“Gotham stands on a knife’s edge” — Carmine Falcone
It’s one of 2014’s most-anticipated new series. The world is superhero crazy right now and it was only time before DC dipped back into the Batman well to base a live-action tv series on their most-successful property.
Gotham doesn’t actually take the usual tack and bring in Batman himself as it’s main character. The show uses one of Batman’s most important allies as the focal point of the show. Jim Gordon has always been one of Batman’s staunchest friends throughout every story ever told about the Dark Knight. This show looks to explore Jim Gordon’s early years as part of the Gotham City Police Department. We still get to see Bruce Wayne as a child and his character and who he will become still loom large over the pilot and, I suspect, the series in general.
The pilot episode was written by the show’s executive producer Bruno Heller and it’s actually too paint-by-the-numbers. It literally tries to introduce as many of the Batman rogues gallery in it’s less-than-an-hour running time. We get a quick intro to not just the Riddler and the Joker, but we also get the early beginnings of the Penguin, Catwoman and Poison Ivy. Don’t even get me started on Batman’s more traditional adversaries in Fish Mooney and Carmine Falcone.
It’s difficult to judge a series on it’s pilot episode since the show is still trying to find it’s identity. We saw this with last year’s other comic book series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and how it took literally 2/3’s of it’s first season to finally find it’s stable footing before it could even figure out what show it wanted to be. Gotham may just have an easier time to find its way in the superhero entertainment landscape since DC has confirmed that the series will not tie-in with it’s cinematic universe the way Marvel did with it’s own series. This should give Bruno Heller and his writers a much more free hand in molding the show into what they want. Yet, there’s a danger in that freedom in that too much of a drastic deviation from the Batman source will rile up the character’s rabid fanbase.
The first episode does arrive with some very good performances from it’s leads. Ben McKenzie as Det. Jim Gordon commands the stage whenever he’s on the screen. He’s able to convey not just the man of integrity we know Jim Gordon to be, but also inject a bit of a darkness to the character that we rarely saw in the films and cartoons, but comic book fans are very well aware of. McKenzie’s Jim Gordon definitely a bit more rougher around the edges but still idealistic than the Gary Oldman take on Jim Gordon who was more seasoned, but also more cynical about the best way to combat crime in Gotham.
Donal Logue as his veteran partner Harvey Bullock does a good job in becoming the bridge for the audience between the principled Gordon and the more corrupt, underbelly of law and order that is Gotham. We’re not sure if he’s a corrupt cop or just one who has learned how to navigate the dangerous waters of the criminal underworld as one of Gotham’s protectors. Time will tell if this version of Harvey Bullock becomes more of the Batman Begins analogue Arnold Flass or the cynical, but loyal cop of the cartoons.
Now, a show about Batman’s hometown wouldn’t be able to call itself by that city’s name if I didn’t mention the rogues gallery that will end becoming Batman’s (and to an extent, Jim Gordon) reason for being. We don’t see colorful costumes or even the recognizable look of Batman’s villains in this pilot episode, but as stated earlier they do try to cram as many of them in this series premiere as they could. It’s almost like a convoy designed to remind audiences that the show will explore not just Jim Gordon’s early days before Batman rises from the shadows, but also the time of the villains before he arrives.
Of all the bad guys the show tries to push at the audience in this pilot it’s Fish Mooney as portrayed by Jada Pinkett Smith that stands out most. Her crimelord brings a certain amount of flair to the episode that hints at the over-the-top villainy that will come about once Bruce is all grown up and takes up the mantle of the bat. There’s hints of a past relationship between her and Logue’s Bullock that could turn out to be interesting. Robin Lord Taylor as a young Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin is ok, but something in his performance looks like someone trying too hard to bring out in this series the Penguin’s quirky mannerisms that the character looks to be the most cartoony of all introduced in the episode.
Gotham had a good and interesting introductory episode that laid enough stones on the series’ foundation as it moves forward. With only 16 episodes instead of the usual 24 most full-length tv series get Bruno Heller and the show’s writers has less time to create this version of the Gotham and Batman world we’ve come to expect. Will they manage to inject some new blood into a world that’s been adapted and reimagined through decades of comics, tv and film work or will the series just try to appease the hardcore comic book fanbase thus alienating the wider general audience.
We shall see and future review installments will tell if this site buys into the series with wholeheartedly or end up getting off the ride before it’s over.