The Good, the Bad and the Gotham

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Everyone knows who Batman is.  Everyone knows how he watched his parents gunned down as a child on the streets of Gotham.  Everyone knows how he dedicated his life and fortune to becoming a modern-day cross between Hector and Sherlock Holmes.  Everyone knows how he took his one-man war on crime to the heart of Gotham, taking on the mob and an increasingly psychotic menagerie of super villains.

But this is not his story.  It’s Gotham’s.

When Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed, hot-headed police rookie James Gordan promises their traumatized son that he will find the killer.  But with the police in the mob’s pocket and an organized crime war on the horizon, justice is in short supply in Gotham.  Paired with a corrupt partner and pressured by their superiors to close the case quickly, his investigation leads to an innocent man’s death.  When he starts asking the wrong questions, however, he draws the attention of mob boss Fish Mooney, who refuses to allow one idealistic detective to derail her carefully laid plans.

Gotham understands that the real appeal of the Batman franchise is not its heroes, but its villains.  Bruce Wayne is little more than an Easter egg: a supporting character that only exists to provide context to a cop drama with an especially flamboyant roster of criminals.  Before we ever see the Waynes – who any other Batman series would have paraded out as its first order of business – we see a juvenile Selena Kyle pickpocket her way through a crowded street.  When the Waynes do die, the focus is not on them – not even on their inconsolable son – but on her: the solemn witness to the crime.  Rather than delve into Bruce’s grief, the series rapidly cuts to an investigation that introduces the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy and quite possibly the Joker in rapid succession.  More time is devoted to even mundane mob bosses like Fish Mooney and Carmine Falcone than in the young Batman-to-be.

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Surprisingly, I found myself decidedly on Team Penguin by the end of the night.  I always found Oswald Cobblepot to be the dullest of Batman’s A-list villains.  He was never more than an eccentric mobster with a weaponized umbrella and was mostly content to sit back and let his hired muscle do the dirty work.  His only mildly interesting scheme was hijacking the Batmobile, which amounts to a zero sum in a series without a Batman.  In Gotham, however, he’s a Game of Thrones-styled apostate who sells his boss out to the only good cops in town in order to seize control of her operations.  He even proves more than willing to get his own hands dirty, enthusiastically beating a man in an alley with a metal bat an slitting a fisherman’s throat.

If Gotham’s first episode can be faulted with anything, it’s being constrained by its sixty-minute time slot.  The episode’s frenetic pacing only allowed it to check off the points that it wanted to get to without being able to take its time developing them.  The pilot introduces six key villains (seven if you count the potential Joker), Gordan and his crooked partner Bullock, Barbara Kean, an antagonistic pair of Major Crimes detectives, the orphaned Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth.

In its already pressed run-time, it rushes straight from the Waynes’ assassination to the Gotham PD’s corrupt dealings with the Mob, Bullcok’s resentment towards Gordan, Barbara’s complicated relationship with Major Crimes detective Renee Montoya, Penguin scheming for Mooney’s job, Mooney scheming for Falcone’s job an Falcone preparing for a mob uprising.  Needless to say, it’s a lot to take in.  A two-hour premiere would allow Gotham to not only delve further into the characters that they introduced, but to expand upon the plotlines that they seeded and hinted at.

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Although not without its opening-night hang-ups, Gotham is easily the most promising new comic book-inspired show on TV (and with Flash, Constantine, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, The Defenders and Agent Carter waiting in the wing, that’s saying something).  Its premise of a Batman-less Gotham and pitch-perfect casting will go a long way to make this a definite must-watch show.  Overall, I would give this episode an 8/10.

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  1. So many shows are forced to rush their pilots to create as many loose story strands as possible, despite some of the best shows (GoT, Breaking Bad) being allowed a more slow-burning opening. But it seems Gotham’s writers were pressured into the all-out pilot episode to introduce everyone and everything all at once, and they handled the pressure surprisingly well. Keen to see more!

  2. Is it just me or was this whole entire episode just a complete set up entirely and not really at all what it should’ve been? I’m super pumped for the show and I’m eagerly waiting to see what will happen in the coming weeks, but this episode didn’t do anything for me other than to say “here are all the characters – and yes, we’re doing our best to cram everything in that we can…by the way it’s Batman – but not really…”

    If I had it my way, which I often dream will happen some day, I would’ve started the entire series only focusing on Fish Mooney and Penguin as the villains with just a subtle tie in to how Fish technically works for Falcone. I wouldn’t have murdered Wayne’s parents yet. Actually I would’ve liked to had seen more of them … get to know his parents a bit more, that way when they do get killed off, we have more back story on them and we feel a lot more of Bruce’s grief with him. (too often is this part of what makes Bruce Wayne into Batman overlooked…we’ve all seen the death a million times, but we hardly ever get more of his actual relationship with his parents)

    I also feel that we had all the villains shoved down our throats just to appease the masses rather than to try and do something intellectually different. Sure the show is about Gotham but let’s set up the characters properly. I love how you make mention of the one hour time slot and how it could’ve benefited from being a 2 hour pilot/premier. I agree – but still think that since we have all seen the commercials and all get the general idea about the show that they didn’t need to force feed us everything in the first episode. The more I think about it, the more it bothers/frustrates me. Pandering to the masses is just a typical Fox calculated move.

    Edit: Oh, I have to also mention that I LOVED the way the show looks. I prefer this version of the actual city of Gotham much more than Nolan’s vision of what Gotham (aka Chicago) was…

    1. love the idea of getting to know Bruce’s parents better, getting to see who they are and how they raised Bruce. Could be interesting to see Thomas as crooked and full of vengeance or see deeper into the tragedy of Bruce losing his parents by showing a happy loving, fun family life knowing how it ends.

  3. I think your first paragraph here was telling in ways you didn’t even realize. For me the main problem with Gotham is that everyone knows how Bruce’s parents die, everyone knows that Jim Gordon is a do-gooder, everyone knows that penguin is evil and tortured, everyone knows that Harvey Bullock has questionable morals and yet they spent the whole episode hammering those things down the viewers throat as if we wouldn’t know these things just by watching story unfold. I am hoping that they get over that after the pilot, because if it keeps going this way, Gotham will be unwatchable by mid season.

  4. agree with all the points here. but as everyone seems to critique the cramming of characters down our throats…it’s pretty tricky because we KNOW how these people are with our general geekiness and pop culture knowledge.

    but to a majority of the viewers…they have no idea or just a very vague idea of batman returns, halle berry catwoman, and, god forbid, batman forever. they know alot about bruce and alfred cause of the nolan movies and the episode showed less of them. so it’s a good move that part.

    having a pilot and trying to capture viewers attention in america while having a deep complex story is damn near impossible.

    not mentioned yet is bullocks…i think he’s pretty great and hasn’t been represented much in movies. i only know of his character from the animated series and they’ve done a good job intro’ing him as one of the main characters with his jaded street cred attitude.

  5. Why isn’t anyone mentioning how terribly wooden Ben McKenzie is in his portrayal of Gordon. The guy’s inflection never changes and the most he does is slightly widen his eyes. I’ll watch, but it’s unfortunate how distracting it is when the main character is beyond terrible. How they saw the dailies and were satisfied is beyond me. There needed to be a serious Peter Jackson style recasting.

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