SDCC 2014: Fox’s “Gotham” Has Potential Despite Flawed Pilot

On Saturday at SDCC I had one goal: see the premier of Gotham. Everyone else was gunning for the Marvel panel which was, admittedly, absolutely amazing. Blew my mind. Fantastic. But if not for the Age of Ultron footage I probably could have skipped it. What I wanted to see was that first episode of Gotham.

DC and Fox had been pushing it so hard all weekend.

Between the Gotham zip line outside the Hilton Bayfront – which gave away Gotham detective badges which that were arguably the coolest swag of SDCC 2014 – to the Gotham police cars driven by Uber drivers they were really going all out.

I admit, I had been hooked on the idea of Gotham ever since it came out. I wanted it to be good so badly that I dedicated my Saturday to Hall H just to see it. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed because I wasn’t really disappointed. But Gotham did fail to live up to my lofty expectations. That’s okay, though.

No show is ever going to be perfect and unlike other shows Gotham gets enough right that it could be great.

What Gotham Gets Right

1. It has some really great actors.

From the get go Gotham hired some great actors to fill the iconic shoes of the series’ characters. Most people think of Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood from the O.C. but he had a fantastic run on Southland as Officer Ben Sherman. His portrayal of a young Jim Gordon was a little off but I think it shows a lot of promise to pick up and, honestly, he’s the kind of guy who can probably pull it together. I think he and Donal Logue – who plays Harvey Bullock – are really going to sell the show between the two of them. They have good chemistry and given a little more freedom I think there’s going to be a lot of really great moments with Jim and Bullock coming along. The pilot episode – especially the ending in particular – really hints at Donal Logue’s ability to pull off what will arguably be a complex version of Bullock’s character with a lot of depth and development. If nothing else, he’s going to be a real viewer favorite. These two were pegged to carry the show and after seeing the pilot I completely believe that they can do it.

The supporting cast has some real heavy hitters, too. Jada Pinkett Smith original character, Fish Mooney, gets the drop on Gordon very early on and it’s going to be interesting to see how that all plays out. Sean Pertwee’s Alfred is interesting – a much more imposing, heavy handed, and potentially vulgar Alfred than we’re used to seeing. And, honestly, Robin Lord Taylor might just steal the show with his Oswald Cobblepott. The kid they cast as a young Bruce Wayne is adorable as is our young “Ivy Pepper.” The others, honestly, I need to see more of to form an honest opinion about if the show fails it likely won’t be the fault of the main actors cast in the lead roles at least.

2. It has a great cast of characters.

You can’t argue that Gotham doesn’t have one of the best sets of comic book characters available to it. Batman and Gotham City’s circus of villains is iconic. Millions have grown up on Batman cartoons, movies, and comics and the Batman logo is probably one of the most easily identified around the world. What’s going to be interesting about Gotham is seeing how they use those characters. So far, they’ve really done a great job adapting certain characters for the series. Oswald Cobblepott in particular is going to be a fantastic character to follow through the series. He’s a dark, vicious, self serving character through and through and if we get more adaptations like his through out the series we’re not going to be disappointed. It’s going to be interesting to see who else pops up throughout the show and it’ll be fun to speculate on the ones we already know are coming.

3. The degree of violence and ethical dilemmas make this Gotham.

If one thing is for certain, this show is certainly about Gotham city. But it’s a Gotham before the freaks really start to show up. Bad guys aren’t running around in costumes using code names just yet. They are real people doing terrible things in a city that’s at war with itself. You can see the corruption on the streets and you can feel the corruption in the police department. Even after just one episode Jim Gordon finds himself faced with those realities and even for a battle hardened soldier it’s not easy to deal with. Meanwhile, when he tells Bruce Wayne at the scene of his parents’ murder that he’ll catch the guy who did it, even Alfred just kind of laughs at his naivety. It’s a dark setting and the questions raised and the dilemmas faced by the characters going in prove that this isn’t going to be some lighthearted cop drama.

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4. It’s familiar and the show knows it’s audience but there is room to grow.

The introduction of Fish Mooney so early in the series shows that Gotham doesn’t have to be completely bound by canon to stick to it’s roots. The development of most of the villains into the iconic characters we know them to be is going to be slow going. It has to be because so many of them developed much closer to the arrival of Batman. And, anyway, Gotham hasn’t fallen so far yet that the bad guys are supervillains. The writers show us enough of what we need to see that this is Gotham city and that this is all coming from the Batman lore. But they also have a sort of freedom that’s kind of exciting. They can re-write backstories. They can throw a wrench into things. They can create all new characters – like Fish Mooney – to give Gordon’s rise to power within the GCPD more depth and to challenge him before the big hitters and Batman show up. They can create connections between characters that didn’t exist before and they can run with ideas that wouldn’t fit in the comics or that the comics are too far ahead in the timeline to consider.

That is the most exciting thing about Gotham. It’s not them showing us what we know that is going to be the real selling point of this series but them showing us what we don’t know.

