The new Fall TV season is upon us. Last night, Gotham premiered on Fox. The high-budget reimagining of a young Jim Gordon investigating the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in a gritty, corrupt city where future Batman villains are simply getting their starts. Alex, Seth, and Joseph share their reviews of the first episode, what they liked, what they didn’t, and what they hope the show will become.
Alex Beene: Poor DC. They’re constantly getting criticized for being way behind Marvel in theaters these days. One area they always seemed ahead in over the years was the televised landscape. WB had a big hit in “Smallville,” the young Superman-based teen drama which ran for 10 seasons, and they’re currently enjoying success with “Arrow.” The CW will also debut a series based on DC’s fast-running hero, The Flash, later this year.
But now, even Marvel seems to be taking the reins of the small screen, as well. Agents of SHIELD proved to be a smash for ABC and is returning for a second season. To match it, FOX has placed a bet on Batman in its Monday night line-up. “Gotham,” which has “The O.C.” and “Southland” star Ben McKenzie playing a young James Gordon, looks to profile the early years that led to the rise of Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight.
The extensive advertising campaign certainly raised hopes. There is some good news to report: the pilot isn’t a complete dud. There’s a meaty base of characters and storylines introduced in episode one to sink our teeth into the city. Younger versions of Catwoman, the Penguin and the Riddler all share some screen time to get the ball rolling.
If only it all didn’t feel so cookie-cutter. For all its good intentions, “Gotham” still feels like a run-of-the-mill cop drama with some Batman branding sprinkled on top. Of course, it’s only week one, and there’s still plenty of room for growth. I’m not going to turn off this comic book drama until I give it some time to see where things lead. The preview for week two didn’t provide much inspiration, though. “Did anyone ever tell you you look like a penguin?” Really? That’s the best the writing staff can come up with for villain origins? Maybe the Caped Crusader is best left on the big screen.
Seth Wiedemann: First off, I just want to say that I’ve been against this show from the start. I’m generally going to be against a show that monkeys around with the already-established origin stories of my favorite comic book characters. Some of my early skepticism was confirmed last night when we were introduced to about 50 characters in the first 30 minutes. I don’t know why the show feels it needs to bash the audience over the head with how obsessed a character is with RIDDLES, or flat out HEY THIS GIRL’S NAME IS IVY AND SHE LOVES PLANTS. A little subtlety would have been nice.
The reason I will continue to watch the show, is because A) I already expected the bad parts to be terrible, so I wasn’t surprised, and B) because I believe if the show can be great if it chooses to focus more on Jim Gordon’s story arc fighting the mob than the “HEY LOOK AT CATWOMAN-GIRL CLIMBING THROUGH EVERY SCENE” nonsense.
Bad parts aside, the show does a great job depicting a gritty and unique version of Gotham, and I thought there were some great casting choices with The Penguin and Carmine Falcone. I’m definitely not sold on the show yet, but I haven’t completely given up on it either.
Joseph Williams: I’ve long been a cautious optimist in most areas of my life, and my anticipation of “Gotham” was no different. As a recent convert to The O.C., I was excited for Benjamin McKenzie and hopeful that someone would actually make happen what so many on the internet wanted: a character to punch out the young Jim Gordon in the pilot and say, “Welcome to Gotham City, B*TCH!” Alas, despite several opportunities to provide this wonderful allusion, they didn’t do it. And it was a missed opportunity, because the writing didn’t hold any punches when it came to some other cheesy, wink-wing cliche moments in the pilot.e
But, like Seth, most of what I chuckled or rolled my eyes at was expected. I wasn’t going into this pilot expecting True Detective or Game of Thrones or Christopher Nolan’s trilogy on the small screen. I was hoping for a solid start to a series that could be unique among the pantheon of Batman/Gotham City depictions on the large or small screen. And I felt it was a solid start, with indications that it could become something wonderful or could collapse into a myriad of missed opportunities.
So what leaves me hopeful? The grittiness of Gotham from one of the men that brought us HBO’s Rome was as wonderful a portrayal as we’ve ever seen, and left levels of intrigue that will make me want to spend time in these locations with these characters even if some of the writing leaves me rolling my eyes. Furthermore, the placement of Future Riddler within the corrupt police department and Future Pre-Obese Penguin’s storyline left me legitimately intrigued for more. The conspicuous absence of The Joker was also a nice touch in an episode overwrought with a future villain at every turn.
Like Seth, there’s promise with McKenzie’s Young Jim Gordon’s storyline, whether it’s his fiancee with a mysterious past or courage under fire in a corrupt world. And I also think a more refined focus on one of the villains each week (next week looks like Penguin) along with an attempt to make the show smarter with a wink instead of overwrought, poorly written nods to things the audience should know would go a long way towards making “Gotham” a legitimate contribution to the world of Gotham we’ve come to love so much.