Origin stories and prequels are commonplace among comic book properties, and it’s no surprise that Batman’s world is finally getting both in the live-action Fox TV series Gotham. But rather than focus on the early days of the hero in cape and cowl, the show decides to go back even further and focus on the aftermath of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and the rising career of Jim Gordon through the Gotham City Police Department.
Gotham is more Training Day than Batman Begins, and finds its best moments with the relationship between Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his new partner/mentor Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as they get drawn into the search for the Wayne’s killer, even crossing paths with the young Bruce Wayne. The pilot episode is full of cameos from Batman’s rogue’s gallery, and most are handled with interesting interpretations and great care.
The best of which is the future Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot, played with creepy flare by Robin Lord Taylor as he connives his way up the criminal ladder under the leadership of the appropriately named Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith). The duo are the primary antagonists in the pilot episode and have some great scenery-chewing performances that provide a good portion of the fun of the episode. By episode’s end, Cobblepot’s psychotic nature is on full display and left me extremely interested to see where the character goes in subsequent episodes.
While this isn’t a full-on “Batman” show, you do get a fair share of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee). Much to my relief, Bruce is not portrayed as a whiney, petulant little kid and is given a surprising amount of confidence and darkness that perfectly suit the true nature of the character. Pertwee’s Alfred is also a scene-stealer and is more of the militant, strong-willed soldier seen in recent adaptations like the animated Beware the Batman series or the Geoff Johns-penned graphic novel Batman: Earth One.
Some of my biggest concerns going into the first episode were how the huge cast of characters would be handled, including Selina Kyle/Catwoman (the Michelle Pfeiffer dead-ringer Camren Bicondova) and Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) intersecting so early in their lives and development. Bruno Heller’s pilot script quite deftly weaves everyone together in subtle, believable ways establishing that these characters exist in the world, but aren’t interacting (as of yet) with the greater portion of the cast. In particular, Kyle and Nygma are reduced to cameos in the pilot episode and it works in the show’s favor.
Not everything works on Gotham, and some of the directing choices by Danny Cannon – including an out-of-place use of a GoPro camera during a chase sequence and weird mix of musical choices – left me scratching my head at points. The pilot has some pacing issues and the storyline involving Gordon’s love interest Barbara McKean (Erin Richards) had to be established, but also provide much of the slower yawn-inducing moments.
The show’s debut is still a strong enough showing though, and as long as viewers taper expectations of seeing a straightforward Batman show, they should find themselves intrigued by the gritty crime world of Gotham.
After viewing the pilot episode, I’m still not sold that the show has enough long-term legs to keep the story interesting without just completely embracing contrivances to bring Batman characters together in ridiculous coincidental circumstances. But if nothing else, the pilot sets up a lush, fascinating world that has had me counting the days until the second episode airs, since my long wait after initially viewing the pilot at Comic-Con 2014.