Gotham 1×01 – “Pilot”

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“There are rules.”

I call bullshit. Sorry, Gotham. As FOX’s first ambitious foray into capitalizing on blockbuster comic book properties, this show would be immensely better served if the writers’ room simply adopted an inverted creative mantra.

There is no rule decreeing that audiences need to be subjected yet another depiction of the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. There is no rule declaring it mandatory to stuff as many classic Batman villains as possible (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy) into a single pilot episode. There is no rule requiring your music supervisor to emulate Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard as closely as legally possible.

Put it this way: if your Batman-but-not-Batman prequel series has the extreme fortune to premiere in the rare pop culture window that doesn’t currently feature any dominant iteration of Batman – with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy concluded two years ago, and Zack Snyder’s version still 18 months beyond the horizon – then for the love of god, DO YOUR OWN THING.

You have full market share of the Gotham/Batman universe at your fingertips. You have Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue expertly inhabiting opposite sides of the same moral coin. You have Jada Pinkett-Smith absolutely smoldering onscreen as she gleefully chews every available piece of scenery. You have a confident visual style (I’ll qualify that statement below..) that is already remarkably adept at giving this city a decayed and toxic atmosphere.

So when this wealth of potential remains at Bruno Heller and Co.’s disposal, why bother with all the other shit? Why carelessly rush through a half-assed murder scene that we’ve seen dozens of times over the decades? Why hold a megaphone to our faces and ham-handedly scream “THIS IS THE GUY WHO WILL BE THE RIDDLER ONE DAY” and “WE KEEP SAYING THIS HUMAN-LOOKING MAN LOOKS LIKE A PENGUIN BECAUSE HE’LL BE THE PENGUIN”?

I find all of this so frustrating, because I can truly imagine a scenario where this show does something different and interesting with the standard cop show formula. McKenzie’s Jim Gordon and Logue’s Harvey Bullock are already extremely well-acted and play off of each other wonderfully. And as they delved into the investigation portion of the story – the part that many crime procedurals happily phone in and fluff up to fill 20 minutes of airtime – the show confidently and stylishly skipped through the boring stuff that didn’t really matter anyway. A strangely-scored montage quickly led us through a procession of Gotham’s colorful criminals and gave a sharp, gritty throwback-noir feel with a dim directional lamp swinging overhead… and that was it. We got to the important guy with the answers, and then we moved on. Granted, what came after was just more nonsense lip-service to wink-wink-nudge-nudge and introduce us to little-Poison Ivy, but I did appreciate the interesting treatment of a familiar cop show trope.

Overall, the Gotham pilot was serviceable and fine, and I’m gonna stick with it for the next couple of weeks. I found it easy to forget a lot of the show’s well-done aspects purely because I was getting so frustrated and distracted by its unwavering insistence on beating me over the head with Batman references and winks – even as someone who isn’t completely familiar with the universe’s mythology, they were more than easy enough to catch without the added exclamation points. I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll be toned down in the coming weeks. We’ll see.

What Else?

  • Sorry to be blunt, but nearly every action sequence in this episode looked like it was directed by a ninth-grade TV Production student, and I couldn’t stop cringing at the sheer over-editing that made every set piece incomprehensible. I understand there are budget constraints to consider for TV – and many pilots I’ve seen have the same clumsy problems – but it sure would be great if Gordon beating up a thug wasn’t chopped into fifteen awkward shots.
  • Okay, I understand that long credit sequences for TV shows are completely obsolete now. But wow. This high-budget FOX show can’t even be bothered enough to let the T and H in Gotham disappear from the screen before cutting to black? Pathetic.
  • “When I am Mrs. Gordon…” Please find me a real human being who talks to their fiancée like this, Bruno Heller. LOTS of completely hammy dialogue throughout the episode, but that one had me yelling at the TV.
  • Weird continuity nitpick: Cops and criminals alike spend the episode commenting on Gordon being new to Gotham City, yet Falcone’s talk with the young officer makes it sound like Gordon was born and raised by his father in the same city? Seems like an awkward clash between two very familiar cop show tropes – one being the rookie cop who doesn’t understand his new location, and the other being the noble cop with a morally conflicted familial tie to crime.
  • An episode featuring both Michael Kostroff (Maury from The Wire) as a beat cop and John Doman (Rawls from The Wire) as Carmine Falcone? I’ll take it.
  • Really, music division – you can stick with this scene’s interesting action-cop-rock template or the somber-Dark-Knight-Lite music, but you can’t have both. Pick your poison and move on, because much of this show’s tonal confusion can be attributed to the odd music choices.

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