm man we’ve come to know but a man of action. “He will be absolutely the epitome of a gentleman, but if you mess with him, he’ll knock you out,” remarked Sean, who plays Alfred. “He also has incredible street smarts and he uses the fact that he comes from London. People don’t understand necessarily in Gotham what he’s really talking about. I don’t know how much I am allowed to say but there’s stuff you’ll start to learn about — you can tell that Alfred has issues. He has a quick fuse and he’s very violent.”

Of course, it is the relationship between Alfred and Bruce Wayne that is key to the development of the Batman myth. “We put a big flag in the sand when we started with mine and Bruce’s interpretation of their relationship,” Sean said. “People were quite shocked! The fans at Comic Con, they were like, ‘That’s not Alfred.’ And now I think people are realizing that, that was his way through it and they had this very honest relationship. In a way, it is a lot more honest than most father-son relationships, to a certain degree, you know.”

The inaugural season of Gotham will also track the turbulent and singular rise through the Gotham City police department of detective Gordon. The story will look deeper into how the unlikely friendship between Gordon and the young heir to the Wayne fortune was formed. Batman fans know that it is a friendship that will last them all of their lives.

As an extended origin story, the series is introducing several original characters from the comic books that have not been interpreted before in movies or on television. Characters like Crispus Allen, Barbara Kean, Renee Montoya and Police Captain Sarah Essen are making their debut in the series.

Andrew, who plays Crispus Allen, told this writer that he found it easier playing his part and doing his interpretation of the character as he saw him because “Allen has a strong moral compass and does believe that there is good work that can be done.”

And, unlike his fellow actors who are taking on iconic characters that have been already been portrayed by famous actors, he feels lucky to have a free rein on his character. “It was actually a lot easier for me to do what I’m doing. I think there is no predetermination or prejudgment on what you’ve seen before.”

His character was killed off in the comics but that doesn’t faze him at all. “It’s very, very interesting in the comics that he dies the way he does and then becomes the Spectre. That would be amazing if that happened. But, for now, I think everyone’s focus is on the city of Gotham and what’s going on in there because the city of Gotham is the star of the show.”

Similarly, Erin also enjoyed fleshing out the character of Barbara Kean, the woman involved with Detective Gordon in the series. “She is very intelligent and strong. She’s feisty. She knows what she wants and fights for it,” the actress said when asked to describe her character. “She’s kind of dedicated with her relationship with Jim… but she sort of falls into the arms of another person and from there, it’s all kind of downhill for her.”

Teased that Barbara might become Batgirl, Erin would only smile. “I would love to but we don’t have capes and superheroes in Gotham and that’s the point of it. I don’t think that she can become physically Batgirl but I think that she’s got a fight in her.”

One character in the series with a lot of fight in her is Fish Mooney, the fashion-conscious bad girl in the series. Gotham scored a coup when Jada decided to join the cast. She wouldn’t call it an audition, how she landed the part. “I was actually having a work session with Danny (executive producer) in regards to talking about what I saw for the character,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Man, instead of talking about it, let me just show him exactly what it is.’ We were just going to go and layout the whole of what we saw as Fish Mooney and I was like, ‘ You know what, forget all that talking, I’m just going to walk in there as Fish Mooney!’ And it worked! Because, literally, the meeting was very short.”

Fish Mooney is an original character written specifically for the series and Jada’s inspiration for her were the “grit and strategic savvy” of Griselda Blanco and the “drama of Norma Desmond” from Sunset Boulevard. (Griselda Blanco was Pablo Escobar’s mentor.)

“This world is dominated by very violent men. And so I really studied her,” Jada explained why she chose Blanco as her model. “She wasn’t the girlfriend of a kingpin, she was a queenpin, period. Those were really the two that I used to kind of create the foundation of Fish. And then, you know, people always bring it up, Eartha Kitt, (and) Eartha wasn’t even in my thought process. Maybe I am just channeling her and she’s reaching out to me from the heavens.”

Jada later revealed what she loves most about her character. “I love it! I love it! I absolutely love it!” she replied when asked if she enjoys being a femme fatale. “Yeah, I enjoy it greatly. It’s just another energy for me to explore that I’ve never had an opportunity to do before.”

“It is the first time that I’ve actually played a character that uses sex as a weapon, and I think that’s very interesting because to be honest with you… I was covering up anything that was feminine, anything that was sexual and got muscular and strong. This is the first time I was like, ‘Oh no! We are going to show some ass and we are going to walk around in some heels,” she added.

You can watch Gotham and catch Jada all sexy — and in heels — every Thursday at 9 p.m. on Warner TV in the Philippines. Warner TV is available on SkyCable Ch. 77, Destiny Cable Ch. 80 and Cignal Ch. 66.

Watch for my next story with Ben Mackenzie and David Mazouz — they play the young Detective Gordon and the young Bruce Wayne.

Raymond Lo

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