Any time the word “prequel” is thrown around, it instantly brings to mind THE prequels (Star Wars Episodes I-III), and the project in question is generally just as anticipated as it is feared. When Gotham was first announced, many groaned a bit, fearful that the FOX Batman prequel series would muddy the mythology behind one of the most iconic fictional characters on the planet. Images of a Smallville-style Gotham High series were tough to avoid conjuring and while FOX assured fans that this was not the case, audiences had been burned before and were still a bit leery.
Then, the first trailer hit and extinguished many of those fears, and excitement began to build for what may be a very cool story. For months Gotham’s promotional campaign moved like a beast and each sneak peek and new TV spot brought with it more anticipation. The series looked great and promised a gritty crime drama that would introduce some of the most famous villains in Gotham’s history without necessarily focusing on those villains. Last night, the pilot episode of the new prequel series finally premiered, and while it may lead to great things, the episode became a victim of its own premise.
The series opens with some gorgeous photography and seeing Gotham in this light (darkness) truly gives the city more character than fans have been privy to on either the big or the small screen. The closest representation would be Christopher Nolan’s Gotham throughout The Dark Knight trilogy, but even that vision seems a bit brighter than this version. As you may expect, the first brutal and (seemingly) senseless crime that hits the screen is the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, which is witnessed by their young son, Bruce (David Mazouz).
The audience is then introduced to Gotham newcomer Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his partner, GCPD veteran Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Through a heroic, intelligent resolution to a dangerous situation that takes place at the police station, it is immediately apparent that Gordon is the hero of the story. Bullock? Not so much. Gordon and Bullock are assigned to the Waynes’ case – much to Bullock’s dismay – and the case eventually leads the duo through the streets of the city, introducing both Gordon and the audience to the characters that live in the underbelly of Gotham. As the episode goes on, it is apparent that Det. Gordon will have a profound effect on the course of Bruce Wayne’s life, which will likely be the crux of the entire series.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. First, the pilot episode was absolutely stuffed with recognizable characters, locales, and even threw in a few Easter Eggs for good measure (“4th and Grundy” was one of my favorites). This may sound like a good thing, but many of the characters were introduced simply so the series could pat itself on the back for finding ways to stick them all together.
For instance, Selena Kyle (Camren Bicondova) stalked Bruce Wayne like a girlfriend that just can’t take “no” for an answer, though the stalking was likely an unsuccessful attempt to make the future Catwoman mysterious. The Joker’s (Jon Beavres) brief appearance was completely unnecessary and felt forced and out of place. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) had no reason to appear this early in the game. Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) was pure perfection but didn’t have enough screen time to warrant his inclusion in the episode. Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley) really had nothing to do in the episode besides reveal why she will eventually grow into a criminal with a hatred of the police. As with the other villains listed, she added nothing to the story.
The two criminals that seemed to get the most attention were organized crime heavy weight Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and future Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). But since there are so many other villains it is hard to determine whether they received the most screen time because of their importance to the series or their importance to the episode, and this is a bit of a problem.
The pilot episode of any series should clearly outline the characters that are most important to the story while giving its audience a glimpse of what is to come. Because of the crowded episode, the audience has no idea which villains are actually important to the movement of the story and which were just there as window decoration. This is where Gotham truly falls victim to its own premise. Obviously, with the pilot the showrunners wanted to get as many recognizable characters into the series that it possibly could in an effort to entice future viewing of the series. Unfortunately, the way they did so failed, and instead of getting viewers pumped for the next episode they were simply sighing over yet another villain appearance. Seriously, when Joker was on screen I actually rolled my eyes. Yes. It was that superfluous.
On the other side of that scarred coin, the good guys were clearly lined out and the audience knows who to cheer for. Then again, there are really only two good guys in the series, if the pilot is to be believed. In addition to super good guy Gordon, the Waynes’ long-time butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), was on hand to make sure that young Master Wayne has someone to believe in. This Alfred is a bit younger and a bit more ornery than fans may be used to, but there is no question that he is goodhearted and loves Bruce like a son. The good guys definitely provide a stark contrast to the nefarious individuals that inhabit Gotham, but that juxtaposition is exactly what the showrunners were likely shooting for, and in this they succeed.
I mentioned THE prequels for a reason. Many would argue that there was nothing to mine from Phantom Menace, but I disagree. While the movie itself was less than stellar, watching some of those fan favorite characters meet was goose bump-inducing fun. The same can be said of the Gotham pilot. The episode is crowded and messy, but seeing Jim Gordon shake Bruce Wayne’s hand for the first time is truly special. The moment Jim Gordon actually realizes his place in this city is written and directed very well, as are his interactions with the future Batman. Other than those moments, however, Gotham didn’t offer anything special that will truly stand out in fans’ minds.
Pilot episodes are always a bit tricky and not every series can give audiences an episode worthy of their viewing. Gotham wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t as wonderful as its potential would lead people to believe. The acting was mostly solid, with Logue’s Bullock being the most convincing of the bunch. Actually, Bullock and Gordon seem to be the only fully fleshed out characters, which is perfect if they will indeed be at the center of the series. Everyone else seemed to get lost in the crowd.
In the end, Gotham will likely be a very good series that will grab viewers along the way like a snowball. The pilot, however, left much to be desired. Still, it is necessary viewing for those hoping to follow the series throughout its entire run. Let’s all just hope that future episodes won’t fall victim to the premise and that fans give the series a few more episodes to find its legs.