The Game Begins
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Gotham arrives on the heels of ABC’s Marvel: Agents of Shield as part of DC’s new onslaught of comic-related television programs. And on first watch, this offering from FX looks to be suffering from the exact same problems to Shield. The writing routinely falters and it’s not frustrating because it’s all-out terrible, it feels frustrating because there’s a plethora of goodness easily hidden inside the material that’s good. The world of Gotham City is exquisitely constructed and I can tell how much effort went into making this show look great. It’s just that not as much work went into the characters and the narrative. The actors do a hell of a job with their performances, but the pilot is far too cluttered and scattered to create a cohesive hour. Game of Thrones is famous for its ability to juggle about twenty story lines in one hour, but that tendency only arrived from the condensed episodes that began the show. It would have been perfectly okay for the show to take time to introduce everyone. Regardless, this is a decent pilot full of promise.
The cold opening is utterly fantastic. While Gotham was originally billed as a cop drama with Commissioner Gordon at the forefront, the opening sequence clearly establishes they’re not going to abandon the Bruce Wayne story and nor should it. Gotham without an understanding of its most famous inhabitant wouldn’t work. The episode opens with Selina Kyle crawling across the rooftops of Gotham, the darkness seeping through the city around her. She witnesses the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne in a viscerally horrifying moment and the show begins. This is the most pivotal moment in the Bruce Wayne mythology and the show gives it the appropriate amount of gravitas. Kudos the art direction and cinematography that allows for the darkness to be penetrated only by the airiest of lights, adding a melancholia to the surroundings.
The murders are what drive the pilot of Gotham, which makes sense. What makes less sense is to have everybody seemingly be introduced over the course of a single hour. The Penguin, Fish Mooney (seriously?), the future Poison Ivy (inexplicably known as Ivy Pepper), and Carmine Falcone all command serious room over the course of the pilot, and that’s just the villain roster. Out of this phenomenal plethora of villains to choose from, John Doman’s Carmine Falconer and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney are the absolute scene stealers and I just have to wonder if Jada’s agent spoke to the creators about the name of her character. Anyhow, Doman is a tour de force on the screen, clearly set up as the major villain but one with decidedly mixed moralities. This is certainly welcome, as certainly in many cases superhero property villains don’t always garner the ability to be complex. Carmine at the pilot’s end certainly changes that for the better. Pinkett Smith just has this ability to chew scenery like no one else on this show and in a show that’s decidedly decided that the Nolan Batman Trilogy wasn’t dark enough, she’s wonderfully over-the-top.
Selina Kyle, who begins the pilot, is awkwardly handled in the rest of the episode. For a character of darkness, she’s not that excellent at hiding herself. On one hand, that makes sense as she is a young child and on the other it feels like the character’s reality of being a homeless young child isn’t properly analyzed and the future Catwoman takes character precedence. Considering the next episode is titled after her, hopefully that changes. But she at least is getting some semblance of respect in comparison to Montoya, whose sexuality from the history of the Batman mythos is shoehorned in here in a way that suggests romantic conflict is necessary to be done in a relatively cheap fashion. Her conflict with Commissioner Gordon can be completely platonic, thank you.
Ben McKenzie and Dona Logue are the center of the show as Gordon and Bullock and they’re solid leads for the show, their characters becoming fully realized towards the end of the hour. McKenzie particularly is wonderful in the scene with the young Bruce Wayne (played really well by David Mazuos). But the characterization work for Gordon can be a bit stiff from time to time and it can work with a bit of added development that challenges who Gordon is at his very core.
The visual styles as noted with the opening sequences are well-fleshed and add a sense of ethereal zaniness to the entire proceedings. Clearly inspired heavily from Nolan’s Gotham City more than anyone else, the dark rainy spell of Gotham City is dark, moody and I completely love it. I’m not a fan of Danny Cannon’s shaky camera and the music from Graeme Revell is neat until it becomes overbearing and then you want to hit the mute button for a good couple of minutes.
Overall, the pilot for Gotham is a solid one, with fantastic production design, many good performances, and character beats that unfortunately are fairly unevenly spread out. What I hope is that the show slows down a bit from a frenetic pilot to allow these characters to breathe. We don’t need all the villains in every single episode, as much as we like them and are attached to their story lines. We need development for these characters to happen at a solid pace and if that means not seeing certain characters for a long stretch, that’s fine. Keep the focus on a few characters and then expand when the story demands it. And Gotham will work.
Written By: Bruno Heller
Director: Danny Cannon
Image Courtesy: IGN