And there are things to love here. It’s visually stunning. Like… really awesome. In a comic book landscape that runs the gamut from cheesy to realistic to hyper realistic, it still manages to stand out.
And it’s (mostly) well-acted. I liked Ben McKenzie a lot in the title role. David Mazouz gives a surprisingly heartfelt performance as the young, recently-orphaned Bruce Wayne. And in his five second cameo, I absolutely adored Cory Michael Smith’s take on Edward Nygma.
Most interestingly, I loved the take by Donal Logue of Detective Harvey Bullock. Bullock, for those who haven’t watched yet, is a corrupt cop, but Logue plays him with enough contradiction and humanity that he sells the hamfisted dialogue. That being said, a lot of the humor between him and McKenzie mostly falls flat in the pilot, but given what the two men have done in the past in terms of absurd bromance I have high hopes.
But… I think Gotham might be coming down with a case of extreme prequelitis. It takes serious balls to fuck with the traditional batman mythos, which means that all our characters are stuck with where they end up in the twenty years’ in the future timeline that we’re used to. Gotham will stay a cesspool. Gordon will stay a good man fighting impossible obstacles. He’ll eventually marry Barbara. Bruce Wayne will get more and more psychotic while appearing to get more and more shallow. We know what’s going to happen.
Which means that the only tension in the piece is how it happens and how our minor character’s fare. And here is Gotham’s real problem. I didn’t get that invested in the “how” from the pilot, nor did I get a sense of why I need to watch the next episode. I know where James Gordon goes, so why should I keep watching?
The pilot REALLY struggles with establishing stakes. In a world as corrupt as this one, where Fish Mooney thinks she can murder a policeman for speaking harshly to her, it’s all too chaotic.
Which is why my absolute favorite moment in the pilot belongs to Carmine Falcone, coming onto the scene late in the game and saying, “There are rules.” For the first time, the episode seems invested in true television world building, as opposed to just name dropping characters people know from Comics and Movies.
A successful prequel deepens its source material, and Gotham has the potential to accomplish this. There are the makings of a great examination of good based within an evil system, of traditional justice in a world of vigilantism, of evil bending around the forces of good hidden within this boring pilot. But it’s going to need a lot more depth than it showed here.
– I’ve resisted the urge to write “Welcome to Gotham, bitch” anywhere in this review. I deserve a medal.
– The POV/Video Game style fight shots of James Gordon are silly and distracting, but they show a desire to make this show visually interesting that bodes well.
EPISODE 2 UPDATE
The second episode doubled down on some of my problems. I continue to find this world unwieldy, with criminals who seem to have infinite power but also surprisingly limited ambition, and heroes who’ve yet to show any real personality. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to find the increasingly corrupt cop antics occasionally amusing (as in the scene between Bullock, Gordon, and the beat cop who was busy eating donuts), but I just find them gross and not engaging. All that said, the show continues to have hints of a more interesting show bubbling around the edges – in the sheer insanity of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s performance, in the intensity of the young Bruce Wayne’s gaze, and in the strength of its source material.