For whatever reason, Fox is airing an encore presentation of the GOTHAM series pilot tonight (Friday, September 26, 2014). The show got unexpectedly good advance notices and I couldn't wait to watch it. Having seen it, I like almost all of it, but there is one, rather unavoidable problem in my opinion: In order to truly satisfy audiences, it has only ONE place to go and a very long way to get there - i.e., Gordon's promotion to Lieutenant and/or Commissioner as Bruce dons the cape and cowl. SMALLVILLE had the same built-in mandate, but benefited from the fact that Clark could have easily become Superman and the series could have just as well ended after the fifth or sixth season. Some believe it should have, anyway, despite some of the better, later season episodes like Geoff Johns' LEGION and ABSOLUTE JUSTICE.
Granted, GOTHAM's producers could stop a few years down the road, when the Waynes' murderer is finally caught and Bruce Wayne disappears to train himself. Or, maybe, the Waynes' murderer is NEVER caught on this show! I get the sense that we won't really know who killed the Waynes in this show, at least, until the end of the first season or even the end of the series, whenever that is, in part because it looks like they're going to build Gordon's relationship with young Bruce and that, of course, is built mostly on the promise Gordon makes to find the murderer of Bruce's parents. Once that's done, what logical reason does the much older Gordon have to remain such a figure in Bruce's life - especially since they're always going to to belong to two distinct levels of society?
So, what about the show overall? I enjoyed it. There is a noticeable element of camp beneath the otherwise dark, yet brilliantly realized imagery which I feel a lot of critics are overlooking and, perhaps, intentionally so. After all, it is based on a comic book - there's no getting around it - and no matter how plausible or gritty you try to make it, you're still dealing with what are or will eventually become distinctly colorful, even over-the-top characters. The show seems to draw on a number of sources, including the recent Arkham games. For example, I'm not sure if more recent comics have done this, but last year's ARKHAM ORIGINS made pre-Riddler Edward Nygma, AKA Enigma, a data cruncher of sorts within the Gotham Police Department, and for the first time as far as I know.
In the show, he's apparently part of the CSI team. Montoya, I think, sprang originally from the Animated Series in an effort to diversify Gotham and the police force along racial lines by having a strong, Hispanic woman as a detective. I'm still not quite sure where the animosity comes from between Montoya and Alan (remember GOTHAM KNIGHT from 2008?) of Major Crimes and the supposed "regular cops" like Gordon and Bullock, but I guess if they're competing for cases, that's enough. I don't know. This is a show that is intentionally being a little old school, so maybe that's what it is.
It's hard to tell in places, but the show is well cast pretty much across the board. Ben McKenzie makes a credible James Gordon, although there's not much to him yet - perhaps even less than some other characters despite only having been seen in one episode thus far. As the dialogue says, he's an ideological war hero out to continue the fight against evil in the Gotham PD, ready or not, and at the moment, that's pretty much it. Still, McKenzie manages to make that believable and add a certain level of awareness not usually found in such characters at this stage.
Donal Logue makes a good Harvey Bullock, but in a way, he's one of the campier characters. Though I get the producers' choices regarding his characterization, I personally hope he stops trying to shrug off cases the way he tries with the Wayne case because it doesn't make a lot of sense to me and isn't very appealing even for a morally questionable character like Bullock. If Bullock really has the inside track and is so cynical that he might even benefit on the side, then I think he would WANT the higher profile cases for the opportunity to distract the department away from his other... proclivities. At the very least, it might help him to protect or even manipulate his assets in the underworld, not to mention help keep his much-needed day job.