Where It Goes Wrong

1. The atmosphere is weird.

The general scenery, I guess, is just a little weird. The skyline of Gotham has an odd contrast and I’m never sure if it’s supposed to look real or find some odd, CGIed balance between an actual comic book feel and a normal, modern look. Whatever they are doing, it’s really not working for me. It looks fake and cheap while the rest of the series generally seems realistic. The exception perhaps being the GCPD bullpen where we first meet Jim Gordon. At times it just feels like they are trying too hard to make the series seem like a comic and they really need to ditch that going forward. I love comic books but I don’t like people trying to force that sort of juxtaposition on me.

2. The show needs to make me care about it more.

I’m already in this show for the Batman references and so throwing those at me isn’t going to make me care. They seem to have shoved a lot of references and characters into the pilot that they presumably will build on later but I need more than that to keep bringing be mack. I don’t necessarily need to see a baby Riddler in the first episode. The novelty of hearing him riddle crime scene questions to the cops isn’t what makes me care about a show. What makes me care are the characters themselves and the on-going story. The pilot sets up some nice on-going story potential for Jim versus the organized crime bosses in the city but they do such a poor job of making me care about his fiancee and the potential repercussions there that the suspense and fear that’s supposed to keep me coming back just falls a bit flat. Even Bruce Wayne, adorable as he is, hasn’t quite hooked me yet because they rush a bit too fast into making him some budding superhero and don’t really give him time to grieve or be a kid that we want to see grow up into Batman.

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3. If it keeps trying as hard as it did in the pilot it’s not going to last.

Another thing about the random insertion of various characters in the pilot is that it makes it hard to really connect to the show. It makes it feel like it’s almost trying too hard. Did we really need to have Edward Nygma and Ivy Pepper in the first episode? Ivy, maybe. Her father and her character added something to the episode. But Edward Nygma’s insertion into an early scene could have been written in elsewhere in a later episode were they had time to develop the character as more than just a short cameo for the sake of throwing in a few riddles. It makes me nervous that they are going to do the same with other characters and, honestly, it almost feels like what they did with young Selina Kyle who – besides witnessing the Waynes’ murder – had no real reason to show up the other couple of times she did in the latter part of the episode.

I know what you’ve got up your sleeve, Gotham. You don’t need to show me your cards too early. You don’t need to cram as much as you can into every episode. Do that and I’m just going to get bored and roll my eyes every time you shove yet another reference down my throat. Make me care. Use the characters you introduce wisely. Give me a reason to root for them. I need that if I’m going to come back week to week.

4. Renee Montoya deserves better than she gets in the pilot.

Okay, so, I don’t want to spoil too much so if you don’t want to know some pretty big spoilers for the pilot episode then don’t read on.

I just feel like I want to say this.

Renee Montoya is a fantastic character.

When I heard that she was going to be joining the series as a character I was thrilled. But her initial portrayal alongside partner Crispus Allen seemed a little flat. It wasn’t so bad but then she develops some personal vendetta against Bullock and Gordon. Especially Gordon despite the fact that he’s been on the job for literally a day and really hasn’t had enough time to become a dirty cop. Then, it turns out that she apparently used to date Barbara, Jim Gordon’s fiancee. Which, you know, I’m fine with Barbara being bisexual. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with everything about Montoya being turned around to make her the bad guy trying to basically destroy Jim Gordon’s life. Renee ought to be more than that. And, while I’m sure eventually she’s going to turn out to be realize that Jim’s a good guy and they’ll be BFFs or whatever, her character is always going to be sullied in viewers’ minds – if not by the fact that she went after him professionally but because she’s got this potential home-wrecker thing going for her now.

I’m hoping that this pilot isn’t a good indication of how she’s going to be used in the series.

I’m hoping that Renee Montoya gets more of an opportunity to shine as things go forward.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Seeing the pilot was my one goal for Saturday at SDCC and I’m glad that I stuck it through and got the chance to see it. It was late and I was definitely tired. DC’s night of premiers began with the Flash and so Gotham didn’t even start until around 10 PM. But I’m glad I saw it. Like I said, I can’t say I was really disappointed in the show because I wasn’t. It was fun to watch even if it wasn’t everything I had hoped it was going to be before seeing it. I really like the idea of Gotham. I’m glad to have seen that the show has potential and I think once they embrace it that this show is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Do I think it’s going to last? I think I need to see a few more episodes to tell that for sure. The series certain has flaws. But it also has a great cast and a lot of smart people behind it. In the end, I think we’re going to just have to wait to see.

If you’re interested in seeing the pilot yourself before chiming in, it will premier on FOX on September 22nd at 8:00 PM.

And if you’ve already seen the pilot – which means you were in the Hall H crowd with me – what did you think?

3 responses to “SDCC 2014: Fox’s “Gotham” Has Potential Despite Flawed Pilot

  1. Pingback: Gotham: Premiere Recap | Nerdophiles·

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