Gotham Episode 1.1: Pilot – Review

Well…  That was certainly worth the wait.  If you were hiding under a rock, you might have missed the fact that Gotham, the single most important comic book TV show of all time premiered last night.  Everyone watched it.  And those who didn’t will surely be heading over to their friends’ houses to watch their DVR’d copy or downloading or streaming the pilot episode within the next week in preparations for what will most assuredly be the best new cop drama on TV this season.  And the obligatory “Fox better not blow it this time” comment doesn’t even apply this go around because before the airing of the first episode, the channel ordered the entire first season, a record that has only been done (to success) in one other previous show in recent television history: 24.  But what makes this show so important, you might be asking?  Well, we all know the origin of Batman.  He’s a rich kid whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes, forever changing him and those around him until one day, said rich kid becomes an adult, still full of rage, and then a symbol.  Everyone knows why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, but this show is going to finally show us, for the first time in 75 years of publication, HOW he becomes the Dark Knight.

Naturally, if you didn’t see it yet, you should probably know that there will be spoilers.  But spoilers for a show like this will hardly do it justice.  You need to add it to your watch list and catch up immediately, even if you have only a passing interest in the story’s characters and the monumental historical value of a show like this.

Gotham Gordon and Bullock

The casting is absolutely perfect.  Jim Gordon is the heart of the story, the main character thus far, but Ben (Southland, The O. C.) McKenzie never once goes over-the-top to steal the scenes from his counterparts, much like that of the Jim Gordon we all know and love.  It is a blast to see him as an out-of-his-depth good guy wanting to do right by a city that wants nothing but to see him broken and defeated.  It’s also interesting to see him not quite as confident and bad ass as we know he is destined to become.  Relatively quickly in the episode, he makes a promise to young Bruce that he will show him the way, find his parents’ killer, and prove that Gotham’s not nearly as terrible as this scared little kid thinks it will is and forever will be.  And in perhaps the strongest scene of the whole episode between the two, newcomer David (Touch, Criminal Minds) Mazouz displays a maturity and acting ability beyond his years, forging a lifelong alliance with Gordon that will inevitably lead to the salvation of Gotham City.

The pacing is a slow-burn detective story.  Noir at its best.  The plot so far is that of a murder mystery with far-reaching ramifications and complex backstories abound.  The set up for the future tales is done in true Bruno (Rome, The Mentalist) Heller fashion, showing such grace and elegance that some might find it to be one of the smartest shows on TV right now, which is saying something.  TV is about as great as it has ever been, with the big screen being too expensive, full of remakes and unoriginal sequels/prequels/trilogies, and big name actors trading in their movie lot trailers for steady hours and consistent paychecks.

The cast is nicely rounded out by a bunch of TV veterans and even a few movie stars, promising to strengthen the story and the impact of the birth of Batman and his collective rogues gallery.  Donal (Grounded for Life, Terriers) Logue is the lovable loser crooked cop with a heart of, well, not much more than booze and self-preservation at this point, but man is he likable.  Jada (Collateral, Scream 2) Pinkett-Smith plays a tough-as-nails crime boss, showing that power really is beautiful and boy does she have the power.  John (Mystic River, The Wire) Doman plays the true crime boss of Gotham City, showing a love and understanding for a balance between law and order, proving that in his case, crime does pay.  Erin (The Quiet Ones, Open Grave) Richards is beautiful and mysterious, but not much else yet, as are newcomers Victoria Cartagena and Camren Bicondova.  Others who appear briefly, but memorably are on-the-rise stars Cory Michael Smith, Andrew Stewart-Jones, Zabryna Guevara, and Clare Forley.

But the two most important stars are not Jim Gordon or even young Bruce Wayne.  No, it’s the man who would-be the Penguin and the loyal butler with an edge that make this such a fascinating pilot episode.  Robin (Another Earth, Would You Rather) Lord Taylor is an absolute force, expertly walking the fine line between despicable weasel and heartless thug, all the while maintaining such charm that it is no doubt in my mind that he will be the fan-favorite character that I’ve always known Oswald Cobblepot should be.  Sean (Event Horizon, Dog Soldiers) Pertwee is an Alfred that comic book fans will love, but the depth of the relationship between him and “Master Bruce” will have to get some further exploration for me to be completely on-board.  Alfred is and always will be the true heart and soul of the Batman mythos, so a lot hinges on his subtle bad assery, well-timed quips, and general attitudes toward anyone and everyone who threatens the well-being of his “son.”

More importantly than all of the casting and the other wonderfully done elements of the pilot, is the successful (and rare) ability to create a simultaneously believable and fantastical “world view” that the first episode promises to continue expanding upon as the series continues.  Before Batman, before the Penguin, before Catwoman, before Poison Ivy, and even (if you watched closely) before the Joker, Gotham was run by crime families.  But there was order.  With the unsolved murder of the Waynes, prepare for chaos, costumes, capes, and criminals of a new calibre.

Gotham Penguin

The Penguin is an absolute revelation for some, but fans who have been waiting their entire lives for this story now know the complexities beyond the crime boss with a penchant for umbrellas and birds.  I can’t wait to see where the next episode takes us.  Count me in for the long haul.

My Rating: 5/5

 

But what did you think?  Too much character-building?  Not enough set-up for future stories?  Or was it just right?  I want to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.  After all, what’s the point of watching a TV show that only comes around once in a lifetime (or several lifetimes even) if you don’t discuss what worked and what didn’t for you as a viewer?  So welcome aboard, new readers, new viewers, and new fans.  Join the trolls, the haters, and the skeptics in a discourse worthy of the residents of Gotham City.  In the mean time, I’ll see you for Baturday and a new episode next Monday night on Fox!

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