Fans of Batman need not wait until he tangles with Superman on the big screen, as his hometown is set to be explored in greater detail than ever before, thanks to Fox’s upcoming Gotham. The series’ first episode has now been shown to select attendees of Comic-Con 2014, so we can weigh in on our own thoughts about the pilot’s strengths – and its weaknesses.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, we can give our opinions on the best or most surprising parts of the first episode, the parts that the showrunners will need to address in the future, and which aspects are already serious cause for concern. We’ll hold off on SPOILERS and easter eggs until the public has had the chance to see it – but for now, fans certainly have something to look forward to.
It came as something of a surprise when Ben McKenzie (The O.C., Southland) was announced as the actor entrusted with playing Detective Jim Gordon – but the exact angle that would be taken with the younger version was a total mystery. That question is answered within the first scenes of Gotham‘s pilot, as Gordon is clearly depicted as a tough-as-nails soldier who has swapped a battlefield for the streets. Unfortunately, he has chosen the wrong city for a man as unwilling to bend the rules.
Fortunately, however, McKenzie shows off enough charisma to carry a series with as large a supporting cast as Gotham seems to feature. And while the first episode doesn’t exactly showcase nuanced characters, the actor is believable as the man who will one day come to trust a figure like Batman – someone willing to do the wrong thing in order to to the right thing. We have our issues with some of the approaches to script and character in the pilot, but McKenzie’s ability to fit the character isn’t one of them.
In addition, the disappointment some expressed at a young Bruce Wayne joining the cast was reasonable, since another origin story for the Dark Knight is no longer needed. However, the brief scenes following David Mazouz’s Bruce are refreshing, and the young actor is clearly going to raise the potential of the series as a whole.
The character most likely to be a hit with fans is, ironically, not one of the characters on the side of ‘good,’ but crimeboss-in-the-making Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. The Penguin. Robin Taylor may be a lesser-known actor compared to some of his cast members, but the character manages to offer a surprising amount of sympathy within the span of a single episode. Taylor deserves a great deal of that credit, and no matter how large a role he may play in the series’ overall story, the writers’ ability to bring such depth to a one-note villain is promising.
It’s also a pleasant surprise to see that Gotham itself has become a character within the show’s fiction. Adopting architecture and style from the Tim Burton Batman films (and refusing to define which decade the events are set within), the city which the show’s villains call their home is simultaneously familiar, but heightened well beyond reality. With throwbacks to cop films of the 1970s, the blend of 1930s-era high society and street crime is one of the show’s most enticing features.
While Robin Taylor’ Penguin may steal the show – with another contender entering the story in the first episode’s final act – it’s hard to say that he has much competition. The reception to Donal Logue’s casting as Detective Harvey Bullock was overwhelmingly positive, but the character is established almost immediately as a fairly 2-dimensional ‘bad cop.’ Logue had led fans to believe that the moral grey area between Bullock and Gordon would become the heart of the show, but in the pilot at least, both cops seem clearly planted on opposite sides of the law. There’s plenty of room for that to change but the relationship is still built on an overly familiar dynamic.
Part of the reason for the fairly clear-cut supporting cast is that the sheer number of them introduced in the pilot limits development of each individual player. Unfortunately, the show’s focus seems almost entirely limited to characters that are already known to fans. The Riddler, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Catwoman are all plugged into the first episode’s plot, although some seem shoehorned in altogether. That’s to be expected in the pilot episode, but by restricting key players in the series to villains-to-be, fan service risks being a burden.
With the hook of Gotham being a chance to see origin stories for all of the famous Batman characters, plenty of fans will be pleased to simply hear the names ‘Edward Nigma,’ ‘Cobblepot,’ or even ‘Crispus Allen’ and ‘Renee Montoya’ for the diehard comic readers. That fan service is given its fair share of the pilot, but the references or sudden appearances are so on the nose, and so blatant, it could pull certain viewers out of the show entirely. The writers of Gotham have a chance to craft a new take on origin stories, but with an Edward Nigma who is already compelled to riddles, and an Oswald Cobbleplot who is already slightly disturbing, their foreshadowed character arcs are immediately less interesting than if they had been introduced as anything else.
These strong – strong – hints are further hindered by the fact that a number of actors in the group who, for the time being, will remain nameless, turn in performances that are… not particularly restrained. Of course, there is a chance that the fan service and familiar villains may be just what some are hoping for. But no matter how you view it, the showrunners’ decision to take an episode brimming with characters and drop hints of Batman’s archnemesis Joker shows that ‘restraint’ may not be in the pilot’s vocabulary.
But one thing is clear: trying to blend the heightened reality of Tim Burton’s Gotham City with a serious story, serious themes, and serious detectives is a risk. Gotham has the chance to find a balance, but the first episode is already showing that it’s a difficult line to walk.
We’ll bring you more information and an official review of the Gotham pilot when it airs this Fall. For now, what aspects of the show are you most excited for? Is there a part of our summary that has you worried? Stay tuned for more details, and share your thoughts in the comments.
Gotham will premiere on Fox on Monday, September 22nd, 2014 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Gotham, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.