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GOTHAM Review: “Pilot”

When I first heard about Gotham, Fox’s new show chronicling the downfall of Bruce Wayne’s beloved city in the years before the orphaned billionaire becomes the Dark Knight, funnyman Patton Oswalt leaped into my mind. Most fans of the comedian are familiar with his “At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas with a Shovel” (from his 2007 Werewolves and Lollipops album), in which he eviscerates the Star Wars prequels, culminating with a primal scream of “I don’t give a shit where the stuff I love comes from! I just love the stuff I love!” It’s a reaction shared by anyone who’s suffered through an unsatisfying backstory – from the 2011 The Thing to Peter Jackson’s overstuffed Hobbit adaptation. And it’s a reaction fans like me, still burned by ten long years of Smallville culminating in the the faintest glimpse of Clark Kent’s alter ego, might have to the latest DC TV series.

It’s a perfectly logical reaction. But, as I realized upon watching Gotham‘s pilot, it’s by no means a necessary one.

What creator Bruno Heller (of Rome and The Mentalist fame) – aided by executive producers Danny Cannon and John Stephens – has wrought is in fact two stories: the oft-told tale of the young Bruce Wayne (played by David Mazouz) and that of James Gordon (Southland star Ben McKenzie), here an idealistic police detective new to the city. Mazouz is fine in the pilot, as is Sean Pertwee as the show’s Alfred Pennyworth (here recalling the gruff, no-nonsense manservant of the Batman: Earth One graphic novel), though the two are given little to do thus far except react to the Waynes’ untimely deaths. It’s McKenzie who impresses most as Gotham‘s central protagonist. Reminiscent, in both attitude and appearance, of the damaged Russell Crowe of L.A. Confidential, his eyes forever signaling the weariness of upholding justice in a city where corruption climbs as high as the skyscrapers and dirigibles.

McKenzie’s backed by a strong cast, including Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock (the cop on the take with whom Gordon finds himself partnered), Jada Pinkett Smith as crime boss Fish Mooney (a new character introduced in Gotham), The Wire‘s John Doman as gangland lord Carmine Falcone, the stunning Sara Richards as Gordon’s fiance Barbara Kean, Victoria Cartagena as major crimes unit detective Renee Montoya (who’s also Barbara’s former lover), and, best of all, Robin Lord Taylor as the deranged Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin.

The show’s sixteen-episode first season will, we’ve been told by the producers, examine the Penguin’s rise to power after he’s cast out of Gotham by Gordon and marked for death by Mooney and Falcone. In Taylor’s performance – which conjures memories of the twitchy young Peter Lorre of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca – Gotham finds just the right tone of fear and anxiety, wedged firmly between the gangster films of the 1930s and the film noir of the 1940s (the best examples of both, it’s worth noting, were produced by DC’s parent company Warner Brothers). Ably abetted by a desaturated palette that makes Gotham the handsomest and most downright cinematic-looking of this fall’s crop of comic-book-inspired shows, that tone is strong enough to make me wish Gotham wasn’t so beholden to Bruce Wayne and the other tween characters, like Camren Bicondova’s Catwoman-to-be Selina Kyle and Clare Foley’s nascent Poison Ivy, Ivy Pepper. (Why her comic-book name, Pamela Isley, is unused remains a mystery.)

The kids do a good enough job with what they’re given, though they serve as a constant reminder to audiences of something Gotham, by design, can never give them – the full story of these characters. Bruce and Selina may one day become the best known characters in the Batman universe, but there’s a limit to how far any storyteller can take them before they come of age. I’d have been perfectly happy if Gotham omitted them entirely and focused instead on Gordon’s battle against the mob, highlighted with an array of Penguin-like eccentrics. For that’s where the heart of this show lies, not in fan service. Yet Gotham‘s pilot overflows with fan service — Ivy cares for her plants, the Penguin eats sardines, Selina steals milk, and police egghead Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) just can’t stop presenting information in the form of riddles. One should expect the deluge of Easter eggs to subside once the show finds its footing and focuses on a different character each week.

For starters, next week’s episode is titled “Selina Kyle”. Much as I wish it was titled “Oswald Cobblepot”, make no mistake — I will watch that episode. Gotham‘s ambition alone makes its pilot worthwhile viewing. Whether that ambition translates into the kind of scope that fuels the best genre TV remains to be seen. But for now, I’ve got Jim Gordon’s back.

