Gotham: Pilot Review

The city is being overwhelmed by criminals. They own the police, they own the mayor and the ‘good’ people are either fighting a losing battle, or have already given in either because if you can’t beat them you might as well join them, or just to protect themselves from retribution. But this isn’t just any city, it’s the city that will one day be home to Batman. Gotham opens with Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered in front of him. Detective James Gordon, a recent transfer to the city, promises Bruce that he will find who did it, breaching both a pretty solid rule of policing and certainly a rule of Gotham. Gordon’s partner is less enthusiastic and over the course of the hour they battle each other and the various criminal elements in an attempt to solve the case.

Gotham is one of the most hotly anticipated new shows of the year, and with the recent successes of the Dark Knight and the popularity of various comic book/superhero adaptations on big and small screen, it’s a fantastic concept. Going back to the early days of Gotham, being introduced to the heroes and villains a couple of decades before they become the characters we know gives the writers a huge amount of potential, and established ideas.

It all sounds great. But I was very disappointed with the delivery. My hopes were admittedly very high but from the opening scene I was underwhelmed, and on occasion deeply disappointed. It felt like the show had been completely scripted, down to every last frame, blink and mutter and no one would deviate from that script despite the fact that it felt a million miles from the way anyone would speak or act. The introduction of Gordon as he strode through a crowded room of idiot police offers actually made me groan, it was so trite and obvious. Every word felt like a line, a cliched and hammy line at that. All the actors seemed unsettled in their roles, as if they were playing each scene from the script without knowing what their characters were really thinking or motivated. I guess we’re just not supposed to trust anyone, but I’m sure there’s a way to play that without making it seem like the character themselves doesn’t know who they are. These actors can all do better.

The nuts and bolts of it were just erratic as well, with elements working beautifully in one scene, but then poorly in another. The cinematography was mostly gorgeous, gritty and grey shots of the alleyways and rooftops of New York, I mean Gotham (Gotham with the Brooklyn Bridge admittedly). But then there were weird moments that utterly didn’t work (the running towards the camera shots particularly unpleasant).

Now that I really think about it, I’m also worried about the sustainability of the concept. After all, unless they deviate hugely from the comic series, we know the future of many of these characters. You know that when someone points a gun at Gordon’s head, he’s not going to die. That lack of real jeopardy is problematic, and you need to be completely immersed in the moment so that you can forget you know the ending. But to immerse in the moment you can’t be constantly given cameos and portentous close-ups for familiar characters. It just doesn’t work. Gotham runs the risk of turning into a fairly unremarkable police procedural/mob drama, and there’s some very high calibre competition in that field.

As with most “hotly anticipated” things, reality rarely lives up to hype, but I was really sad at how far I felt this fell from the mark. I haven’t killed the series record yet, because many of the issues with script and acting could (and should!) be just down to it being a pilot. But it’s not got off on a good foot.

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