TV Review: Gotham (Pilot)
This is a repost of our SDCC 2014 review.
FOX had an uphill battle the moment they announced that they would be making a Batman TV series. Sure, GOTHAM is billed as a look at the city and the origins of the characters who would become The Dark Knight and his rogue's gallery of villains, but even with the focus squarely on a young James Gordon, GOTHAM is and will forever be "a Batman TV show". That is unless it sets itself apart by delivering a powerful and must see pilot.
The first episode of GOTHAM was screened at San Diego Comic Con and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the show to give you our two cents. Does GOTHAM deliver on the promise of a unique and gritty look at the beginnings for Gordon, Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward Nygma, and countless other familiar DC Comic characters? The short answer is no.
GOTHAM opens up where a lot of Batman stories begin: the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The shooting of Bruce's parents occurs in an alley following the family attending a show, much like it always does. Nothing is truly visually unique about the scene. Hell, it even features the cliche shot of Martha's pearls cascading to the asphalt. The one twist here is the entire event is witnessed by a young Selina Kyle, therefore forging an early connecting between Bruce and the future Catwoman.
All of this would be fine if it didn't feel so damn forced. Selina begins the pilot as a pickpocket and even steals a container of milk. When we meet Edward Nygma a few minutes later, there are at least three references to riddles made. When Oswald Cobblepot is showing taking glee in beating down an associate, his thug buddies blatantly refer to him as "Penguin" in a mocking manner. Even the future Poison Ivy is shown as a child, named Ivy, playing with an ivy plant. I get that this show is trying to bring together all of these elements but none of it feels organic or natural. It almost feels as if the writers wanted to see if they could rearrange these characters like puzzle pieces for a unique take but were paranoid we may miss the joke and had to force in a name check for Riddler, Catwoman, and Penguin. The only character who feels even a bit organic is Fish Mooney, an original creation for the series. Maybe it is because we have no reference point for her (aside from a reference to her working with Carmine Falcone), but not forcing a connection between an existing character and one on the screen allows us to fall into the story a bit more.
As for our heroes, Ben McKenzie plays Jim Gordon as a cop and former war hero (and son of a famous Gotham district attorney) who fights for what is good. His introduction comes in the form of a hostage stand-off involving a conveniently placed bottle of aspirin and a calm voice. This quickly follows a beat-down for the criminal and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) giving an early lesson in Gotham's brutality. Logue is always enjoyable on screen, but his character, like the entire pilot, feels very by the numbers and cliche. He has a drinking problem and connections to Fish Mooney and doesn't like the chivalrous Gordon.
Young Bruce (David Mazouz) is played as more of a placeholder character here and not one of any true development. Going back to the original idea that this is not a Batman show, the producers have given the future Dark Knight short shrift and play him as a meek and weak boy in the wake of the death of his parents. Even Sean Pertwee as Alfred feels like a cardboard cutout of what a great character he could and should be. The relationship between Gordon and Bruce Wayne is key to the series, that much is evident in this first chapter. Gordon feels the burden to bring justice for the murder of Bruce's parents and when the heroic solving of the case turns out to be bogus, Gordon begins his quest to set things right in Gotham City.
GOTHAM feels forced in every conceivable way. Some sub-plots and elements come across as completely out of nowhere like the lesbian relationship between Barbara Gordon and Renee Montoya. While Montoya was portrayed as a lesbian in the pages of DC Comics, the relationship between her and Barbara feels like a cheap bookmark for a future episode. I will admit that I think the casting of all the characters here fits in posters and the trailer for the series, once you watch the entire episode, something just doesn't gel. Maybe it is the cast, maybe it is the script, or maybe it is Gotham City itself.
For a city as iconic and brooding as Gotham, you would expect the setting to be a character itself. But, for the majority of the episode, aside from a well shot rooftop sequence, GOTHAM feels like it was filmed on backlots and sets rather than in an actual metropolis. While Tim Burton's BATMAN felt like it was shot in artifical locations, the distinct set design forgave that flaw. Christopher Nolan's trilogy took advantage of filming in Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh to provide a realistic urban landscape. GOTHAM just feels small and, unfortunately, cheap.
GOTHAM has set itself on a path with some interesting plot threads: was Jim Gordon's father in bed with Carmine Falcone and his mob? Will Fish Mooney take over the organized crime operation in Gotham? Will Oswald Cobblepot be revealed as the man who killed Bruce Wayne's parents? Is the stand-up comedian in Fish Mooney's club the future Joker? What will become of Bruce and Gordon's friendship? All of these questions will likely be addressed through the season but if a pilot is meant to draw you in, GOTHAM falls just short.
While it is by no means the worst pilot I have ever seen, Batman fans are going to rip GOTHAM to shreds. If you think plot holes in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES were bad, you have seen nothing yet. This feels like a show that should have aired twenty years ago but instead feels like a cheap network ploy to copy the popularity of The CW's ARROW. As a fan of the characters, I will tune in to see how GOTHAM develops, but based on this episode I cannot see the show lasting long enough to make it worthwhile.