After the runaway success of Arrow and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, DC is taking another televisual step into the DC universe with Gotham. Based around Commissioner James ‘Jim’ Gordon’s first years in the police force in Gotham City, he is the first detective hero that the city deserves.
The series doesn’t shy away from what they think their audience wants. It’s about seeing the origin stories of all the villains and friends who will be so influential in Bruce Wayne/Batman’s life once he takes on the mantle of the Dark Knight.
Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie, Southland & The O.C.) has returned from war with a heart full of justice and all the mental scarring that comes with being a soldier. He’s shown as overtly compassionate but not afraid of violence. Having just joined the police force in Gotham, he leads us into the underbelly of corruption at the centre of a city that will inevitably have to get much worse before it gets better. McKenzie is passable in a role that finally matches his age, just about, with his signature serious pout firmly in place for most of the episode.
In the premiere episode, we see Bruce Wayne’s parents murdered in an obviously-not-your-standard mugging scenario. Young Wayne (David Mazouz) is fine as a traumatized child, despite a dodgy opening scream, with an all too obvious desire to conquer the paralyzing fear of being held up at gunpoint laced into his scenes.
At the crime scene Gordon meets Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), and gone is the kindly friend, assistant and member of the Wayne family. Instead the stern and sneering Brit is sharply polite and oddly gruff. He commands Mr. Wayne but is easily silenced by him. Altogether it’s hard to know what to make of the duo, but Alfred is the more unlikable.
Gordon and his partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), proceed in search of the Waynes’ murderer. While investigating possible leads we’re introduced to every nameable villain Batman has ever faced apart from, perhaps, Bane and the Joker, plus the sole new and redeemable character so far, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). For those intrigued to know if Joker shows up, or has already, there is a woven mystery throughout the series with suggestions that a number of people could turn into Batman’s nemesis.
Pinkett Smith brings to life a very Gotham style mobster in Mooney. She takes no nonsense; she’s actually smart and not easily manipulated. More than that, she doesn’t ever pretend to be weak to play with the typical feminine wiles that the other female characters in this show use – namely Barbara.
It’s made clear, with police brutality of inmates, the grey setting and overall steampunk appearance of anyone in Gotham City who isn’t wealthy, that criminals and injustice rule the city; no one wants to change anything because it’s just too much effort. When Gordon tries to do what a typical Detective would do, he gets captured by Mooney, gets Bullock kidnapped with him, and then has to be saved by Falcone (John Doman), the mob leader who really runs Gotham.
In order to prove his loyalty to the corrupt system and be allowed to live, Gordon is told to kill Mooney’s assistant Oswald, aka Penguin – which is his nickname in case you didn’t get the connection from his crippled legs penguin walk, umbrella and pointed appearance. Gordon fakes killing him, allowing the now vengeful and murderous Penguin to live on and become a bigger, badder villain.
The pilot feels like a lot of setting up and isn’t wholly telling of how good the series could be. However, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actual substance and story. It chooses instead to force everyone you should care about into one episode, no matter how unimportant they are to the episode’s overall plot.
For example, Catwoman makes two appearances without any words. First, in order to steal milk (subtle) then witness the Wayne’s murder and secondly, when she finds Bruce Wayne’s house. It is completely inconsequential to the episode and would perhaps have been more interesting if shown as a flashback in a Catwoman centric episode later, layering her story rather than hammering it in.
The same goes for the police department’s Edward Nygma, aka The Riddler, who is told to stop talking in riddles, as well as a young girl called Ivy, who’s seen playing with numerous plant life. Our survey says… Poison Ivy.
It all seems like too much fan service, not enough story. And that comes without mentioning the inevitable, same sex secret storyline between Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) and Renee Montoya, which reeks of pandering to an (inaccurate) lesbian fantasy, or the strange camera angles during chases that must give most viewers uncomfortable queasy feelings. Still, at least Montoya is staying true to her comic book character’s sexuality.
We can only hope that over the course of the first few episodes the main issues are ironed out; sufficient groundwork needs to be covered to give the show some room to breathe. If Gotham can capture any of the superpowerless hero charm that made Arrow work, then DC fans are in for a treat.