Gotham: The Good, The Bad And The Unnecessary

SOME MINOR SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

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Gotham aired it’s premiere episode last night, I didn’t get the chance to watch it until this morning and have now had a full day to reflect on what I watched.  Now, I’m trying not to sound too negative here since the reality is, I’ll be watching this on a weekly basis.  I was impressed by so much, but first impressions are really important and I couldn’t help but pick up on much that I thought they could have left out.  I’ll get started on the positives first though.

Right out the gate, the cast of actors “Gotham” has brought together is absolutely phenomenal.  Seriously, I could sit here for far too long listing off everyone that impressed me and why but I really don’t want to be here until the early hours of the morning on this post so I’m going to pick out the best of the best.  David Mazouz, the young man portraying Bruce Wayne, is stellar.  Every scene he is in, which unfortunately is not nearly enough, he takes away from actors at least twice his age.  It’s amazing that someone so young can already bring such a level of gravitas to each scene, but this is a young talent to keep an eye on, great things lie in his future.  The momentarily happy son with his mother and father, the grieving son both during the killing and directly after.  We even get a window into his darker side towards the end of the episode.

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Ben McKenzie was always an interesting choice for Jim Gordon, I’ve not really seen a huge amount of his work before so I wanted to go in with an open mind and I think he pulled Gordon off really well.  He goes down the gravelly voice route, which honestly I found a little grating at times, but that is absolutely my only criticism of his performance, he manages to portray a newbie cop with plenty of life experience but a hopeful optimism that he can make a difference in a city fraught with crime and a police force rotting from the inside with corruption.  He is the beacon of hope in Gotham, pretty much the only one right now, and unwilling to fall into the trappings of his colleagues.  He also bounces off his partner and co-lead Donal Logue, who is without a shadow of a doubt the best on screen portrayal of Harvey Bullock we are likely to see for quite some time.  Live action, anyway.  He’s gruff, tough and clearly influenced by the crime and corruption around him.  But he cares, he’s not so far down the hole to be completely unredeemable and Logue has a real grasp on this.

Another member of the cast who stood out the most for me was Sean Pertwee, who I genuinely think the last of his work I saw was Dog Soldiers, a cheesy but fun, super-violent B-movie horror.  So now we have him in the role of the butler and guardian of Bruce Wayne, a man traditionally very well spoken and very stereotypically English.  Well he’s certainly still English, but he breathes new life into a character that has been done in a similar manner in so many iterations whereas Pertwee brings in an Alfred who’s a little more rough around the edges.  He has a bit more of a “common” sound to him, at one point saying “master Bruce, get the bloody hell down from there” which I found hilarious.  We don’t know much about him yet, but I’m impressed so far and look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Adding to the plus points are some interesting characters that, given the room to grow and evolve, could become some powerhouses in the world of “Gotham”.  Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) brings a level of sinister to the show, being a local Captain I guess and working for one Carmine Falcone, whose name I was quite pleased to hear.  Cobblepot, Nygma and Ivy all show up at one point or another which we already knew, at least those of us that have been keeping up with previews and interviews in the run up to the release.

Tonally I think they hit the nail on the head pretty well.  We have a city that’s hit hard by crime, policed by a force that’s more interested in lining their own pockets and keeping their own skin on than helping those in actual need of help.  Since it’s Gotham City, there obviously needs to be an atmosphere to this that screams fear and depression, with buckets and buckets of rain.  Check, check and check.  What they also need to do is avoid famous landmarks from any real world city that they may use to film in, since that would break the immersion into this entirely fictional city, so a CGI skyline is used throughout the show to keep us fully involved.  Granted, this is somewhat jarring sometimes, especially where you have a shot of characters with the skyline behind them.

So, on to the less than positive points, though I have to say there aren’t all that many.  First off, I know that this is a pilot but there is way too much crammed into this 48 minute first episode.  A lot of the scenes feel a little rushed and there isn’t a real sense of time passage because everything moves on so damn fast.  The time flew by, so there was plenty of enjoyment to be had from it, but I think some things were glazed over really quickly, like the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  I thought they could have spent a little more time there.  On top of that, I think they tried to introduce us to too many characters in such a relatively short space of time.  We had Jim, Harvey, Nygma, Ivy, her father, Selina, Bruce, Cobblepot, Renee Montoya, Alfred, Mooney, Falcone, all their assorted henchmen, Captain Essen, Barbara, Crispus Allen, Mayor James… and the rest.  You get the idea, I’m sure.  Now while, for the most part, I can forgive trying to cram when it comes to TV pilots I think there’s less of a reason here.  Yes, they need to pull the audience in but this isn’t as hard a sell as most pilots are.  Gotham was in a very strong position where the full season was ordered in advance, there were no suits that needed selling on this, they were already sold.  I think if they’d played some of their cards a little closer to their chest and fleshed a few parts of this out a little more, they’d actually captivate audiences a little more.

Set wise, I think a little more variety could be used to great effect, all the locations the detectives visit throughout the episode all feel very samey, I know that this is a run down city under the thumb of the mob, but it doesn’t mean that everything needs to look the bloody same.  Thanks to introducing us to so many new things, people and places nothing is really given time for us to understand or appreciate, many of the characters feel a little one dimensional right now because we just haven’t had enough time with them.  It’s a crying shame, but I think it’s something they can improve on, there’s plenty of time and I really think the show has all the signs of huge potential.

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With regards to the “unnecessary” side of things, there were a few things that popped up that I think they could have just skipped all together.  Nygma was a big one.  I mean, the guy has a few measly seconds on screen and literally spends the entire time spouting riddles at Jim and Harvey.  As a good guy.  On the GCPD.  After being asked for evidence.  It’s totally unnecessary, it’s basically the writers sitting there screaming “the Riddler!!  This guy’s going to be the Riddler!!  RIDDLER!!!!”  We get it, anyone that’s a Batman fan knows who Edward Nygma is, anyone that is familiar with the Riddler but maybe doesn’t know him by his civillian identity has a whole season to get to know him.  Play it a bit more coy.  Same can be said for Cobblepot.  I thought Robin Lord Taylor played him very well as the young, sadistic and over enthusiastic underling of Mooney but to have him screwed over within the first episode and gain an injury which could well provide him with the limp to accompany his general Penguin look was too much, too soon.  Oh, and Mooney’s henchmen calling him “Penguin” as a mocking name was also a little too on-the-nose for me.

We do suffer a little “deus ex machina” at the end too, which I find horribly annoying at the best of times but I had hoped a show like this would rise above it all.  I’m really trying hard to keep a lid on any major spoilers so I won’t go into too much detail on this one, but I just found it really damned irritating.

Still, I don’t want the negativity to play too heavily on this because I came away from the show having really enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to where they take the rest of the season I just hope they avoid some of the pitfalls that have been hinted at in this first episode.  If they can keep the shoehorning of in your face Batman easter eggs down a little, allow the character more screen time to grow on us a little more and slow the pace down a little bit then we’ll be on to a real winner.  As I said they have a great cast, there is the promise for some awesome characters and the development of Bruce Wayne is key to making sure this is the show we all want.  It wasn’t the DC show I’d wanted to start the most, Constantine still holds that honour, but as a start to the new TV season this will do the trick nicely and has me wanting more.  Overall, decent job but needs more work.  There is a real chance that after this they may lose a wedge of viewers, possibly only really hanging on to the big Batman fans until this ship is righted.

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