First Watch: Gotham: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Marvel’s Agents of Shield had been hyped to the max before it disappointed critics across the board. The formula was an interesting, new idea: Who are these agents—the law-keepers, the government employees, the order-maintainers—who exist in a world of superpowers and mad scientists? Wouldn’t it be a great idea to shine a light on the shadow-dwelling organization responsible for The Avengers? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Agent Coulson get his own team to take on HYDRA with? Yes! It’s just too bad the only interesting things about that show were the ideas.

Gotham has sprung from a similar seed, but with the added elements of a prequel. We follow young detectives James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harry Bullock (Donal Logue) as they navigate their way through the perilous streets of Gotham City, dealing with one-day-notorious criminals. The writers not only want to show us the transformation of young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to Batman, but of every major criminal in Gotham. What a cool idea. But did Gotham manage to pull it off better than Agents of Shield? Let’s find out.

Gotham's original "Dynamic Duo", James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harry Bullock (Donal Logue).

Gotham’s original “Dynamic Duo”, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harry Bullock (Donal Logue).

The first thing to happen in most iterations of Batman is a consistent event: Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in an alley, leaving Bruce an orphan. Almost as consistent is the need for TV shows to make sure every character is connected; a young street urchin, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), witnesses the whole thing. Our heroes, Gordon and Bullock, catch the homicide call and respond. Gordon, a war hero fresh out of the military, comforts a distressed Bruce, while Bullock—the seasoned, slightly crooked cop—does his best to push the case onto the major crimes unit.

I’ve got to stop for a second and appreciate Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue. Ben McKenzie is coming off an abrupt ending from Southland, one of my favorite shows, while Donal Logue did led Terriers for a stint (another show cut painfully short by an unforgiving network). I’m ecstatic to see them working, and together nonetheless.

Detectives Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) of the Major Crimes unit come out of the woodwork to offer to take the case off of Bullock’s paws. Bullock, out of spite and bullheadedness, (not so) politely tells them to buzz off.

With Bullock firmly on board to truly investigate the slaying of the Wayne’s, they head to Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). Fish, a lower level mob boss, owns the territory where the Wayne’s were murdered. No, you die hard Batman friends, you didn’t forget an obscure story line from the early Forties. Fish Mooney is an entirely original character invented for this series. We also meet one of her lackeys: Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). Yes, The Penguin will be a major character. Yes, The Penguin will also be a sociopath. What kind of information can you expect from a criminal? The wrong information, as it turns out.

From the misleading lead, the detectives track down a street thug by the name of Pepper. The man is largely unimportant to the story, except for his daughter: a little redhead by the name of Ivy. The confrontation leads to a foot chase, with Gordon as the chaser and Pepper as the chasee. Gordon catches his man and makes his arrest.

Gordon immediately feels wrong about, well, being wrong. He talks it out with his fiancé, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) who advises him to follow his gut. Meanwhile, Cobblepot betrays his boss, Fish, by ratting her false information out to Matoya and Allen. Cobblepot ambitiously attempts to take Fish out of the picture so he can move in on her territory. You can only imagine how that works out for him (it doesn’t).

Gotham has achieved something I call Noir Lite—a name I’ve coined for a series trying to fit into the iconic genre of Film Noir, but becomes a cliché of a farce. This isn’t to say the show itself is unwatchable: the acting is of such high caliber that Logue and McKenzie can sell me on some of the more stilted and tired dialog. Robin Lord Taylor has built a intense, sociopath of a Penguin that begs to be explored. Even David Mazouz can be interesting to watch as he plunges into darker territory.

The sets are beyond gorgeous and immersive. New York is the only location that would make sense for Gotham, but the slight CG enhancements are non-intrusive and only add to the natural grunge of the city’s backdrop. I spent half of the first episode wondering if this was a period piece because the tone was exactly what I would want from a Noir.

No, the fault is almost entirely on the writing of this episode. The nude exposition could not be helped by lazy banter. Despite these flaws, I can’t condemn Gotham. It’s piqued my interest. Besides, writing can always improve after the first few episodes.

Currently, the writing is a detriment which drags the whole show into the ground. Writers: Do something interesting with this! Do something exciting and new! Spend time building the city and it’s inhabitants for us. We will be grateful if you do.

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