Finally after months of build up and anticipation Fox’s new DC Comics property ‘Gotham‘ hit screens across America on Monday, 22nd September.
Written by Bruno Heller, directed by Danny Cannon the show stars ‘The OC‘ alum Ben McKenzie as James Gordon, Donal Logue (‘Sons of Anarchy‘) as Harvey Bullock, David Mazouz (‘Touch’) as Bruce Wayne and Sean Pertwee (‘A Touch of Frost‘) as Alfred Pennyworth to name but a few.
Set in a Gotham city years before Batman would appear to clean up the streets the show centres around the younger Detective James Gordon, a new recruit under the leadership of Captain Sarah Essen – one to keep an eye on comics fans – and paired with fellow Detective Harvey Bullock a Gotham veteran with a darker side.
The cityscape of Gotham is littered with characters from comics lore, most notably Selina Kyle, Edward Nigma and Oswald Cobblepot who all make appearances throughout the episode. There is also a small appearance for a slightly altered Poison Ivy who is known here as Ivy Pepper and it’s worth noting that the team behind the show have said this is the first of several altered origins that will form part of the shows ongoing story.
‘Gotham‘ has been hailed by media around the globe as the most exciting new show this season, after the success of ‘Arrow‘ and the recent ‘Dark Knight‘ movies this show has a lot of hype to live up to. Thankfully it does a great job of living up to expectations, it still suffers from some typical pilot cliches but it can be forgiven because it all works pretty well throughout.
Let’s start with the high points.
Cinematography/lighting/set design – the show looks great. There’s a great cinematic feel to the pilot with sweeping shots of the cityscape which is a great augmented view of New York featuring smoke, the famous Gotham monorail and a few extra buildings and gargoyles just to add to that comic Gotham atmosphere. This show is never going to be quite as visually stunning as ‘Hannibal‘ but for the type of show that is it looks great.
The sets are lit beautifully, there’s a lot of shadows which are to be expected but also the city looks vibrant and alive. Bat-fans might recall the expansive and empty feeling the city had in the ‘Beware the Batman‘ show and this is the polar opposite. The streets are filled with citizens and the city feels like a living, breathing character. The opening sequence featuring the young Selina Kyle showing her crossing rooftops and using the architecture as her playground really plays up the nature of Gotham as a city and its a genuine pleasure to watch.
There are some great nods to set pieces from the comics. Barbara Kean – fiancé of Gordon and future mother of Batgirl – lives in what appears to be a clock tower and Wayne Manor is as sprawling and expansive as any fan of the franchise would expect. Fish Mooney’s club is somewhere between burlesque and back alley complete with its own Harley Quinn style dancers and requisite back alley for snitch beating.
Acting – stand outs in the pilot are Jada Pinkett-Smith who is channeling Ertha Kitt to epic proportions. Mooney has been written purposely for the show but she fits in with the big leaguers with ease. At times her presentation is a little stilted but she’s got the capability to become a breakout star in this show.
Robin Lord Taylor has been lauded by critics since previews of the show first started being released. His role is the most developed in the show in terms of his journey towards the villain he will ultimately become. He’s referred to as Penguin but not in such a way that it’s really thrown in the faces of the audiences like some kind of neon road sign pointing at where he will end up. He definitely makes a great impression and there were aspects of his character that I really hadn’t anticipated, over the coming weeks it’s going to be really interesting to see where this develops.
The ensemble cast has clearly pulled together really well and there’s great chemistry between McKenzie and Logue but also McKenzie and essentially every other actor in this episode. The relationship with Kean does need some more development, particularly considering the back story that has been injected in to her character which came a little from left field and possibly wanting to grab attention from ‘Orange is the New Black‘ fans.
I’ve no doubt that McKenzie can carry this show but given the calibre of actors and characters in the pilot he doesn’t have to because there are interesting facets to all the characters.
There are no huge special effects set pieces here but it’s worth noting that the quality of the effects put in to making the cityscape of Gotham integrate brilliantly with the live action elements. Despite the genre that bore this series the show is probably going to remain light on these kinds of effects which means the budget can be heaped in to the slick look the series has set itself with in this pilot.
If I have to mention low points then I’ll start with the murder of the Waynes, we’ve seen it many many times before but here it felt a little forced. From handing over the pearls to the fatal shots being fired there are only a matter of milliseconds and unfortunately it feels like they’re killed because they have to and not because there lives were in genuine danger due to the situation. It’s a small bug bear but it’s there-none-the-less. Thankfully it takes up no more than the teaser here so unlikely to ruin my enjoyment of the show overall.
My only other complaint would be that old pilot cliche of squashing in as many characters as possible to hook in the viewer for future story lines. The only character who feels forced is Edward Nygma who has very little introduction and appears in only one brief scene which manages to include a riddle and a reference to his continued speaking in riddles. The character himself is intriguing but could easily have been saved for later episodes.
Overall, in an industry saturated with new shows ever year and in a year when there’s a particular onslaught of DC Comics shows ‘Gotham‘ has left the gate with an impressive start and will hopefully continue to build on that strength and have a long successful run.
A definite must watch for Batman fans and also a darn good watch for crime buffs and procedural fans.
Checkout a preview of episode 2 ‘Selina Kyle‘ below: