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.