Smallville, the CW’s highly successful ten year series has got nothing on Gotham. Smallville’s credo was “no tights, no flights.” Gotham goes one better and takes the approach of “the Dark Knight stays out of sight.” That is to say, we don’t even see a young Batman in this show. Batman hasn’t yet begun his one-man costumed vigilante spree; we have here a pre-teen Bruce Wayne, whose parents are gunned down in the pilot.
Rather than Batman, the show centers on detective Jim Gordon, who comes off as the inspiration for Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis into the dark hero. This Jim is a fighter, a no-nonsense officer of the law, surrounded by a city immersed in corruption. It seems like every city in these shows is corrupt nowadays. Benjamin Mackenzie as Gordon and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, an underworld crime figure, are the best things about the show. Pinkett Smith is all campy menacing fun, but Mackenzie runs the show. He’s excellent and as such, is out of place is this lazy underwhelming pilot.
Right off the bat, the show makes the mistake of being overly self-aware by cramming so many familiar characters into the pilot as a wink-nudge to the audience. “There’s the young Catwoman!” who offers absolutely nothing to the plot. “There’s the young Penguin!” who also plays a very small role in advancing the plot. Even worse, his arc offers up no clue as to why he becomes the Penguin. As a matter of fact, none of the characters presented in the pilot who eventually become a part of Batman’s rogue’s gallery are provided any sense of motivation or explanation as to why they become the villains they become. They’re only here as window dressing and a means to remind the audience that this is Batman’s world. And cramming so many wink-nudges in the pilot only serves to make the world created in the pilot extremely small and implausible.
The world of Gotham is made even more insignificant by the simplistic plot, which I won’t reveal. There’s not much mystery here, there’s no sustained suspense, everything seems by the numbers. Donal Logue as Gordan’s partner Harvey Bullock is completely unbelievable as a stereotypical cynical grizzled hardened cop. His attempt at playing a jaded “seen it all” detective comes off as corny. There are a couple scenes where he exhibits some humor that make it clear he should’ve been written as more of a comic relief character. There’s the female cop who hints to having knowledge of Gordon and some sordid goings-on in his past, and of course, she confronts Barbara Gordon and bang! We have a ham-handed setup to what will be a derivative Gordon arc, perhaps a love triangle (please, no) which will most likely run through the first season. The dialogue is at best uneven. It hits a low point with Gordon, telling Bruce something like, “However dark and scary the world may be right now, there will be light.” Okay, Gordon’s a badass here, but he ain’t God, is he?
Look for one standout scene worthy of a better show. It features Jim Gordon in a tete-a-tete with criminal boss Falcone. It’s well-written, excellently acted and the only compelling moment of the show. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. I was also surprised at the violence and language in the show, given that it’s airing in primetime. I suppose when you launch a show based on a legendary property and omit the central character, you have to up the ante somehow. God bless ’em, I guess they thought Smallville’s success could strike twice. I won’t hang around to find out if they’re right.