Tonight, Fox enters the new television season with what is certainly the must-see premiere of this fall. Gotham tells the untold story of DC Comic’s most infamous city and its heroes and villains, who are forced in to unlikely relationships while struggling for control of a world whose dark future is already written.
The pilot, written by creator Bruno Heller (The Mentalist), follows Gotham City Police Department’s new recruit, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as they investigate Gotham City’s most important case, the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. With help from Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) in the GCPD lab – and a dangerous adversary in the powerful Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and her apprentice Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) – Bullock must force Gordon to respect the unwritten rules of the city, or else end up dead. Meanwhile, a young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) keeps a watchful eye on a distraught Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his foul-mouthed caretaker, former Royal Marine Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee).
As the spoiler-free description above hints, there are quite a few familiar faces in the pilot – and perhaps a few more not listed – and the story at hand makes sure that each and every one of them is either directly or indirectly involved in the investigation. It’s actually quite a fun and smart implementation, as far as how the story weaves its way through the long list of Gotham’s future criminals they have on cast. That is, if you’re willing to get on board with this blossoming world they’re trying to build.
After coming from SouthLAnd – and his wonderfully imposing former co-star Michael Cudlitz – McKenzie is more than prepared for the role of yet-affected James Gordon, and he brings a fantastic interpretation of Gotham’s original hero to network television. Logue, perhaps one of television’s most underrated performers, is gifted the complicated task of walking the fine line of scum bag and trusted partner as Harvey Bullock. Bullock, who carries much of the story in the pilot, has to constantly flip allegiances, while also serving as comic relief, which makes it a bit difficult to get a real sense of what Logue will be able to do with the character in the long run.
Mazouz, as Bruce Wayne, and Pertwee, as Pennyworth, are a fantastic pair and are extremely successful in grounding the “little Batman” portion of this whole idea. Pennyworth is militaristic and no-nonsense, at best, and Pertwee helps to create a fantastic environment for Bruce Wayne to learn much from his elder servant in the coming years. These two, however, take up very little time in the pilot – though when they do appear, they are accompanied by quite a few terrific appearances by Selina Kyle (Bicondova), as well, which will instantly have you invested in her story.
The real king of the pilot is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, and his boss Fish Mooney (Smith) comes in a close second. Taylor embodies his DC character better than anyone else in the pilot – and that’s saying something – and like Bullock, Cobblepot helps carry much of the story in the pilot – only Cobblepot never once wavers from the viciousness that his character is known for. Not once. And viewers will love him for it. Mooney, on the other hand, is honestly quite an intimidating and powerful character, and Smith fills it completely, naturally.
If you thought Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was divisive last year, you haven’t seen anything yet. The only difference is that, in this case, those who critique Gotham will do so out of concern of what all the pilot contains, as it may very well be a sign of what’s to come; whereas last year’s ABC fodder was birthed from a fandom supporting a troubled property that never truly earned such a defense. The Gotham pilot is a 90-minute movie, at best, that’s crammed in to half the time, and there is absolutely a reason to be concerned about what such a vast and familiar cast could do to a series overall, a la True Blood.
At 8pm, the family-friendly timeslot brings with it enough allowances to carry a bit of character ham-fisting here and there, however, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has proven that, with a bit of tactical fanaticism, as well as a studio’s need for a series to succeed, a season 2 is practically a statistical guarantee nowadays. Even so, die hard fans of the comics will likely point out that the pilot of Gotham is a tad too much “Gotham High” and “CSI: Gotham” for them to immediately get behind it – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What this means for the series, is that there must be a balance struck between what characters are actually required, as far as competent storytelling goes, and which are being included… just because. Fortunately (or unfortunately), an introductory episode inherently requires the all-star line-up. It won’t be until the second episode before it is clear how much the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery will truly play in transforming Gotham into a city that requires a savior.
The city of Gotham may very well be the most interesting aspect to this entire series, truth be told, and through it is the series’ most fascinating character, with the most potentially powerful story, James Gordon. No matter how earnestly moral or inherently good Gordon is – no matter how many good deeds he will, in fact, do – he will, for all intents and purposes fail, and Batman will be required, and for all of his work, Gordon will pay through the pain and suffering of himself as well as those he loves, until he succumbs to the eventuality and finality of this type of life.
In many ways Gotham is about the deconstruction and destruction of a hero, where morals and subjectivity must be sacrificed in order to take slight steps forwards towards good, in hopes of a brighter future which will eventually come, but not without much bloodshed first. Most will ignore Gordon’s attempt to help, and many will attempt to stop him, all while a little boy sits and waits for a sign that there’s something more to the hopeless city his parents tried to save, and lost their life to. Gordon, too, is searching for the same thing.
Gotham sits decades away from its first real heroic upswing, and right now is its time for it to fail beautifully on-screen, allowing criminals to take over an entire city in front of a man who will have to survive much of his life by existing in an uncomfortable grey area which would crush far lesser souls. This notion, of course, will require the series to sidestep the quick and easy path and actively make sure that Gotham isn’t defined by the requirements of a crowded pilot.
Last year’s premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. proved wholeheartedly, that hubris can easily kill the heart and soul of these unique comic endeavors that keep appearing on broadcast television. The pilot of Gotham may be, at times, a bit over overindulgent of all the ornamental character names it has at its disposal to confidently say that it will evolve into greatness – which it absolutely could. Overall, Fox’s Gotham will provide a thoroughly fun and entertaining hour of television that can stand on its own merits – without the need of 16 practice episodes, or Bill Paxton. Hail Hydra. DC now has 3 comic book series which will likely continue on television for the foreseeable future: Gotham, Arrow, and soon to be Flash.
Gotham airs Mondays @8pm on Fox. You can check out a preview of the new series below: