Pilot Review: Gotham
On paper, doing a Batman show without Batman seems like the fastest way to be cancelled, but here we are just a few weeks out from the premiere of Gotham. Thanks to the kind folks at the Paley Center I was able to check out the show’s pilot ahead of its fall debut, and came away thinking they may actually make this work.
Like any Batman-story, Gotham begins with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Instead of jumping forward in Bruce’s personal journey though, the show introduces us to our two leads Ben McKenzie as rookie detective, James Gordon, and Donal Logue as his cynical partner, Harvey Bullock. From their first scene together, their chemistry is apparent and it only evolves as the episode goes on. It proves to be an interesting dynamic, though not the best on display.
The contrast between Bullock’s wary persona, who has been beat down by the Gotham system and Gordon’s idealist mentality often clash, but they are more alike than they are different, and it will be fun to watch their relationship over the course of the series.
To play off of the team of Gordon and Bullock, we’re introduced to a Major Crimes Unit team of Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya. They are presented as the noblest of Gotham’s cops, but seem to stoop lower than either Gordon or Bullock to get a leg up. The scenes with them set-up a lot of curious prospects for the future, and of course the big ending of this episode.
While Gotham’s focus seems to be on the cops, I found the most mesmerizing aspect of the show to be the criminal element. Starting with Jada Pinkett’s Fish Mooney, one of the few original characters for the show. She fits right into the criminal world of Gotham. Offering a mix of weird compassion and charm and vicious and nasty brutality. Her introduction is one of the most fun brutal moments of the show, and as the episode continues we see she values respect and loyalty above all else. I believe she will be the character to watch on the show.
Her second-in-command is Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot or “Penguin” as many are prone to calling him. Unlike his boss, his brutality is worn on his sleeve, but so is his cowardice and ambition. More than once in this episode, he begs for his life, but he is just as quickly to convert to bloodlust. His journey this episode leaves me with a lot of questions, and knowing where he ends up in the Bat-Verse it will be fun to watch his climb to the top of the criminal underworld.
Bruce and Alfred aren’t given a ton of screentime in the pilot, but I thought some of their scenes really worked. Alfred is tough but caring, and Bruce is already on his way to the journey that will eventually lead to him becoming Batman. I just hope they remain a minor part of the show, since I’m not sure how they will naturally weave them in and out of the plot.
Speaking of, while the pilot is jam-packed with DC references (in addition to The Penguin, Batman, Gordon, etc), we’re also introduced to Poison Ivy (As Ivy Peppers in this incarnation), Catwoman (who doesn’t speak at all in the pilot, and just appears at random rooftops), Edward Nygma (who enjoys telling riddles) and a comedian who could possible be The Joker. I think it’s a nice touch in the pilot as it allows the city to feel more lively, but I hope going forward that the show uses these characters a lot more sparingly. There’s only so many “He looks like a Penguin” “You’re funny” gags to be written really.
Characters are one thing, but my biggest fear with Gotham was actually the story. Gotham exists in a very troubling bubble. The stars of the show can’t be too efficient or it defeats the purpose of Batman, but they can’t be too incompetent or viewers won’t be invested in the show. To compound that issue, the show starts off with the murder of the Waynes, one of the crimes in Gotham we know is never properly resolved. Without spoiling the episode’s twists, I think the writers handle this dilemma soundly. Instead of focusing on the cops’ competency, they decided to push the corruption of Gotham. It allows for a proper conclusion to this episode while leaving a ton of room to tell stories in the future, and be true and honest to the characters and their eventual journeys.
The show is called “Gotham” so you would imagine that Gotham City would be it’s own character in the show as well, and based on the pilot it doesn’t disappoint. Visually, the special effects team were able to transform New York City into something unique for their show. Sure, it’s minor touches like the gargoyles on the rooftop and the random graffiti. The city is rough and dirty, but it has a sprinkling of life that you can see why people would want to live here.
The interiors are just as fun with Fish Mooney’s nightclub being a real standout. I hope that the GCPD Headquarters evolve over the course of the series. Right now, it just seems dimly lit. I’m just excited to explore the rest of the city.
Review 6 (out of 7) – Call it a case of lowered expectations, but I thought this pilot really knocked it out of the park. It did a great job of introducing the characters and the world, and left just enough mystery to get me to watch more episodes. All, I can really ask for in a pilot.