TV Review: Gotham, “Pilot”

The Wayne Family head down that dark alley once more, as Gotham gives us Year One for James Gordon and the origins of the Penguin, in the tale of an honest cop and his corrupt partner against the world. As with most DC media productions, it has no narrative connection to any other DC production.1

Holy Bat-Easter Eggs!

Title: “Pilot”

Directed by Danny Cannon
Written by Bruno Heller

Ben McKenzie as Detective James Gordon
Donal Logue as Detective Harvey Bullock
David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne
Zabryna Guevara as Captain Sarah Essen
Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth 2
Robin Taylor as Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot
Erin Richards as Barbara Kean
Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle
Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney
Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma
John Doman as Carmine Falcone
Richard Kind as Mayor Aubrey James
Victoria Cartagena as Renee Montoya
Andrew Stewart-Jones as Crispus Allen
Daniel Stewart Sherman as Mario Pepper
Grayson McCouch as Dr. Thomas Wayne
Brette Taylor as Martha Wayne
Clare Foley as “Poison” Ivy Pepper
Polly Lee as Alice Pepper
Joseph Urban as the Butcher
Jon Beavers as some joker (but probably not the one we expect to see)

Full cast and crew information may be found at the imdb

Premise

High Points

Robin Lord Taylor’s Cobblepot steals the show, a psychopathic master criminal in the making, and Sean Pertwee manages a fresh take on Alfred Pennysworth. Camren Bicondova doesn’t have much yet to do as teen Selina Kyle, but she has a handle on the catlike posturing and movement, and she evokes sympathy even while she steals from passers-by.

The pilot introduces many Batman characters in a clever manner…

Low Point

…but it introduces too many of them. Selina Kyle witnesses the Waynes’ deaths, and her involvement with Bruce Wayne may cramp future bat-developments. In addition to young Miss Kyle, the expected cops and characters (Gorden, his future wife, young Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennysworth, Harvey Bullock, Carmine Falcone, and an already-badged Renee Montoya), and some series originals (Fish Mooney, Mario Pepper), the investigation takes us by the future Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and a red herring Joker. The pacing, like the premise, suits a limited run series but, Smallville-like, may become stretched to breaking as the show continues.

I shouldn’t continue to jump the gun here, but will we get an explanation for why the future Mrs. Gordon, art gallery curator, lives in a million-dollar apartment with an epic view? (Then again, she looks like a supermodel). And are the writers really implying she is Montoya’s ex-girlfriend? I wouldn’t object to that development so much as I could see it being badly mishandled.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Batman. Early years of a hero retold, with the supporting cast making surprise appearances. Crime-ridden city. A hitherto random pivotal incident revealed to be a part of a conspiracy. Forced edginess. Did they miss anything?

Effects: 5/6 Like the Tim Burton film, the 90s toon, and the recent videogames, this series creates a dark-mythic version of a contemporary big city. However, it doesn’t particularly copy any of its predecessors. They walk a line between stylized and real-world here, creating a recognizable world, and yet one where a comic-book hero and his grotesque villains would not feel out of place.

Acting: 5/6 In addition to certain High Points mentioned above, we have a decent starting point for James Gordon in Ben Mckenzie. Thirteen-year-old David Mazouz does well as Bruce Wayne. The other cops remain one-beat characters in this ep, and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney needs to be removed from the Gotham underworld as soon as possible.

As in Arrow, the actors must struggle with some overwrought dialogue.

Story: 4/6 The story moves along, but they force too much into too little time.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Production: 5/6

Overall: 5/6 The pilot shows potential, and I’ll watch for now.

In total, “Gotham: Pilot” receives 30/42

Notes

1. DC and Marvel’s forays into the mass media in this century have proved curiously reminiscent of their original days. Stan Lee’s Marvel inherited some characters, but the company we know started with very few people running the show, and an understanding the characters inherited a shared world with a loose set of rules and a great many shared adventures.

DC, but contrast, began as multiple subcompanies that paid little attention to each other’s characters, even when they expressly shared the same universe. Its Golden Age (and even Silver Age) saw conflicting versions of Mars and Atlantis and Olympus coexisting. When the Justice Society first met, their adventures called attention to how much each character’s reality differed from the others. Villains, in those early days, played with their appointed heroes, and rarely crossed over.