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  1. Jason says:

    Will the story of Robin be omitted as a “sidekick” in this series? Young Bruce Wayne seems was too reclusive at this point to endear any close friends. I enjoy the back story quite a bit, and although not a tremendous fan of Batman in general, have been enjoying this take on the characters thus far. 
    Just seems like Bruce Wayne, Selina and Ivy have MANY years to become their characters, the Penguin (who is wonderfully portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor) has already begun his spiral into the darkness of Gotham. I’m expecting some “fast forwarding” through the ages? Or will they slow play it?

  2. Niki says:

    Don’t forget about The Joker on Fish’s stage while she beats Oswald. I found it both ironic and ominous he looks away and frowns, in this version I can’t help but wonder if she’s the one that puts a permanent smile on his face.

    • Richard says:

      that wasn’t the joker for sure.  it was a possibility for a joker but they said the joker will not be obvious

  3. Mackmm says:

    From the initial episode the show suffers from the big picture, they can’t tell a story where there will be ANY resolution for any of the characters. The challenge is then to lay out the groundwork in creating the actual origin & how the characters grow into the men and women they are…all of them. Unfortunately in the pilot Penguin is the penguin because that is his nickname, Catgirl is Catgirl already she steals & jumps & climbs affinity to cats, Gordon is Gordon, Bulloch is Bulloch, Montoya is Montoya, Bruce already started challenging his fears without exploring or rationalizing his motivation to do so, and it is dismissed as fast as it’s introduced. I’ve been reading that it is to be a crime drama, or detective series, but in the pilot episode there was no detective work done past asking the criminals for information. What the pilot shows is what the series will most likely be, a lot goes on but no one is in danger of being killed, and nothing can be accomplished. Someone pissed at the show screamed it needs to pick up the pace…it actually needs to take it’s time and develop the characters and stories, make the show about that and don’t hurry up to the Beta Bat mans. I’ll watch for now. Oh and please don’t pull the Adama-Jimmy Olsen Rope a dope where the character we have been following for seasons will turn out to be the dead older brother of the actual character. You don’t honor the dead by taking there’s just the opposite. He was called Master Bruce wasn’t’s not Thomas Jr?

  4. Lyriz says:

    No matter what ANYONE says Gotham is WAY better than Agents of SHIELD and for some reason people are still watching THAT. So, the only thing that sucks for Gotham is that it’s competing against Big Bang Theory in that time slot.

    • Drewmeister says:

      Awfully quick judgement for only having ONE episode so far.  Also, around episode 8 or 9 Agents of Shield began to ROCK.

      • JoseKuervo says:

        Hmmmm actually add a 9  to that number…  it really took AOS 17 episodes to “ROCK”, as you would say. It wasn’t until Captain America and episode 18 that AOS actually got good.       Gotham is Better than those 1st 17 episodes.  That said AOS fall premiere was really good and a huge improvement over last season, hopefyully they can keep it going because this time there is noe Marvel movie in the schedule to save the show.

        • boB says:

          Agents of SHIELD is a typical Whedon-helmed show, in that it uses the first half-season or so to set a certain tone, and then, for the rest of the run of the show, proceeds to destroy that tone.  The problem is the viewership.  Nowadays, people want a show to blow their mind from the very beginning.  That’s not how Whedonverse shows work.  This quality that initially threw people off of AoS is the same quality that threw people off of Dollhouse, which, too, was a spectacular show.

    • boB says:

      Agents of SHIELD is a spectacular show.  Like Gotham, it is not intended to be a superhero show, and that’s what throws people off.

      • Jose Kuervo says:

        Sorry Bob, As a fan of Whedon and all of his shows, which I have watched and own, I am not buying it. AOS was really terrible for a long time.. and I say this as a big fan of the show. Just reality. no need to make excuses for Whedon I wam sure they learned from the last season.

    • Troy says:

      What is it with the AOS haters having to compare everything to it? 

  5. arle says:

    I really liked it. I didn’t want to watch anything that was “wham! Pow!”, campy, or over the top. I’m curious to see how some of the characters play out. The guy who plays Penguin is so creepy – he’s perfect for the part!

  6. cor2879 says:

    If you went into it expecting a super hero show you were probably disappointed.  If you were watching it expecting a crime drama with some foreshadowing then it was good.  I enjoyed it, at least.

