One of the buzziest shows this fall hits the airways as we explore a Gotham city before Batman hits puberty. So how does the juggernaut franchise do on the small screen?
Let’s bitch it out…
I can’t say I’m overly impressed with the pilot episode of Gotham. Perhaps I’ve simply been spoiled by the premium cable dramas over the years but I couldn’t get into the artifice that is Gotham. Everything serves as a distancing mechanism – from the over-the-top performances, hackneyed one-liners, and completely fabricated sets. I couldn’t help but feel like I had been transported back to the early 2000s when a show like this would have been wildly successful. But alas, we’re in an era that’s given us LOST, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Hannibal (to name a few)- shows that aren’t afraid to take some risks and give audiences more than enough to chew on. Gotham feels played-out and dated. It doesn’t deserve a place amongst the heavy hitter premium dramas that deliver the narrative sophistication, complex and intriguing characters and high production values that we’ve quite frankly come to expect.
Let’s start with the most obvious failing: many of the characters on Gotham are laughably one-dimensional. The biggest offender is Donal Logue as Det. Harvey Bullock. Here’s a drinking game ready to happen. From his dishevelled appearance, to the number of times he spews out some variation of “Settle down hot head!” whilst wagging his finger adamantly at the puppy dog-eyed Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), there are so many clichés at work here, I’m flabbergasted that these scenes got past first draft stage. It just feels so over-the-top that it screams desperation. Why must we see the same familiar characters going through the same familiar motions?
I get that there’s source material here that fans are heavily invested in, but Gotham presents an opportunity that’s missed. Why not give us a fresh take on it? I can’t help but refer to Hannibal, a show that also has some very iconic source material, but doesn’t shy away from altering that material in order to offer audiences some good drama. Hannibal maintains a solid foundation, but fans and newbies alike can delight in the results. Are we really supposed to tune in to Gotham week after week to see Gordon try and clean up the police department that’s in bed with the mob? I feel the yawns coming on because this is a completely unoriginal plight. Let’s not forget that we know little Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) will eventually become Batman (heck that might be the sole motivation for viewers to continue to tune in), and well – a cleaned up Gotham would leave little for our Dark Knight to rail against. So we know Gordon is going to fail before he even begins. How much is his fervent altruism going to grate as the series progresses? How many times will we see his moral compass tested, but ultimately triumph (remember, adult Batman needs an ally….)? All of this translates to zzzzs.
Not to be a complete negative nelly – there are definitely some bursts of potential here. Although it’s completely obvious that Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is destined to become The Riddler, introducing him as a police analyst is intriguing. There’s interest in seeing how the transformation will take place primarily because we know that time is required. And with time comes meaningful development. This is in stark contrast to our Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) who’s just one club to the knee away from becoming a complete psychopath. Here’s hoping Nygma will be given more of a purposeful origin story before his villainous fate manifests. I also enjoyed what little screen time we got of future Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). It could be that she had little to no dialogue, so there wasn’t a real opportunity to dislike her, but seeing her slink around the city, pickpocketing and well, cat-burgling, made sense to me. I’m not necessarily intrigued by her, but I’m not rolling my eyes at her very presence, which, by the end of this hour, is an achievement.
I also couldn’t help but swoon a little when I saw Sean Pertwee turn up as Alfred. Pertwee is one of those classic character actors that you can’t help but be drawn to, and I think he gave us just the right amount of sass to offer up a fresh take on the devoted butler. It’s also a good thing that Ben McKenzie is carrying the show, because he’s got the acting chops to potentially bring Jim Gordon into the realm of the three-dimensional. His fresh-faced optimism teeters on irritating throughout this episode (the entire scene in the butcher’s fridge is so insipid, it’s a complete throwaway), but there are moment that McKenzie redeems himself (particularly the ones he shares is Mazouz). Time will tell if he’s able to redeem Gotham single-handedly.
- I mentioned it briefly before, but I can’t tell if the look and feel of the show is intentional or just the product of budget constraints. There’s so much dry ice floating around in the background I felt like I was at a Bon Jovi concert. Not to mention, almost all of the buildings look incredibly cardboard-like (It’s very obvious that everything has been shot in a studio). The problem is that Gotham doesn’t quite embrace its look one way or another. It would have been less distracting (even interesting) had the show embraced a very clearly artificial setting, perhaps giving a shout-out to its graphic novel roots. Instead, it translates to confusion bordering on laziness.
- I’m also confused about what time period Gotham is set in. The costumes and technology (i.e. the flip phone) suggest somewhere in the early-mid 2000s – but that immediately begs the question of why. Why place the series in the recent past? For what purpose? Why not just have it take place in the present or very squarely in the past as the source material suggests? It’s another one of those head-scratching moments that is frustrating rather than intriguing.
- And the prize for one-note acting goes to Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney.
What did you think viewers? Did Gotham live up to your expectations? Do you think we’ll get a fresh take on some origin stories? What villain has you most intrigued? Do you think we’ll get some more heroes introduced throughout the series, or will it just be in the hands of Jim Gordon? How and when do you think the Joker will appear? Sound off in the comments below.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8pm EST on FOX