EDITORIAL: 7 things that a Batman TV series could do better than the movies
By Kevin Rusley
Originally posted to Examiner.com, January 6, 2013
A couple years ago (wow, where does the time go?), I touched on a rumor that WB was considering a move to the small screen for the caped crusader after Christopher Nolan closed the book on his Dark Knight trilogy. Now the official word seems to be that Batman will next appear in 2015's impending Justice League movie, setting the stage for a solo relaunch movie in 2016.
Even before the release of The Dark Knight Rises, rumors have come and gone that directors like Rian Johnson (Looper) and Duncan Jones (Source Code) were being considered to helm the reboot, that Armie Hammer and Jake Gyllanhaal were high on Warner Bros. list to take over as Bruce Wayne, or even that Joseph Gordon-Levitt might don the cowl in Justice League (that one's been pretty much debunked).
But in all that time I have only grown more enamored to the idea of seeing the Batman mythos unfold in a TV series format. Here are a few reasons why I sincerely believe that another movie would pale in comparison to a well-crafted weekly series in primetime.
DARK KNIGHT DETECTIVE
While they can't fill every episode with big-budget action, they can always fall back on a solid crime procedural format with occasional bursts of superhero violence. Batman doesn't have to save the city from a doomsday machine every week. If you don't believe me, take another look at "Batman: The Animated Series" and count the number of episodes where the Batmobile plays a prominent role in the story. It's probably not as many as you think.
The films, even the smartly-written Nolan films, didn't leave much time for sifting clues and solving mysteries, and when they did the detective work was often laughable (is it just me, or does Nolan like to do weird stuff with fingerprints?) so there's a lot of room for improvement. There could be a recurring subplot where Bruce uses his Matches Malone alias from the comics to sniff around Gotham's underworld in ways that Batman can't. As long as they can fill the hours with smartly-written, twist-filled mysteries and a few bone-crunching fight scenes, like "Person of Interest" or "Nikita", they're good to go. By the same token it would be fun to see the various characters of the Gotham Police put their detective skills to the test rather than getting shown up by Batman all the time. Which brings us to...
Gotham City has a diverse stable of personalities to rival "Game of Thrones", and a variety of characters means the super villains don't have to menace the same damsel-in-distress every week. While the series should focus on a few regulars like Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, recurring players like Slam Bradley, Renee Montoya, Leslie Thompkins, and of course Vicki Vale could help populate Gotham society and add some variety to the mythos. Some of them could even get whole episodes devoted to them, like the animated series classic "A Bullet for Bullock". And let's not forget the Falcone crime family and other mobsters vying for power over Gotham's underworld throughout the first season before the freaks like Joker and Scarecrow begin asserting themselves. If they were playing it safe, they could make an entire series focusing on the GCPD, structured like a traditional police drama with Batman in the background (Ed Brubaker's fantastic comic series Gotham Central was just that. Then again, so was that "Powers" pilot that still hasn't been picked up).
Catwoman isn't just another rogue like Penguin or Riddler. And Selina Kyle isn't a disposable love interest like Vicki Vale or Julie Madison. She's often regarded as the love of Batman's life, and the one he can never truly end up with. Catwoman has sustained her own comic title for decades. She certainly doesn't need a spin-off show to explore her onscreen potential. Unlike the movies, it would make sense for her to be a series regular. She'd be the Damon Salvatore of the show; snarky, charismatic, and too unpredictable to qualify herself as a hero or a villain.
The TAS version of the character got stuck with a lot of crappy episodes. Most of the time she could only get involved if the plot had something to do with cats. This could be because the romance and the character's inherent sexuality had to be downplayed for a cartoon aimed at children. Instead, give her a compelling story arc all to herself, the kind of stuff viewers will be eager to check in on every week.
While Batman has his mission to stamp out crime, Selina Kyle has her own agenda that includes settling some vendettas with the Falcones and other crime figures, causing her to butt heads with the caped crusader on multiple occasions. Watching these two trying to outfox one another would be like watching a pair of master spies go at it. Their relationship has the potential for a grand twisted love story for the ages. Really play up the idea that they're kindred souls whose attraction is only intensified because they are at odds. And yet, if they hung up their masks to live a normal life together, they would be giving up the very thing that makes them so interesting to one another.
