Review: Gotham, Pilot Episode

As noted previously, I’m not the biggest fan of DC comics. Which is putting it kindly, really. But I can occasionally be convinced to give Batman a chance. His is a story with at least the potential to be done well. It rarely is, but the possibility is there, unlike Superman, who is always going to be lame no matter how he’s presented.

The logo for the new TV series GothamI have an unusual store of goodwill built up toward the Batman franchise from the Nolan movies, so when I learned of the TV series Gotham, I decided it was worth a try.

Gotham is a prequel, of sorts. Bruce Wayne appears in the story, but the show focuses on a young Jim Gordon and the slow slip of Gotham into crime and corruption.

It’s an interesting idea. It’s a show steeped in the mythology of the Batman franchise, but one in which Batman himself will never appear. My hope was that it might be something of a cop show with a twist, larger than life enough to stand apart from TV’s host of other crime dramas but more down to earth and believable than other comic book adaptations.

But how did it turn out?

After watching the pilot episode, I am left with a profound feeling of… nothing at all, really. I am neither impressed, nor dismayed.

Gotham begins where Batman always begins: with the brutal murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Newbie detective Jim Gordon and his trainwreck of a partner arrive on scene and are left with the unenviable task of investigating the deaths of two of Gotham’s wealthiest and most famous individuals.

A promotional photo of the Gotham castThe resulting investigation takes Jim Gordon on a tour of Gotham’s seedy underbelly and gives him firsthand experience of just how corrupt the city, and its police force, have become.

They waste no time in introducing a slew of iconic characters from the Batman universe. In addition to core characters like Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and Alfred, Gotham’s pilot also featured appearances by Catwoman, Carmine Falcone, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and the Penguin.

The main problem I had with Gotham was that it is a very clear case of “trying too hard.” Every single scene goes balls to the walls in an attempt to play on the emotions of the viewer, and the cliches are coming hard and fast. Even the music is tacky and over the top, almost lapsing into the realm of unintentional self-parody at times.

I also feel that Ben McKenzie is badly miscast as Jim Gordon, and that the character in general is poorly handled. Granted, I’m not an expert on Batman’s mythology, but when I think Jim Gordon, I think grizzled veteran cop. I think good-hearted everyman trying to do the right thing against all odds.

I don’t think pretty boy super cop and war hero with an improbably hot girlfriend.

On the plus side, other members of the cast are handled much better. Although he is at times another example of the show trying far too hard, David Mazouz is fairly impressive as a young Bruce Wayne. Lot of gravitas for a kid. I was also rather impressed with the sheer vileness of the Penguin, played by Robin Lord Taylor.

Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle in GothamCatwoman seems interesting, too. It’s hard to judge her character, since she hasn’t had any dialogue yet, but the way the actress (Camren Bicondova) moves is, well, incredibly cat-like. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Reading up on Wikipedia, it seems she’s a dancer, so I suppose that explains it.

Gotham has some other redeeming features. It’s a visually interesting show, with a look that has a certain undefinable comic book air to it without seeming overly cartoony.

It’s definitely not a bad show. I’ve certainly seen worse pilots. But the plot is too cliche, the main character too much of a cartoon, the emotion too overwrought and clumsily shoved onto the viewer.

If you’re a big Batman fan, I think this is a show worth your time. But as someone whose interest in Batman is minimal, I find myself with little enthusiasm for Gotham. I’m still on the fence as to whether to keep watching, but right now, I’m leaning towards not bothering.

Overall rating: 5.5/10

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