Thanks in large part to Christopher Nolan and his brilliant Batman movie trilogy, those conspiring within the DC Universe have been inspired to carry it into television over the last couple of years. Although one can make a case that it was indeed Smallville that started the live-action comic book TV craze about a decade ago, we’ve certainly graduated to a much higher standard with series like Arrow, the upcoming Flash show, and now Gotham. Helmed by Rome’s Bruno Heller, the supposed prequel to the Dark knight’s beginnings is introduced to the viewer as a crime drama with serialized elements inviting a much-welcomed exploration of the Caped Crusader’s world and character catalog before the hero’s inception.
But still, for as vast and remarkable the superhero’s comic book history is, it has to lend to the nature of Gotham’s tone and setting in order for it to take off; those too familiar with the comics will expect Heller and crew to at least branch away from it enough for the series to become its own. I say this because, in all honesty, the series premiere left me wanting in this regard, and ultimately didn’t deliever completely because it relied too heavily on shoving its Rogue’s Gallery down our throats over simply presenting an unique and coherent story on which to build on.
The episode begins by thrusting us right into the night when Bruce Wayne’s mom and pop were shot and killed, and young Bruce’s life was changed forever. With vengeance on his mind and fear billowing in his guts, the one thing he seeks more than anything is justice; the closure of witnessing his parents’ murderer arrested and locked away. Enter Benjamin McKenzie’s James Gordan, Gotham’s fresh new detective with a war history and a slightly gruff demeanor. He promises Bruce that he’ll seek justice for the shooting and find the man behind it, but little does he know of the endeavor that would follow. Much of that involves the teaming up with detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue,) who, for better or worse, has a way with the organized crimelords controlling the city. Right off the bat, we get a bit of an intense contrast between Gordan and Bullock, with the former’s willingness to abide by the law countering the latter’s eagerness to cloud its boundaries. Suffice to say, we don’t see them get along much here. However, the potential for a strong rapport is shown in short bursts.
Their moral back and forth sends them into a spiraling into a mob-infused conundrum when Bullock seeks the help of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney, a well-established club owner with a sharp connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone (played by “The Wire” alumni John Doman.) Her lead helps the duo bust the “supposed” Waynes killer, but it’s only very shortly after that the smoke is cleared and the conspiracy behind the arrest begins to build…
At this point of the pilot — right around the middle half of the episode — we are already introduced to a medley of different characters and potential future baddies: Selina Kyle (Catwoman,) Oswalt Cobblepot (Penguin,) and Edward E. Nygma (Riddler) to name a few. Even Pinkett Smith’s Fish is culled from the comic books and given meaningful screentime in the pilot. With so many moving pieces already woven into the story, it’s a daunting task for anyone to pick favorites or criticize the rest. But like I said before, Gotham kind of force feeds us with these characters. Nygma’s appearance is too brief and far too on the nose. Selina Kyle seems to be just there and isn’t given a proper involvement to the proceedings. Although I do like the decision to immediately weird out Robin Lord Taylor’s Cobblepot considering he handles the character’s mannerisms and behaviors adequately, there’s absolutely no need for anyone to have to hear other people call him “Penguin” every other scene; we get it already. Fish Mooney, on the other hand, is brought forth far better than anyone one player on the chess board. You wanna talk about a significant female presence in a mostly male-led crime show? Look no further. Pinkett Smith nails the script like she was born into it, demonstrating the ability to go zero-to-sixty without an over-exaggeration of either hospitality or enmity. There’s one scene in particular (the one with the neat Joker reference) with her and Cobblepot that really stole the show for me and defined her stamp on this series. I truly look forward to seeing more of Fish, and hopefully her role in this story arc is at least as large for the rest of the season as it is in the pilot.
Let’s not forget everyone else! Detectives Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Allen (Crispus Allen,) who are provided with quite the tip from an unlikely source and seem to be the foil to Gordon and Bullock. Their place in the proceedings is interesting, and I have a feeling they’re going to be dark horses for what happens later on. Sadly, I can’t exactly say the same for young Bruce and butler Alfred Pennyworth. The problem with them has less to do with the characters themselves and more with how the show handles their screentime. Despite the beginning of the episode focusing squarely on the murder of his parents, we only see Bruce a couple more times throughout, and we never get the feeling that the funeral or the detectives’ brief visit to the Wayne Manor holds any real weight. I left the end of the episode assuming that it was merely a setup to bring Gordan and Bullock to the spotlight, instead of perhaps revealing Bruce as a significant supporting figure. I’m not even sure how Gotham is gonna handle Alfred and his relationship with Bruce because we barely get a chance to assess him as well. Again, it’s these parts of the pilot that need more substance, along with a better draw for those who we’ll be seeing more of in the coming weeks.
Despite everything I’ve discussed, this still is McKenzie and Logue’s show. Detective Gordon is all business; one scene proves this when he stirs up trouble with the mob by stepping up to Mooney’s front door to pick a fight. His loyalty to his job is admirable, and the level of honesty and intensity McKenzie pumps into his character is constantly present. Still, that may not always be a good thing. There are times in the pilot when he comes on too strong, nearly portraying the Caped Crusader himself. McKenzie also seems to one-note a few moments in the episode, almost giving some viewers the impression that he feels he must be bitter about everything police-related. Hopefully the writers tone down his disposition a bit, considering the James Gordon I’ve grown up with was never this contentious. In stark contrast, Logue’s multi-purpose performance as Bullock makes the character come to life, consistently shifting from lackadaisical with a subtle sense of humor to subjectively corrupt and compliant. Remember, he toes the line between what is right and wrong, yet it’s all under the notion that he’s injected his own methods of seeking justice. Yes, Bullock still wants to catch the bad guys, but not everyone will agree with how he aims to achieve his goals. At any rate, Logue reveals this complexity with the character with ease, without compromising the character’s appeal.
I could talk about a lot of things with Gotham I shoved to the side, like Falcone’s marginal appearance, Gordon’s wife, Barbara, and how the pilot played out story-wise. But then again, we are only one episode into a season that may or may not cover a vast majority of story arcs, so it’s best not to delve too deep. The way I see it, this is a series premiere rich in structural depth and extensive in the roots it wishes to plant for what’s ahead, so to find too much fault in its immediate shortcomings would be premature. However, that still doesn’t grant impunity to the fact that the pilot episode is one ways well-acted and built up and another ways disjointed and forced. The foundation here is great, but the pieces that surround it are far from coherent. At times Gotham tries so hard to cram every possible Rogue’s Gallery alumni into its 49-minute run time that we don’t get the chance to see enough of the characters or developments that carry more significance. Other times it withdraws the opportunity to separate itself from comic book lore and settles for cheap references and cameos. All else in between, it’s awesome stuff, especially when the big boys are in center stage. To sum it all up, Gotham is off to a decent start; it just needs to focus a bit more on the main story arcs and the central characters, take a few more liberties, and let everything else take its course. I’d be lying if I said the pilot alone was reason for the rest of us to panic.
+Strong performances from McKenzie, Logue, and Pinkett Smith
+Opens the world of Gotham up to a lot of possibilities
+Last 5 minutes of the episode really get the engines running for the main story arc
-Way, way, way, way, way too many characters thrown in at once
-Way, way, way, way, way too many cheap references
-Waynes’ murder not given enough emotional weight
-Bruce and Alfred underdeveloped