What do Batman, Catwoman, Penguin, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Jim Gordon all have in common? They all squeezed into the foundation of a sorely derivative crime-series pilot, to disguise the very fact, and thought you wouldn’t notice.
Gotham is a prequel to the Batman story set during Detective James Gordon’s rookie years. We follow Gordon and cliché “wait ‘til you’ve been on the job as long me, kid” partner Harvey Bullock through what’s mostly an exercise in showcasing bite-sized versions of comic book icons. There’s a bit of a plot about a necklace, higher-up (or internal?) foul-play vis-a-vis the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and – wait, you don’t really care about any of this, do you? A young, attractive, ear-to-ear-grinning Edward Nigma got a riddle out! What more could you ask for?
Now, when it comes to “what the FOX say”, ‘wading pool depth’ comes standard (if history is bound to repeat). So when interesting moments perforate the PG-13, homicide-for-the-whole-family, manacled narrative of Gotham, they come as a pleasant surprise. Most of these occur within the last ten minutes of the episode, however, and are genuinely too few and far between to perform any sort of redemption of botched other factors. The concept of ‘criminally organized law and order’ is provoked via one Carmine Falcone, and forces Gordon, as well as us, to contemplate the essential difference between organized crime (viewed here in macrocosm) and government—hint: there’s not much—but that’s about it.
Preceding the Falcone sequence plays your stock ‘detective partners’ premise: the disgruntled vet and the idealistic rookie. The vet is restored a bit of lost innocence through his partner’s optimism, while the rookie is disillusioned in the bloodiest of fashions. Granted, McKenzie ably puts forth a believable, hopeless, but admirable “good cop”, but the character is simply so done and done-over—can’t we just talk about the one part where Ivy sprayed water on some plants? Or how about when Catgirl stole milk for a stray?
No we can’t, and this is the point. No matter how sexy of a Jim Gordon Ben McKenzie makes, Gotham’s Gordon (and his plight) raises no brain-boners, and although FOX is a far cry from HBO, this should not preclude it from attempting mental arousal. Yet, alas, historically low standards make for an opportunity lost in a potentially thematically-affluent arena, at least as far as the pilot is concerned. Despite the trend, room for improvement still exists in forthcoming episodes, although it would take a ‘dead-parents’ amount of pain on the writers’ part to pull off.
Ultimately and unfortunately, Gotham’s first episode compels the critical viewer to ask not, “Can noble protagonist, James Gordon, redeem the infamously corrupt metropolis Gotham?” but “Can the arena of Gotham save an uninspired protagonist and plot?” Well, simply, no it can’t, and no source to its adaptation, however steadfast, ever un-complemented or uncomplicated by novel, idiosyncratic perspectives can. Batman can only spout “I’m Batman” so much before it ceases to sound cool (granted, this could take some time); likewise, the vain allure of icon-cameos can only serve so far. When/if Gotham season two rolls around, fans will beg for steak and the series better boast more than sizzle at this fateful hour. Otherwise, it’s destined for the infamous island/continent of FOX’s misfit tries.