TV Pilot Review: Gotham

Gotham – the storied City of Batman – known to us as a grim and dirty place with psychopathic villains and a caped crusader battling for the lives of its inhabitants.

It’s also the new Fox series that chronicles the origin story behind Commissioner James Gordon’s rise to prominence in Gotham City in the years before Batman’s arrival.

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In its pilot episode, Gotham tries to give us a bit of everything all at once: it combines campy characters, harsh crime drama, and not-so-subtle allusions to the Batman cannon. I was really looking forward to this pilot – the casting decisions are fantastic, and the premise is intriguing – but is it enough to merit a long-running and serious television series?

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Ben McKenzie has proven that he can play a tough street-wise cop (with his underappreciated role on the fantastic, but short-lived drama Southland, but best known as Ryan from The O.C.), and he’s an excellent choice for the young Jim Gordon; a new detective in the Gotham City Police Department – a little dour, stoic, and honest. He’s well-balanced by his crabby and underhanded partner Harvey Bullock, brought to life by veteran character actor Donal Logue (Sons of Anarchy, Grounded for Life). The interactions between the two are the best thing in the pilot, and given time, have potential to give us some great banter and clashes of conscience.

The supporting cast is bolstered by young, relative unknowns as … spoiler alert…future Batman villains. Robin Lord Taylor features heavily in the pilot episode as the young Oswald Cobblepot (aka Penguin). He’s a little weird, but brilliant fun to watch. Jada Pinkett-Smith looks fantastic, and chews up scenes as underworld crimeboss Fish Moody. There’s a theatricality to both of these over the top villains that doesn’t quite fit with the seriousness of the Gotham City Police Department and mob undertones that the overwrought plot tries to include.  The almost vaudeville baddies also exhibit a level of violence that doesn’t fit the dialogue or characters. We are introduced to Carmine Falcone (John Doman), notorious mobster, who is a realistic and intriguing character that introduces the moral complexity that should be infused in a show about a City with crooked cops and horrible crime. The spectrum of villains is almost two-faced (see what I did there…).

There’s some overacting, and a few seriously eye-roll inducing lines of dialogue – but, I can’t decide if it’s meant to be fun or serious – which is perhaps my biggest issue with the Gotham premiere – I can’t tell if I’m supposed to be taking this seriously. Stylistically, the show looks great – carrying a noir-ish vibe that’s reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series. It has the markings of so many variations of Batman and Gotham City that we’ve seen before: Christopher Nolan-esque darkness and violence with its filming style, Tim Burton-esque camp with one-liners and some serious Joel Schumacher issues with its utterly ridiculous introduction of a startling number of characters and potential villains.

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The pilot episode begins with the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, leaving the young millionaire Bruce Wayne orphaned. Jim Gordon makes him a promise – that he will find the man that murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents, and bring him to justice. We know this origin story…because it’s Batman’s origin story. Yes, we understand that this kid will one day be…spoiler alert… Batman. The wink-wink, nudge-nudge and unnecessary character introductions (along with their aliases…Edward Nygma who talks in riddles, Ivy who lives in an apartment full of plants, and Selina Kyle who crawls around like a cat and steals milk) is tiresome. The show seems to be too caught up in its Batman mythos to actually focus on Jim Gordon.

This is Jim Gordon’s origin story, not Batman’s. Will Gotham be able to survive under the shadow of Batman.

Twitter was extremely active during the airing of the premiere – with a wide spectrum of staunch supporters and hilarious hecklers. Audiences are divided – as am I!

Even with all of its misgivings, I’m intrigued. I’ll give it a few more episodes….Same Bat-Time…Same Bat-Channel.

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