Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.
The Pedigree: Gotham is set within the DC Comics world, and the Batman section of that world in particular. This iteration was created by Bruno Heller (The Mentalist), who also wrote the pilot. The pilot was directed by Danny Cannon (Nikita).
The Cast & How You Know Them: The large ensemble cast includes Ben McKenzie (The O.C.), Donal Logue (Terriers), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne), Erin Richards (Breaking In), David Mazouz (Touch), Victoria Cartagena (The Bedford Diaries), Sean Pertwee (Elementary), Robin Lord Taylor (The Walking Dead), Zabryna Guevara (Burn Notice), Cory Michael Smith (Broadway’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s), John Doman (The Wire), Andrew Stewart Jones (Blue Bloods), and Camren Bicondova (Battlefield America).
The Premise: Gotham is a pre-Batman origin story, tracing the rise of future police commissioner James Gordon as he gets his start as a detective. He has to navigate the corruption of Gotham City as he fights crime and runs into figures who will later become characters such as Catwoman, The Penguin, etc. — and tries to help a young boy named Bruce Wayne whose parents have just died.
Note: I am coming to this as someone who knows remarkably little of the Batman universe, so I can’t speak to how faithful Gotham is or isn’t to the source material.
What Works: The tone and atmosphere of Gotham pulled me in immediately — even though I know very little of the source material, I could tell the show had a definite sense of place and I wanted to know more about the universe of the show. The cast is strong all around, but for me the highlight of the show was the dynamic between Ben McKenzie as Gordon and Donal Logue as his detective partner Bullock. I also loved Gordon’s interactions with young Bruce Wayne. (And I didn’t exactly mind the house porn of Wayne Manor — nor Barbara’s apartment, for that matter.) I was pleased by how many women and especially women of color there were in the ensemble, given how centered on white men the world of comics has been in general, historically.
What Doesn’t: There need to be some shades of gray among everyone (including Gordon) in order to keep the morality of the show interesting, but I have to think questions of police corruption and use of force play differently after Ferguson and other events of the summer than they did when the pilot was made, and that may be a difficult line to walk for the show going forward. The pilot felt uneven at times, and some scenes definitely had more energy than others. It’s quite possible that some of the moments that felt like misses to me were nods to the source material that went over my head, and it’s always unclear how to treat that: on the one hand, I know going into this that there will be things I don’t understand and that’s my fault, not the show’s, but on the other hand, the show needs to appeal to new fans if it wants to be successful. Hopefully as the show continues the in-show universe will grow to be able to stand on its own merits.
Our Favorite Line: “I’m a businessman. You can’t have organized crime without law and order.”
You Might Like This if you like procedurals that are dark in tone but still feature heroes who believe in working for good. The obvious comparison is to the other current DC Comics show, Arrow; there are some similarities in feel, but so far, at least, as a procedural Gotham focuses more on cases and less on interpersonal relationships. And honestly, I’m not sure if Batman fans will love this or hate it, so you should probably give the pilot a try and then decide.
(Photo courtesy of FOX.)