The first major network comic book series is here, but is it any good? Take a trip down a dark alley with James Gordon and find out!
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Of all of the fall TV shows based on comics, Gotham stands out as the most high profile. For one, it’s aiming to mimic the look of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and the pop culture sites are heavily hyping it. Plus, it’s based around the world of friggin’ Batman, one of the most popular fictional characters of all time.
For those of you who don’t know, Gotham focuses around James Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) arrival in Gotham City, and will serve as a new take on the origins of the Dark Knight and his numerous enemies. Now, as someone who has been enthralled with the Dark Knight for 22 years, I was cautiously optimistic about this series when it was first announced. I’ve always been of the mindset that many of Batman’s enemies emerged because of Bruce Wayne’s decision to put on a costume and fight crime. Sure, not all of them have to appear after Batman arrives in Gotham, but some (especially The Joker), simply can’t exist without the Batman being there before them. However, I like to think that I’m pretty open minded when it comes to comic book adaptations, especially when it comes to Batman, a character who thrives on reinterpretation. But I was also worried that this would become Bruce Wayne’s Smallville, a show that started off very strong but ended up doing a lot of Superman stuff without having Superman in it. So, how does the pilot stack up?
Well, it’s okay.
Let me start off with this: Gotham gives you what you want right away. Instead of saving the Wayne murder for the end of the episode, it happens in the first ten minutes. While it’s not that much of a stretch (the first episode’s case revolves around the Wayne murder after all), it did bring up something that immediately made my brain go “wait…what?”
Selina Kyle( Cameron Bicondova) witnesses the Wayne’s murder. She’s running around on rooftops, stealing food and milk for her cat when she looks down into an alley and witnesses the moment that Bruce Wayne dies and the Dark Knight is born. Now to me, this is really weird, and definitely makes it so Kyle can pin point exactly who the Batman is when the two eventually become Catwoman and Batman (or give a reason for the two to become an item in later seasons of the show). While I suppose it’s not too bad, it definitely brings up some weird questions, mainly why have her witness this murder in the first place?
Anyways, this opening scene, despite having Selina Kyle in the spectator seats, is actually pretty well done, and I especially like the way young Bruce (played by David Mazouz) reacts to his parents’ being killed right in front of him, and how the killer walks right by him. His scream after realizing what’s happened to his parents is downright chilling, and gave me goose bumps.
We’re then introduced to our two leads, James Gordon and Harvey Bullock, played by the phenomenal Donal Logue. Now as good as Logue is as Bullock, his dialogue, especially in the first half of the pilot, is really, really bad. He’s the exposition giver, and it really shows. However, he gives it his best. When he and Gordon arrive at the scene of the Wayne murders, however, another thing went off in my nerd brain that made me almost lose my mind: the beat cop who arrived on the scene doesn’t know who the Waynes are. In fact, Bullock has to tell him who the murder victims are.
Now I get that this is being used as exposition, but come on. A cop in Gotham City has no idea who the Waynes are? Or didn’t think to look at the bodies and say, “that might be the Waynes”? This moment, and another where Bullock tells Gordon his credentials were what made the Captain make him keep Gordon as a partner, is an example of some pretty sloppy exposition work on the writer’s part.
Anyways, Gordon and Bullock’s investigation brings them to some pretty seedy corners of Gotham, which introduce Gordon (and the audience) to some of Gotham’s more sinister citizens. Chief amongst these colorful characters is Fish Mooney (Jaeda Pinkett Smith), a local crime boss who’s assistant is Oswald Cobblepot , otherwise known as The Penguin. Surprisingly, these scenes were some of my favorite in the episode. I found myself really enjoying Smith’s crime boss way more than I thought I would, and seeing a young Cobblepot as a lowly underling was really interesting.
Seeing as how I’ve spoiled a lot of this pilot, I’ll save you from anymore. But I will say that if you’ve seeked out and watched every trailer and commercial you could fid for Gotham, you might be better off waiting to start watching this series until next week. There were maybe 2 or 3 scenes that weren’t featured in some capacity in the commercials for this series, and much like last year’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it really hurts the pilot. Many scenes in this episode don’t have nearly as big of an impact as they should because we’ve seen them a billion times in TV ads for the past 3 months.
Not only that, but this pilot episode is packed with plot. There’s the Wayne murder and investigation, meeting Fish Mooney and her connections to Carmine Falcone, the introduction of 3 protoBatvillains, and Cobblepot’s fall as Mooney’s right hand man. That’s an awful lot to cram into one 45-minute episode, and it makes me wonder what’s left for the season. This pilot seemed like it couldn’t get out of it’s own way, throwing Edward Nygma (as the GCPD Forensics tech) at you in a pretty weird scene, instead of saving him for a future episode where it might make more sense to have him in it. I get that a pilot episode has to sell you on the series, but man, some restraint wouldn’t have killed the producers for this pilot.
There’s also some weird logistics behind Gotham, which mainly comes from putting so much focus on the Wayne murder. If Gordon has talked with Bruce Wayne so much, how does he not realize that Bruce Wayne is Batman in the future? Granted, this is a new take on the Batman mythos, and it’s always been implied that Gordon knows who Batman is and chooses not to do anything about it, but putting so much emphasis on the Wayne murder up front kinda starts to ruin the whole secret identity thing that will become so important for Bruce later in life.
Despite my reaction to the beginning, I did start to like the pilot a lot more after the 15-minute mark. David Mazouz is really good as a young Bruce Wayne, especially in the later scenes where he’s talking with Gordon. He does a really great job conveying a child who’s lost everything, and the way he delivers this performance is extremely effective. Donal Logue is also very good as Bullock after a shaky start early in the episode, but that’s probably more with the writers turning him into Mr. Exposition than Logue’s acting. Robin Taylor also does a great job as Cobblepot, and it’ll be really interesting to watch him rise to power throughout this season.
Right now, Gotham has a lot of potential. It could be really great, or it could be a huge mess. Judging from the pilot, it could go either way. I can say that this is probably going to be a series where the less you know about the mythology of Batman, the more you will probably enjoy it. I know a lot of my problems with it are really because of how big of a Batman fan I am. Right now, it’s worth a watch, and if the show runners can find a way to work in all of the Batman mythos without ruining the core concept of Batman, it might be something special.
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