By Anthony Karlis / Staff Writer
While not completely without hope, the pilot of Fox’s ambitious new Batman prequel series, “Gotham”, still has much room for improvement.
The episode begins with Bruce Wayne witnessing the death of his parents, whom a masked mugger shoots in cold blood in an alley. A newly promoted detective, James Gordon, makes a promise to the young Bruce Wayne to find the killer responsible. However, the social decay and political corruption of Gotham City stands in his way.
I will get one thing out of the way for those hoping for considerable Dark Knight Trilogy influence: there is none. In fact, if I had to compare this episode to any Batman movie stylistically, I would compare it to Joel Shumaker’s “Batman Forever”. Harsh, I know, but I only say this because the set design seems to aim more for gothic than gritty. While the show itself aims to establish a serious tone, there are times when I cannot help but feel like it is trimming dangerously close to silly.
In the show, Gotham City is corrupt, inside and out. The police, local government and even the mayor have all been bought off by the underworld that rules the city. There are points where the concept becomes genuinely interesting and even thought provoking, but I still could not help but wonder how a city so corrupted to the core could look so nice and glossy. The set pieces, while flashy, colorful and pleasing to the eyes, just don’t seem to fit the grim setting of the story. It comes off as artificial, not allowing the viewer to forget for a second that they are watching a TV show. And juxtaposed against the copious amounts of bloodshed (yes, there is quite a bit), it verges even closer to silly. Not to mention the overly hammy dialogue, which includes lines that are sure to make viewers scratch their heads and ask, “Who talks like that?”
Another complaint I had about the episode was its shamelessly unrestrained use of Batman villain cameos. While some were completely necessary to the story, (and actually work pretty well), such as in the case of the penguin, others came across as gimmicky, and, in The Riddler’s case in particular, goofy. Even young Bruce Wayne’s presence, although well-acted by David Mizouz, seemed a bit forced by the end. In this episode alone, we have already met The Riddler, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Catwoman, Carmine Falcone, and yes, The Joker. But don’t start breaking out the Heath Ledger comparisons just yet kids. We have only seen a man who is implied to one day become the Joker, as with most of the villains that were unnecessarily (and un-cleverly) thrown into the mix for the sake of fanfare.
Despite the needless cameos, the strongest element of the pilot had to be the writing of its characters, which Detective Harvey Bullock, played by Donal Logue of Grounded For Life fame (who saw that coming?), is one of the best examples of. Bullock has had a lot of different portrayals throughout his tenure in the Batman mythos, from bumbling alcoholic, to weak-hearted flunky. This one is different, however. Not only is he a stark contrast to the straight-laced, idealistic Detective James Gordon, but he is also sort of an anti-hero. Still alcoholic and still a crooked cop, this representation is more likely to take charge of a situation. As Gordon stated on screen, he is a cynic. He understands how the dark, dangerous world he inhabits works and he has no reservations about playing along. But he has a conscience as well, which will hopefully lead to some interesting developments for him further down the road.
Unfortunately I can’t give the same praise to the show’s star, Ben McKenzie, who plays James Gordon. Again, to all who were hoping for that touch of Nolan; Gary Oldman he is not. But unfair Dark Knight comparisons aside, it is not the fact that McKenzie does not copy Oldman that might turn viewers off. It is the fact that there is nothing to fill the void of not copying Oldman. His performance is generic to the point that this version of Gordon could be placed in any other cop show on television and fit in just fine, which is bound to disappoint many fans of the Batman franchise, and bore casual viewers. It is truly a shame because this version of the character actually begins to develop some trace of an intriguing background story by the end, but the character’s uninspired portrayal mercilessly drowns out this accomplishment.
Another fault in this show is its sheer predictability. Any seasoned TV viewer could easily call the obvious double-crosses and the contrived plot twists from a mile away. It seems to be an increasingly popular fad in drama shows today, to throw as many twists and turns into the mix as possible, even if they don’t necessarily surprise the audience in any way.
The episode also struggles with that age old problem that all prequels tend to struggle with: the fact that certain characters cannot die before the original story it is based off of, making life-threatening situations seem a lot less suspenseful than they ought to. Granted that this is no fault of the show’s, it is still going to have to find a way around that obstacle if it wants to impress viewers.
As a final afterthought, even with all that the show seems to be lacking, there is still small hope for it. Obviously, they could only fit so much into the first episode, so perhaps many of its open ends, such as Catwoman’s mysteriously unspoken appearances, still have a chance to develop into something good. For all that was revealed about the characters and the world they live in, there is still a good amount of mystery to go off of, as well as relationships to explore. As previously stated, there are some good concepts at play in Gotham, but as of now, it is not getting the kind of execution “it deserves” (sorry, had to!) Can this show survive on concept alone? We will find out next week…