For a long time Batman fan, the idea of a TV series chronicling the iconic Dark Knight’s origins along with all the classic villains we’ve come to know and love over the years was a promising one. Add to that the prospect of watching something new and Batman every week and you’ve got yourself an ostensibly clear winner.
But was Gotham worth all the hype? Is this new pilot episode a sign of great things to come or a missed opportunity?
The episode starts with a glimpse at our new, if younger, Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Camren Bicondova): an acrobatic thief with a pair of goggles and a penchant for looking at various events atop high or sort-of high structures. She steals a pink of milk from some passer-by (milk, cats: geddit?) and disappears into the night only to then witness the brutal murder of Bruce Wayne’s (a well-cast David Mazouz) parents. Though the latter scene lacks the impact it should have had seeing as we have seen it a thousand times before and there is very little build up to it, it’s still a well done enough opening. With the most traumatizing moment in Wayne’s life out of the way, finally we can get to the good stuff: what led to some depressed rich kid with a cockney butler eventually growing up to become The Batman.
We then meet Ben McKenzie, aka our new James Gordon. You know, that tough guy from The O.C. with really short hair who always frowns? Well, by some bizarre coincidence, it turns out that Gotham’s Jim Gordon is also a tough guy with really short hair who always frowns. He is paired up with Donal Logue’s dodgy cop Harvey Bullock and the plot of the Pilot involves petty criminal henchman Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) snitch on his powerful (if silly-named) boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) thereby creating some waves in the Thomas and Martha Wayne case, which looks set to become the main arc of the entire show, or the first season at least.
I’ll get straight to the point: Gotham has some notable problems.
Though this first episode includes one or two moments with potential and it’s overall an OK, rarely dull watch, it definitely suffers from a rushed pace and some stylistic and tonal clashes among other things. Because familiar faces villains-wise were promised to us big time, we get a glimpse at Catwoman, The Riddler and a tiny Poison Ivy but they’re a blink-and-you’ll miss ‘em bunch who don’t really need to be in this episode except to remind you that the show has something to do with Batman. Only Cobblepot appears to be a character with some form of depth and a perceptible goal. Robin Lord Taylor conveys The Penguin’s sliminess and violent thirst for power rather well, I should point out.
The Pilot fires in all directions, hoping that something will stick and, annoyingly, not much does. The Fish Mooney/Falcone (John Doman) plot is weaved into the Wayne family murder plot not all that convincingly through a pearl necklace and we never really get a feel for who Jim Gordon is when he’s meant to be the main character driving the series. Now, in all fairness, this is only the beginning so a lot of questions are purposely left unanswered and there’ll be plenty of time for proper character and plot development later but if the purpose of a Pilot is, indeed, to reel you in, showing you some cool stuff and leaving you wanting more, then it’s not exactly mission accomplished I’m afraid.
The performances throughout the episode either feel underdone or overdone. Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma looks like he’ll be little more than a pretty annoying source of comic relief, Pinkett Smith tries very hard to be intimidating through… oddly timed stand-up comedian auditions and foot rubs (?) but that doesn’t quite pan out, not just yet anyway, while side characters like Barbara Kean (Gordon’s wife-to-be) and a couple of other cops manage to be thoroughly uninvolving whenever they’re on screen. Even the score and the art direction are somewhat patchy as a Hans Zimmer-esque orchestral soundtrack finds itself occasionally interrupted by generic rock and pop beats and random flashing different coloured lights invade the clear sets where the action is taking place for no apparent reason.
Again, I should reiterate that this is obviously only the beginning and I’m sure that all these complaints either will be resolved or, at least, won’t stand out quite as much in future episodes. By the end of the Pilot, I was left curious to see more of Cobblepot’s origin story but, in terms of who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, it’s not exactly a “who killed Laura Palmer” (Twin Peaks) or a “who shot J.R.?” (Dallas) mystery since anyone who’s seen “Batman Begins” or read a Batman comic book knows the answer and it’s not a mind-blowing revelation at all. I’m thinking/hoping there’s more to the show than that but it’s tough to judge Gotham from a Pilot alone so I say give it a go regardless: let’s stick with it for a little while and see if more cool stuff pops up.
I’m confident it will.
All the ingredients for an awesome TV series are there. Here’s hoping the show figures out how to use them from the next episode onwards. So far so… not terrible but not great either. Inconclusive, shall we say?
I’ll likely be returning on this here website with a review of the whole first season of Gotham some time in the future but, in the meantime, you can follow my Gotham and Batman-themed rants on my new podcast “Gothamized” which you can find on iTunes, PodOmatic or retrocriticblog.blogspot.com
[SPOILER ALERT!] CHECK OUT THE TOP 10 EASTER EGGS IN THE PILOT EPISODE OF GOTHAM.