Only two others stand out in the pilot besides Bruce Wayne and that's Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney and her underling Oswald Cobblepot, who really is The Penguin already, just without all the power and control. The critics seem to like Mooney, an original character for the show. I can clearly see her function, but while I've liked Pinkett in other roles, something about this one just... annoys me a little. She's supposedly the next most powerful mob presence below Carmine Falcone, but if you want to play this realistically, then this doesn't seem the way. I just didn't buy into the image of someone like Carmine Falcone allowing this particular woman to have so much power on any level whatsoever. The mob, both in reality and in fiction so far, is very close-knit. Even the Italians and the Irish barely got along and the ethnicity factor, as un-PC as this undoubtedly sounds, is where my gripe resides. If they want a black woman as a crime boss, that's fine - great, even. For me, the problem is that the show is going for a quasi-1970's feel and, for the most part, achieves it - yet Mooney, however, sticks out like a sore thumb in that world, especially when it's revealed that she has at least some cooperation and corroboration with the Falcones despite a subtle, underlying rivalry. If they wanted to be realistic, that rivalry would not be so subtle and her power base would, well... it would look very, very different. Maybe I'm being too old school, but I just don't buy it yet no matter how fun it may otherwise be to watch... at times.
Robin Lord Taylor's Cobblepot is a different story, and while it takes some getting used to, I applaud the producers for not casting based on the much shorter, stumpy image of the comics. At the moment, Cobblepot is really someone torn between fear and ambition, with an underlying cruelty which seems to barely help him keep it together.
I'm anxious to see how his arc plays out, but I felt that his last minute or two in the pilot, having emerged from his faked, watery death, was shocking, yet appropriate in all the right ways. Seeing him almost effortlessly sneak up on that old fisherman, quickly kill him with his own fishing knife before just grabbing that sandwich and chowing down...? THAT is the Penguin, and in the moment, Taylor even looks a little like a bird as he's chewing - neck out, gazing over the water.
He's really the Norman Bates of the show's world, which I think is an even more appropriate comparison given that we know Carol Kane will appear as his mother in later episodes.
Finally... Bruce Wayne. Though I'm sure they were just saying it to promote their upcoming show, one of the producers, I think, stated in an advance preview that he thought young David Mazouz was the best Bruce Wayne yet on film - even mentioning Batman, who probably won't and shouldn't even appear on the show. 'Thing is, I'm hard pressed to disagree. We've all seen the murder of the Waynes played out on film at least three other times now, once even in BATMAN FOREVER. Something about the way it is presented in the first few minutes of GOTHAM really hits hard. A lot of it is probably the knowledge or feeling that all of Batman's drive, rage and force begins and boils down to that one, loud scream (corny, I know, but still...).
Some of it, though, is having pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle be an accidental witness. For me, that's the show and its pilot's most brilliant creative decision with regards to well-known canon and what the show might bring to it. It suggests that Selina might watch Bruce become Batman and that, unknowingly, they might even influence one another on some level.
It would certainly add dimension to their mutual attraction down the line. When Alfred goes to mock or somehow deride Gordon in the scene in which Gordon apologizes for not having captured the real killer yet, Mazous' Wayne snaps at Alfred to back down with but his first name and, really, that's where I believed - even in the form of this young kid - that this Bruce Wayne was going to become the Dark Knight.
I think GOTHAM has a long, hard road ahead of it - perhaps more so than some critics are willing to admit since they've been so smitten just with the tone and imagery of the show. From what I see online, not everyone was so enthused about the pilot and I can definitely understand that, but I think the aforementioned fact about what the show has to do only gives it a great challenge and I really hope the show rises to the occasion. I think they've gotten off to an incredible start on a show that nobody wanted or asked for, but which I sense most audiences will want to see for more than one or two seasons. As a big Batman fan, I'm intrigued at just how much this feels like a Batman show without the actual character, in costume, being anywhere in sight or in even the characters' minds.
If I had to guess, I'd say that Gordon will serve as the temporary "Batman" for the show - that his righteousness and influence will help to offset Bruce's rage and, when he's finally "conquered fear," as Bruce says, it will be Gordon's voice in Batman's head that keeps him from crossing the line. That's the voice that this show has the opportunity to develop, and if that's what we're about to see, then... again... I'm pleased, overall, with the start.