I just watched the first episode of Fox’s new series Gotham–or Batman Minus Batman as I like to call it–and I can see why it’s been called the best pilot of the fall season. I definitely recommend it, particularly to anyone who likes cop shows, Ben McKenzie or Donal Logue. It has a few things going for it, but the pilot also raises several questions about what the show is and what it might become.
[No spoilers below, other than what promotional material might already have given away]
One thing the show has going for it is good to great performances. McKenzie is a solid leading man, basically starting all over again as a rookie detective (just like when he was a rookie cop on Southland). Logue is perfect as his grizzled, corrupt veteran partner, keeping the humor, but losing the virtue that Hank Dolworth had in Terriers. Robin Lord Taylor is the standout as Oswald Cobblepot, who is clearly a nut but, initially at least, elicits just the slightest sympathy. Jada Pinkett Smith chews the scenery as the role requires and Sean Pertwee as a tough, shouting Alfred suggests good things to come. Familiar faces Richard Kind and The Wire alum John Doman (along with fellow resident of Bal’mer, Michael Kostroff in a small role) also show up.
The show also has all kinds of atmosphere. Gotham City has always been portrayed with style and personality (well at least since 1989’s Batman), and the pilot of Gotham is no slouch. The few city shots look great, and the entire episode feels like it’s not quite a real-world location. It’s quite cinematic, which is something I’d expect from a pilot episode, but is something I worry that the show may not be able to sustain over a full season. Still, I’ll take shots like these while I can get them.
The show also has that whole Batman hook to make sure people tune in, at least for a week, anyway. There’s no doubt that the simple relation to the Batman mythology is going to draw a lot of people to this show. However, I wonder if the show’s biggest selling point will also be its biggest hindrance. With any new series, time will tell, but the great pilot leaves me with some questions
1. Who is this series about?
After the pilot episode, all I need is Jim Gordon. Young Bruce Wayne is in about 4 scenes of the pilot, and the rest is about Gordon. I worry that Gotham could be hurt by trying to shoehorn Bruce into the show. I don’t want to watch a season of Bruce making friends with a young Selina Kyle, learning not to be afraid and digging caves under the house. That’s not really the series that this pilot suggests we’ll get, with its focus on Gordon. Still, for a series with “Gotham before Batman” as a gimmick, and with David Mazouz (as Bruce) in a regular role, Bruce has to fit in there somewhere, right? Plus, Camren Bicondova’s Selina Kyle poses awkwardly on every ledge, tombstone and fence in the pilot, suggesting that she’ll have a much bigger role to play. The show should tread carefully as viewers tuning in to see the Heat/The Dark Knight-esque crime stories might not be interested in the trials of adolescent heroes and villains.
2. Who are the villains?
Apart from the mobsters Falcone and Mooney, the pilot introduces no fewer than four of the standard Batman rogues gallery: Catwoman, the Riddler, the Penguin and Poison Ivy. They even give us a standup comic, though he doesn’t get the clunky “hey look, it’s that villain!” treatment that the others do, so either the show is more subtle than I give it credit for or this isn’t our Clown Prince of Crime. Knowing that, in other versions of the Batman story anyway, these character will be foils for a grown-up Batman, I wonder who exactly Jim Gordon is going to be able to defeat on Gotham. Sure, Penguin, Riddler and the mobsters are all adults, but if Jim Gordon does anything more than put them in jail, Batman won’t have anyone left to fight. If he does anything less than stop them forever–if all of the bad guys “live to fight another day as they did in the 1960s–there will be no sense of satisfaction for the viewer.
Even if we eventually get to the point where an “all growed up” Poison Ivy takes on Gotham, what will the show do in the meantime? Will giving Gordon brand new villains to take down be as interesting as the tried-and-true baddies? Will it feel like a cheat of the Batman connection? Can making Gotham simply a stylized crime show be enough, and if so, why hang on to Bruce at all? Which makes me wonder…
3. How long will this show run?
I already feel like a 22-episode season could be a killer for this series in terms of style and story. If they whittle it down to a Gordon-centric crime show, they might be able to put in some procedural elements and stretch things out a bit, but does that really allow the show to live up to its premise? Also, considering Bruce’s age, if we’re “building to Batman,” it’s probably going to take a while, and I’m not sure (yet) if this show has legs to carry it that far. If we’re not concerned with ending the show on Batman, then we’re okay, but still how long can “Batman Minus Batman” be engaging?
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It’s easy to ask these questions and difficult to make predictions after only one episode. At this point, I’d follow Gordon and Bullock around the back alleys and mean streets of Gotham for a full season. However, the show also seems interested in tracking the growth of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle too, an interest I don’t share quite so strongly given that Bruce and Selina are children (and child actors–well, they’re both 15, but still). We’ll see if the show manages to make him interesting as a regular or if they keep him in the backseat of the Gordon-mobile.