The city before its savior
You can count me as one of the many detractors of a Batman show that didn’t actually have Batman in it. While I was aware of the existence of the Gotham Central comic series, which focuses on the GCPD and their difficulties policing a villain filled Gotham. Their ability to use Batman as a background character is one that lends itself to the comic medium. Television would have much greater difficulty. There is also something to be said for the oversaturation of prequels and re-imaginings of popular character. I, like many, was sick of it. That is, until I began watching the masterfully done(if you can stomach it), Hannibal. Here was a show that was taking a well established franchise and really delving into what makes them work. Knowing the end game doesn’t have to ruin the journey. So what does that have to do with Gotham? Well, lets just say there are a lot of stories to get out of this city, and while it does stumble in a lot of ways, FOX’s Batman-less, Batman show is dripping with potential.
The premier episode focuses on the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in that back alley, and the initial fallout. Playing almost like a noir-procedural(at least at this point), Gotham does a good job of introducing you to the major players and establishing the tone of the city. We are mostly along for the ride as the paragon figure of a young Jim Gordon is paired with gruff veteran of the force, Harvey Bullock. Wait, polar opposites, paired up to fight crime? NO WAY! Yet, as cliche as the pairing is, actors Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue make it work well.
There is a nuance to both of their tried and true archetypes. Gordon is a young detective, who only wants to do the right thing in a city full of those doing wrong, on both sides of the law. Bullock has been around the block, and at this point his shades of grey have gotten darker by the year. Each actor does solid work with what they are given, but it is oftentimes contradictory.
We are constantly reminded that Gordon is the “just good” but he also clearly states he chose to come back to Gotham to be a cop because it’s where the action is.” His reactions to clear crimes read as a man who’s already seen too much and is just avoiding making waves. Almost as if he wants to serves justice, but only when it’s easy. This isn’t always the case but the character feels more contradictory than conflicted in that way.
Bullock on the other hand is circling the drain after years on the force. He knows the best way to make it in Gotham is to keep your head down or it’ll get taken off, and that has manifested itself in a good cop who may be more crook than he may like. Drinking on the job and getting a little to close with the lowlifes almost cost both our heroes dearly in just this first episode.
What felt most cumbersome in the Gotham premiere were the forced nods to the audience. Oswald Cobblepot is called “The Penguin” by other characters as an insult but it doesn’t really fit his persona or physical stature yet. He’s more of a “Rat Boy” at this point than “Bird Man”. That said, he was an interesting character to watch, with is nervous tics, and sketchy demeanor. It’s like the actor had a heapin’ helpin’ of meth flakes before every take. And I somehow mean that as a compliment. It works dude, keep it up. There are also little nods to other DC characters, that may make this one episode feel bloated for some. I don’t think it went too far, as we already knew a good amount of them coming in, and there were some pretty cool liberties taken with a few. I’m looking at you somewhat surly, Alfred.
Gotham has enough potential to be a great show if it can tighten up some of the expository writing, and get a reign on some of the more cringe worthy moments. Having dramatic “dun, dun, duuuuun” music play as Penguin bites into a sandwich is on the wrong side of bad. Whereas Gordon and Bullock hanging upside down in a butcher shop as a menacing man in a leather mask comes to chop them up is good. There’s more than enough in this one episode to unpack and explore, and now that the “Pilot” and all it’s tropes are out of the way, let us hope they flesh out properly. We’re watching a show that doesn’t have Batman, because the city doesn’t need him yet, and it’ll be interesting to see it turn into the one that does.