Gotham First Impressions Review
In my opinion, expectations for media are inevitable, but often misleading. Sometimes a show can be good, and sometimes it can be bad. However, occasionally something much stranger occurs; you were expecting a show to be awful, and were somewhat pleasantly surprised to find it was okay. FOX’s new Gotham TV series falls into this strange category. It’s not great, but it’s a lot better than I was expecting.
The show’s premise is one of the reasons I was certain it would suck, since it takes place in Gotham in the immediate aftermath of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder, the event that would compel Bruce Wayne to become Batman. However, the show’s not about Batman. It’s about the Gotham City Police Department, specifically Harvey Bullock (played by Donal Logue) and a young Detective James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie), and I guess it’s good that, since the series doesn’t focus on Batman, the two best actors in the thing are its leads. Logue plays such a wonderfully hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, corrupt cop who doesn’t give a shit about justice and just wants to do his job and keep his head down, which is in no way made easier by the fact that he’s stuck being the lead detective on the most high profile murder case in Gotham history. He’s violent, gruff, crude, and so much fun to watch. Luckily his “lackadaisical cynicism” (quoting the show) is counter-balanced by the morally upright, kind-hearted, determined young Jim Gordon as played by Ben McKenzie. He strikes the perfect balance between kindness and strong sense of justice and not appearing naïve. He’s committed to his job and wants to see justice done, while being aware of what he needs to do or look away from to survive.
Other actors in the pilot tend to be good as well. Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, an up-and-coming mobster and club madam, plays a role that combines the right mix of smooth, sultry, and sadistic to be a memorable villain. Among the supporting characters, no one was better than the actor playing Carmine Falcone, who is…John Doman?! So Commander Rawls got sick of the stupidity in the Baltimore police department, moved to Gotham, and became a crime boss? It’s amazing how much sense that makes to me. There are other The Wire references to like Michael Kostroff (the lawyer Levy from The Wire) in a random Gotham police officer appearance, and he brings the same disinterested asshole performance here. Even the kid actors are, at worst, kind of wooden, and some of them approach good, like David Mazouz who played the young Bruce Wayne are actually okay. The only actor who left no real impact on me is Sean Pertwee as Alfred, who I just found somewhat distractingly cockney and crass, but left no real impact.
Unfortunately, as good as the acting is, a lot of the plot points and scripting problems undercut it in a lot of ways. For example, a lot of the dialogue is terrible. Lines like, “There will be light. THERE WILL BE LIGHT!!” made me cringe because, last time I checked, Jim Gordon is not a televangelist. Like I quoted above, some of the dialogue is good, but a lot of it falls into the realm of generic clichés when it’s not outright atrocious. Another big problem with the scripting is that, despite this not being a show about Batman, the cameos of later Batman characters, namely villains, are distracting and, at least for now, largely pointless. It’s worse from a plot perspective because, aside from the Penguin, a lot of them are included through really contrived coincidences in the plotting, and they keep raising questions like, “Why is The Riddler a police forensics expert?” “Why is Poison Ivy the daughter of the man who was framed for the Waynes’ murders?” “Why did 12 year old Catwoman just so happen to be in the exact right alley at the exact right time to witness the murder of the Waynes?” There are also some strange plot decisions like implying that the future Mrs. Barbara Gordon had a fling with Officer Renee Montoya for no other reason than maybe to establish the fact that in the comics she’s a lesbian. Also, they have Catwoman stalking Bruce Wayne now, again for no apparent reason other than people know they will be a on-and-off couple as adults. Also, when they have Bullock discuss the man that was framed for the Waynes’ murders, and how he killed an innocent man, I kept scratching my head because, even if he didn’t kill the Waynes, he fled police custody and assaulted a police officer with a deadly weapon. Pretty sure no jury would convict a cop of shooting a man trying to kill his partner, but this is Gotham, so maybe all the jurors are mobsters.
On the whole, this pilot is a mixed bag. While there are talented actors giving good performances, and while the set design and camerawork is pretty effective, a lot of dumb plot decisions, pointless cameos, and generic to awful dialogue tend to undercut the good points of the show. Like I said in the beginning, it’s not terrible, but it’s still left me unsure of whether it’s good or not.
Gotham is a mixture of good and bad traits. A good cast turning in good performances is undone by awful dialogue and strange plot decisions. A lot of good camerawork and decent set design is largely ignored because of distracting cameos and obnoxious coincidences.