Gotham: “Pilot” Season 1 Episode 1 Review

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Gotham opens on a rooftop, with the young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) staring off into her city’s skyline before she slinks down to the streets like an already seasoned Catwoman to pickpocket a few random pedestrians. Considering what this “before the cape and cowl” series promises to be, this seems like a misleading scene to lead with.

If you’ve seen any Batman movie, whether by Nolan, Burton, or, yes, even Schumacher, you know the rooftops of Gotham City are a popular playground for DC’s most exciting superhero.

Rooftops are significant when talking about this new FOX series because the characters, at least in their current state, hardly know Gotham as a very high city. That is to say, the rooftops aren’t that useful yet because the grounded pre-villains have no need to go up there.

So to tease the potential of Gotham rooftops in this opening scene feels like a cheat. If Gotham sticks to its proposed plan throughout its entire run, Selina Kyle will be the only person really using them.

But, for that brief moment when Selina looks down on the streets before descending down like a confident and powerful player in this city, Gotham feels truly inspired by the Batman mythos on which it is based. The same can’t be said for rest of the pilot, which feels like a hard-boiled crime drama but is also occasionally quite silly. The noir feel has always meshed well with Batman stories, but I’m not sure the folks behind Gotham have decided if they want this series to be a noir crime drama or a comic booky Batman prequel.

We meet James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he and his partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), investigate the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. They are eventually led to Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), a newly conceived character and crime boss that works for Carmine Falcone, the man who essentially runs Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Working for Mooney is Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), the man that will eventually become the Penguin.

There’s some action and deception that leads to suspect Mario Pepper, father of Ivy Pepper, the future Poison Ivy (the fanboy in me is very angry about the name change), being killed in a pursuit. But Oswald knows that Pepper was framed, clueing in the cops and getting everyone in a great deal of trouble. He’s clearly got a long way to go before becoming the respected gentleman of crime that is the Penguin.

The climax of the episode does certainly separate Gotham from your standard police procedural. Putting Gordon in a position where his hand is being forced by criminals and making him find a way around that problem was very exciting. He must remain the good cop as Gotham City inevitably descends into madness. For that, the pilot has a strong character arc, one that McKenzie sells surprisingly well.

But there are still lots of reasons to be concerned. Gotham seems to be cramming in every character it can to satisfy the fans when the pilot seems to indicate that it only really has room for Gordon, Penguin, and Catwoman.

What we do see of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is problematic. The scene depicting his parents’ murder lacks all subtlety. Thus far, where Bruce is after their death doesn’t make much sense. He’s angry, of course, but it’s hardly sold. If the show is going to continue showing us Bruce, his characterization needs to be sharpened. It doesn’t help that this show’s version of Alfred (Sean Pertwee) is cold and distant.

As for the villains, the pilot shoehorns in Poison Ivy and the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), who currently works for the GCPD, and expects us to get giddy when they are seen near a plant or say the word “riddle”. Then there’s that stand-up comedian. Look, Joker doesn’t exist without Batman. End of story. He is a force, not a character to develop. I can say with confidence if he ever shows up in full (unless maybe as Red Hood), I will immediately stop watching.

Then there’s Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Gordon’s fiancee. Richards is just plain awful. The character is already annoying. It seems like there’s going to be a subplot about her past. I’m already dreading sitting through it.

With so many threads, Gotham can go in a lot of directions. Is it problematic that the writers seem to have found the most inspiration in writing for Fish Mooney, a character they created? Probably, but for now I’m interested in what role she’ll play in Oswald’s transformation, as well as the inevitable crime war between her and Falcone.

But not too many of the other threads seem all that interesting. I hope no one is involved in the murder in the Waynes aside from Joe Chill, who is supposed to embody the danger of even petty criminals in Gotham. I hope Barbara’s subplot is resolved quickly. I hope villains are introduced more carefully in the future (the pilot sets a precedence that we could see a lot more cold puns when Mr. Freeze inevitably shows up).

Gotham isn’t good, but it isn’t bad either. It has potential, but needs to figure itself out before it crumbles under its own weight. If successful, it could become the show Batman fans deserve. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty


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