Gotham Episode Review: 1×01 “Pilot”

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So. Gotham is a thing. A big, messy, anachronistic, cliched thing. With laughable dialogue, simplistic characterization, and a never-ending parade of winks and nods, Gotham is going to have to work very hard to be as entertaining as it wants to be.

Gotham is not a Batman story, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to let you forget about Batman. The promise of future Batman shenanigans is ever present, with every villain the Caped Crusader has ever faced hanging around town, waiting for their origin stories to begin. You’ve got Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), a low level criminal whom everyone refers to as “The Penguin” because he wears a suit or something. You’ve got Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) silently prowling the streets, feeding stray cats. You’ve got “Ivy Pepper” (Clare Foley), a red haired little girl who is never seen without a plant in her vicinity. Even Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is there, as the Gotham Police Department’s riddle-spewing coroner. The nervous comedian at crime boss hopeful Fish Mooney’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) club could be a total coincidence, but probably not. There’s no way even casual fans of Batman will miss these references, because Gotham beats you with them like Mooney beats her employees.

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“What’s black and white and red all over? This rich guy’s corpse. Here’s the file.”

The lack of subtlety extends to every aspect of Gotham. Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents are murdered in the opening scene with little to no motivation behind the killer’s actions. Several members of the precinct are overtly corrupt, with no one to stand against them until righteous Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) arrives on the scene. There’s a distinct line drawn between good cop/bad cop, with no room for complexity. Late in the episode, Gordon is forced to make a tough choice with no clear advantage to either side. Naturally, he manages to find a third option, earning his stripes with Bullock while keeping his good guy status. The line remains solid.

Gotham isn’t completely devoid of things to like. The actors, especially McKenzie and Harvey Bullock’s Donal Logue, work with what they have the best they can. McKenzie and Logue have a good rapport between them that could lead to a more complex relationship in the future. Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney is a natural at displaying qualities befitting of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara), Renee Montoya (Victoria Gartagena), and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) are welcome characters from the comic series. Selina Kyle hasn’t said anything yet, but she gives off a distinctively feline air. Young Bruce is appropriately hardened after his traumatic experience, and a younger Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) displays a charming gruffness. The city itself has an anachronistic feel reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series that could help in elevating the city to character status.

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“There will be light, Bruce…or dark. Dark….Knight?”

The thing is, there’s just not enough to make me care about Gotham. It’s ridiculous, plain and simple. It’s a silly, cliched story masquerading as a dark and gritty crime drama. I’m not saying Gotham should be exclusively dark and gritty. I’m not really a fan of DC’s bleak image, and something more in the spirit of a comic series could do it some good. It just needs to be done with some amount of care. Maybe in the future, Gotham will be able to find some kind of happy medium between gimmicky and gritty. Who knows. Right now, it’s just too much.

This is only the pilot, I will give it that. It’s entirely possible that Gotham, like Arrow, will grow into a decent show. I plan on giving Gotham some time to do that before I revisit it, but I’m shelving it for now. Maybe I’ll go pick up Gotham Central in the interim.

Images are copyright of FOX.

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