    • John says:

      Crime drama? Yeah, it would be good (and original) had it been made twenty years ago, but take away the Batman origins element, and you have a boring, cliched-riddled crime drama that isn’t that dramatic.

  7. You missed the Joker. I could be wrong but I am pretty sure the stand up comedian in Mooney’s club was him.

    • annie says:

      Oh I didn’t even make that connection. good call. 

    • Dan Casey says:

      Stay tuned for our interview with producer Danny Cannon today. He said there’s going to be a number of possible Jokers appearing this season.

    • Chris Baaden says:

      They are going to have a different nod to the joker in every episode,and won’t reveal till the end of the season.

    • SpideyRules says:

      Speaking of the Joker, did anyone catch the word ‘SMILE!” spray-painted on one buildings during a quick fly-by?

    • Doctor Frosty says:

      Also the bar called “… Grundy” was probably alluding to Soloman Grundy.

      • JoseKuervo says:

        Actually it was not the name of the  bar but the name of the intersection Bullock asks Jim to meet him at.. the corner of  “4th and Grundy”

    • JoseKuervo says:

      Actually it has been said many times by the producers that there are going to be a lot of characters that they are going to be hinting to be the Joker… I doubt the “comedian” is going to be it right of the bat.

  8. boB says:

    I liked the pilot okay, but I feel like it takes itself too seriously, especially with characters like Nygma and Cobblepot running around, who could add a bit more comic relief.  Here’s hoping for that in the future.

    • MJ says:

      I believe each week is going to feature someone who may or may not be the Joker.   So it’s possible the comedian might be him

  9. AgentX says:

    Gotham or just a huge Propaganda campaign for Selina Kyle, I’m sick of her being the focus of everything. I have little faith in this show, I sincerely doubt they will ever show Ra’s Al Ghul or even Talia Al Ghul, two people who are FOREVER denied in DC for what DC comics chosen “Clique” of characters. I heard it was bad and the actors were phoning it in. I don’t see it lasting more than a season.

    • Zach says:

      Ra’s is set up to be a major villain in the next season of Arrow…

    • boB says:

      I don’t know where anyone’s getting the idea that this show is focused on Selina Kyle. She didn’t serve as much more than a convenient vantage point for observing what goes on in the streets of Gotham. She didn’t even have any lines, FFS.

    • MikeyTerror says:

      Granted it’s not Gotham or Batman, but obviously you haven’t seen any of the press for season 3 of Arrow which will feature Ra’s. Also, propaganda campaign for Selina Kyle? What?

    • Matt says:

      Nothing you said makes a damn bit of sense. Pull the sand out of your vag.

    • hotrodvr says:

      Is that really your opinion or are you just trolling the comment section? Did you even watch the pilot? Selena Kyle was on the first episode for maybe a total of 4 minutes screen time. Are going to base your entire assumption on this show after just the pilot episode? Give the show a chance to grow. It’s way too early to make such assumptions.

    • Rupert Appleayrd says:

      um… Ra’s Al Ghul was denied? Um what about Batman Begins? There are plenty of Batman villains who haven’t been main protagonists in movies, so I think to single one out who has is kinda a little silly.

    • sooooopilya says:

      I think you think she is the focus because of the title of the next episode(?) but I am guessing for the upcoming episodes, they will focus on a specific character. Keep on watching, mate.

    • Chris says:

      I don’t think Ra’s has been denied anything. In fact, I’m getting a little tired of seeing him:-Batman Begins-Batman and Son-Beware the Batman-This season of Arrow
      Meanwhile, where has Catwoman been since The Animated Series? The Halle Berry movie and Dark Knight Rises is all I can think of. I for one am anxious to see a new take on Selina. 

    • Anthony says:

      After seeing episode 10, I suspect the lead mercenary character was in fact Talia Al Ghul, rather than a random, one off character. Her profound little statement she made when sparing Bruce would be somewhat off if she was just a plot device. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ra’s is therefore tied in to the Wayne murders very soon. Perhaps his services were hired by whomever orchestrated the Wayne murders, in order to cover up his/her tracks by killing Selina, the witness. 

  10. I really wasn’t impressed with the pilot. I will still watch to see if it improves.

  11. zoo says:

    great article! I thought the same thing about Patton’s bit. Werewolves and Lollipops was more like 2007, though.