Gotham Series Premiere Review: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)


Let me start off by saying that I was always down with the idea of Gotham, a Batman prequel without Batman, the second the series was announced. I really enjoyed the Gotham Central comic books that followed GCPD’s best and brightest as they fought crime on the corrupt streets of Gotham City, and often felt that it would make for a compelling TV show or movie.

There’s something incredibly intriguing about turning the focus of a superhero drama away from the superhero in question. The costumed heroes and caped vigilantes we’re so enamored with exist in worlds filled with normal citizens who serve mainly as background noise or people in need of saving. We hardly ever tell their stories, so the idea of a Batman series ignoring Batman altogether to focus on the citizens of his deadly city definitely piqued my interest.

Based on the pilot alone, it’s clear that Gotham won’t in fact ignore Batman altogether. In fact, the shadow of the Dark Knight hangs over the entire episode, sometimes in a good way and sometimes as a crutch. One of the biggest hurdles Gotham will face as it goes on is its devotion to the source material. Batman is so iconic and has been given so many iterations over the years that everyone has already picked a favorite adaptation or direction. Gotham will have to walk the fine line of being respectful to what came before, and retelling the story in a new, fresh way. The pilot teetered on both sides of that edge, as it sometimes showed too much devotion to the books (as seen with the Riddler’s intro) while other times throwing a nice curve ball that showed a desire to say something new about characters we’re already familiar with (like Sean Pertwee’s Alfred, who is the opposite of the prim-and-proper butler we’ve come to know and is more of an over-protective hard ass).

One way the series can differentiate itself from what came before is how it handles the Jim Gordon storyline. Gordon is iconic, but we know very little about him other than his penchant for lighting up the Bat signal and waiting around on rooftops. Ben McKenzie, unfortunately, feels like a side character in his own story. I know that we’re only one episode in, but Gotham feels more like an overview of the titular city itself than a story about the idealistic young detective who would one day become the iconic mustachioed commissioner.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and if handled well it could lead to quite an interesting series. I just think that, for its inaugural episode, Gotham needed to be a bit more focused and controlled. For example, the opening shot of the series is a young Selina Kyle (newcomer Camren Bicondova, who remains silent throughout the episode but has plenty of great cat-like nuances) roaming the streets only to happen across the famous double homicide of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The murder scene itself is truly gripping and capped off by an excellent scream of absolute horror from David Mazouz, who plays young Bruce Wayne. However, Selina’s part in it takes us out of the scene rather abruptly. What are we supposed to be focusing on? Why are we following her into this scene, instead of connecting with Bruce himself?