TWO-FACE, KINGPIN OF CRIME
Even though the central plot of TDK was Harvey Dent's fall from grace, a series format could allow for a much more expansive storyline, especially if Harvey Dent is a series regular from the start. Basically give him what Anakin Skywalker should've had in the Star Wars prequels, starting out unquestionably as one of the good guys before a precipitous descent into becoming the big boss of evil and the primary antagonist. Many writers and fans like to fixate on the coin tossing or the split personality or the obsession with the number 2, and while there's plenty of mileage there to plumb his psychology, I'm more interested in how devastating it would be for a man as intelligent, connected, and driven as Harvey Dent to suddenly become the ultimate nemesis; not just another disposable rogue with a gimmick, but the new main villain who's able to consolidate power over the mob for his own ends and drive the main action of the series for at least a full season.
THE EVOLUTION OF ROBIN
The origin of the world's most famous sidekick doesn't fit neatly into the blockbuster 3-act structure at all. If Robin were to appear in the film reboot, they'd be better off just skipping all of that to a seasoned Robin that's already established rather than fleshing out his origin over multiple films, because that's what it would take to do it justice. But on a series, they could play his development out over many episodes in B-story territory while Batman continues handling the case-of-the-week.
In my experience, many fans would prefer to just jump straight to Nightwing since that's the "cool part", and it would largely bypass Batman's kid-sidekick phase so he can stay a loner. But I would love to see an updated version of Dick Grayson's first act that many versions of the story (even the animated series) prefer to glance over. While he doesn't have to be a little kid on film or on TV (15 or 16 would be the perfect age), he should definitely bring a youthful wit and perspective to the proceedings. They can do whatever is necessary to update his circus performer backstory and give him a proper costume, but they should keep his skills; an olympic-level acrobat since birth with a keen mind for strategy. Then they can establish from the ground level why his and Batman's partnership is mutually beneficial and that Dick, despite is age, is a born crimefighter. Focusing on his training creates a great opportunity for a powerful emotional journey that echoes Bruce in a lot of ways, which would give the writers the chance to delve into Batman's training while he's passing that knowledge on to Robin.
THE MR. FREEZE MOVIE
This one's a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. The argument for Mr. Freeze appearing on film comes down to three words: "Heart of Ice", the Paul Dini-penned episode from TAS that breathed new life into what was previously a stock cold-themed villain and turned him into a tragic figure with a shocking backstory. While necessary special effects would make it one of the pricier episodes of the season, it could really raise the bar for what the show is capable of by taking the basic villain-with-a-vendetta concept from "Heart of Ice" and expanding it into an epic two-parter, adding more mystery and weightier dramatic twists. This approach could be applied to a lot of major villains, but I feel that Freeze would benefit from it more than anyone else, because what are the chances we might get a film with Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist anytime soon?
BIGGER AND SMALLER STORIES
The best action/adventure TV shows like "Fringe" and "Doctor Who" manage to strike the right balance between the smaller, more intimate weekly adventures and the larger overarching storyline. It's a lot harder to pull off that balance for a film series, where you usually have to pick one approach or the other. The Burton/Schumacher films were largely self-contained and separate, while Nolan's Batman had a clear trilogy story with heavy continuity of character. A primetime show would be the perfect forum to do both, and we wouldn't have to wait years for the next installment.
Seasons could be separated in-universe by months or even years, like "24" often did to expand its tight chronology. If most of the show is crime procedural, they can space out those philosophical discussions that were the bread and butter of the Nolan films. There could be more and more multi-part stories as the series progresses. And hey, if the show goes on long enough, they could eventually drop the episodic status quo altogether and dedicate an entire season to "No Man's Land", the epic comics crossover that partly inspired the plot of Rises, where a devastated Gotham City is cut off from the outside world and its remaining inhabitants engaged in a city-wide turf war.
And what should they call it? "Batman: Gotham City"? "Batman: Streets of Gotham"? I'd be cool with just "Batman". It's been a long time since anything was simply called "Batman".