Marvel has Spider-man and the X-Men in their separate movie worlds due to licensing issues, but Marvel Studios otherwise works hard at establishing continuity between movies and television. DC, however, has little coherence, and happily launches shows and movies from the same franchise that expressly have no connection.

I’m not criticizing either approach, so much as I’m observing. Marvel has the better movies overall. DC thus far has had more success on the live-action small screen, though they’ve failed at producing a coherent universe.

2. Yes! That’s the Time Lord’s son.

11 replies on “TV Review: Gotham, “Pilot””

  1. Hitch says:

    I don’t know – WHAT it revealed to be part of a conspiracy?
    I took it to be murky and unsolvable – I think that it’s going to haunt Gordon for the run of the series. the unsolvable case that really just turns out to be a brutal and random killing.
    The whole explanation at the end of the show rang somewhat true. it doesn’t do falcone any good to have cops digging around looking for things so it’s “best” to offer up an easy answer and move on.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      I hope they go in that direction– but I think they left it uncertain. Uncertain things tend to turn into conspiracies when the show lasts, and I think they left the door open to do that if they want.

      (Expensive footwear, untraceable bullet….)

  2. Hitch says:

    my biggest complaint is Bullock.
    I’ve always seen him as “soiled but not dirty” – brutal, vicious, ignoring procedure, but basically trying to serve justice even if that means stepping on a few people’s rights to do so. you know – like batman, only from inside the system.
    That said, I haven’t read any of Gotham Central so maybe I’ve missed a lot.

    • Hitch says:

      oh – but I completely agree that they did WAY too much setup of too many characters far too quickly.
      I’m hoping it gets better…

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      That’s the most common Bullock, but they’ve also depicted him (particularly in the immediate pre-Crisis era) as an outright corrupt cop. They could easily make a change from one type of Bullock to another a story arc, and that could be interesting.

  3. Fez says:

    Watched it last night, and mostly agree with all that was said (especially that Fish Mooney needs to go. Soon.)

    A couple additional low points:
    * That head-on mounted running camera during the foot chase. Ugh, I hate those shots. It’s a TV show, not a GoPro video.
    * Not terribly impressed by the actress playing Barbara Gordon, but perhaps that’s because everyone else around her was doing better.
    * Placing your main character in “danger” in the Pilot does nothing. Nobody seriously thinks they’ll be harmed. Unless they’re going to be different and actually harm the guy, it’s pointless use that trope so soon.

    A couple extra highs:
    * The environment was fitting and not distracting. It wasn’t too stylish or too dark. It still looked like there were some random searchlights though, shining against the police station windows. Gotham (the place, not necessarily the show) seem to love those for some reason. Has that ever been explained?
    * Though the villain count was high, they all seemed to be enjoyable with the exception of Fish Mooney.
    * The good-for-now Edward Nygma seemed genuinely surprised that Gordon was willing and able to solve his riddles, though if the rest of the force treats him like Harvey does, he won’t be good for long.

    Random side Note: Forever also premiered last night and seems good so far. They are showing the second episode tonight. His approach/methods to investigating death are certainly unique. (For example, he identifies a poison by taking it himself, and when he regenerated he recognized the effects because he’d experienced that one before) Reminded me of Highlander in some ways (good ways, not bad ways yet).

  4. sjaskow says:

    Um, isn’t “Edward Nigma” the real name of the “Riddler”? The captions spelt it Nygma but I vaguely remember the Riddler being E. Nigma before he became truly bad. Admittedly, I haven’t read Batman comic since I was in high school over 30 years ago so the canon may have changed over the years.

  5. pythor says:

    My Low Point would have been all of the old characters being reused, especially with the fact that almost all of them appear to be the wrong age. Told old by far for everyone except possibly Penguin and Gordon (and Falcone, I guess). All of them should be contemporaries of Bruce, if not younger.

    Which gives me the impression that the writers don’t have enough ideas of their own to support the series. The few original characters the wrote didn’t prove otherwise, either. I’ll keep watching, but I don’t have high hopes.

  6. quantaman says:

    Gordon seemed to do fairly well but otherwise I found the style just seemed to be a bit off. The intro dialogue with the Penguin felt very forced and unnatural, and I’m not sure what the point of the Riddler and Poison Ivy cameos was other than screwing up future casting decisions.

    It may go through an Arrow-like improvement but the first episode felt very clunky to me.

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