Fox Mon., 8 p.m.
This season's debuts fall into two categories: Gotham and all the ones that aren't Gotham. This heavily anticipated Batman prequel gets the details right, with loads of Blade Runner-style future-noir atmosphere. It's the early days of the young Bruce Wayne, as he sees his parents get killed – no cape yet, but his crusade begins. However, since Wayne is 12 years old and still has a bedtime, the series focuses on Ben McKenzie as the future Commissioner Gordon, except at this point he's still a new-jack detective (not too far from the cop he played on Southland). "Fear doesn't need conquering," he tells the future Dark Knight. "Fear tells you where the edge is. Fear is a good thing."
The entire cast is an all-star team. Donal Logue is magnificently rumpled as Gordon's cynical veteran partner, giving the usual "wise up, rookie" warnings. We also get early glimpses of the Penguin and the Riddler. Carmen Bicondova plays Catwoman as a juvenile delinquent, doing a stray-cat strut through a back alley.
Gotham is poised to do for Batman what Smallville did for Superman, as boy wonder Bruce Wayne starts growing up to be the Caped Crusader. MVP: Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays crime boss Fish Mooney like a blend of Scarface and Mary J. Blige. She's terrifying right from the moment she sizes up Gordon, bats her lashes and says, "Well, aren't you a cool glass of milk." She's a villain worthy of the eventual superhero – and she's a key reason why Gotham is easily the fall's most impressive network debut.