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'Gotham' could be savior for FOX TV network this fall

The FOX television network is coming off a season of struggling series and declining ratings. On top of that, the longtime head of entertainment, Kevin Reilly, suddenly departed the network last May, leading to speculation about the stability of FOX’s executive leadership.

For this summer’s gathering of the nation’s TV critics, Peter Rice, the Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, was asked only one question about Kevin Reilly and it had to do with the perception that he wanted the pilot season to be eliminated.

The answer was a kind of “yes and no” response. So let’s move on.

More interesting is that not one question was asked about FOX’s most promising new drama series for this fall.

That would be “Gotham,” an origin story of the great DC Comics villains and vigilantes that form the essence of “Batman,” which now has a long history of various cinematic iterations.

The only time Peter Rice even mentioned “Gotham” was to note that it will be paired with “Sleepy Hollow,” a returning sophomore series and one of the network’s few successes from last year, in a time slot on Monday nights, because as Rice observed the network has found success by “being the only dramas on Monday night.”

Advance viewing of the first episode of “Gotham” for critics was so closely guarded that the only opportunity occurred on a sunny afternoon on the Warner Brothers studio lot, following a catered lunch and a press conference or two on reality programs I have already forgotten.

As it happens, DC Comics-based programs, whether television shows or movies produced by Warner Brothers, are always cloaked in secrecy prior to public release.

There’s a strong desire to protect this intellectual property from the inevitable bootleg copies that would soon find their way to street vendors along Canal Street in New York’s Chinatown community.

Mark your calendar now for Monday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. for the series debut of the one-hour drama “Gotham,” starring Ben McKenzie (“Southland”) as the fresh-faced police detective Jim Gordon, assigned to the homicide squad in Gotham’s police department.

“Gotham” is described as an origin story because Jim Gordon is the city’s future police commissioner during the heyday of Batman’s vigilante crusade to rid the corrupt, rotting metropolis of a hodgepodge of super-villains and their thugs, henchmen and assorted criminal followers.

As a rookie, Gordon is partnered with the brash, shrewd police legend Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), a veteran detective whose methods seem unorthodox.

For one thing, Bullock has a somewhat unusual relationship with gang boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith), a ruthless underworld character.

Gordon and Bullock stumble upon the city’s highest profile case ever, the murder of local billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne.

At the scene of the crime, Gordon meets the sole survivor, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), the intense 12-year-old son of the murdered couple.

Moved by the boy’s profound loss, Gordon vows to catch the killer. What does Fish Mooney know about the heinous crime? What about her devious, scheming henchman, the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), soon to become one of the greatest villains in “Batman” lore.

We also get our first glimpse of the lurking future Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) and the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), who starts off with a respectable day job.

“Gotham” will follow Jim Gordon’s turbulent and singular rise through the Gotham City police department, but will also focus on the unlikely friendship Gordon forms with the young heir to the Wayne fortune, who is being raised by his unflappable butler, Alfred (Sean Pertwee).

Another drama of great promise is actually a ten-part mystery event series based upon a British program of a different name.

“Gracepoint,” now located in a small California seaside town, seems to mirror the British hit crime drama “Broadchurch.” David Tennant, who was on the British series, stars as detective Emmett Carver.

Resentment is in the air because Carver’s police colleague is detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn), who resents that Carver is an outsider recently hired to fill a high position in the police department.

When a young boy is found dead on an idyllic beach, a major investigation gets underway, and the death is soon deemed a homicide.

That such a horrible thing would happen in Gracepoint sparks a media frenzy, which throws the boy’s family into further turmoil and upends the lives of all of the town’s residents.

Everyone is pulled into the investigation. One of the fascinating suspects is Nick Nolte’s Jack Reinhold, a private man who runs the kayak rental service on the beach.

Then there’s the mysterious woman (Jacki Weaver) who lives in the RV park near the coast. “Gracepoint” has the potential to pull you in for every riveting episode.

FOX is heavy with drama this fall. “Red Band Society” is set in the children’s ward of a hospital and its story is narrated by a kid in coma.

This is a coming-of-age drama that follows a group of adolescent patients facing life-threatening medical challenges.

The young actors are most likely unknown to adult audiences. “Red Band Society,” which emanates from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, may be best described as “Breakfast Club” for kids stuck in a medical institution rather than detention. One of the few adult stars, Octavia Spencer is the nurse running the pediatric ward.

At least there’s one new comedy on the schedule and it’s “Mulaney,” a story that is not unlike “Seinfeld.” John Mulaney, a stand-up comic, is the show’s titular star, working and living in New York and whose pals and wacky neighbor (Elliot Gould) insert themselves into his life.

Mulaney is looking for his big break on the comedy circuit, but his life is drastically altered when self-centered comedy legend and game show host Lou Cannon (Martin Short) hires the comic as a writer.

“Mulaney” looks to be promising for the comic’s stand-up routines and the perpetual clashes with his obnoxious boss.

The wild card on the FOX schedule is “Utopia,” an experimental reality series based on a hit Dutch program.

Fifteen pioneering Americans will be moved to a remote location and forced to create a society from scratch. They’ve got limited supplies, wildly diverse backgrounds, and zero bathrooms.

This disparate group will have to build a community without any rules. So what could go wrong? Plenty, I would assume, unless they’ve got some people as wise as our Founding Fathers.

“Utopia” just may turn out to be an adult version of “Lord of the Flies,” and that just may get people to tune in.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

 

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