Tuesday 14 October 2014

REVIEW: Gotham, episode one

Firstly, I realise that you're on episode six or something in the States. I'm in England, I had to wait for the pilot to air on Channel 5 last night. So for many of you, this is already out of date and thus probably quite irrelevant. Also, although I've been mostly steering clear of spoilers, there's a general consensus that I've picked up on that this series has started to improve as it's gone on. So I bear this in mind.

So... yeah. This has potential. As pilots go, this isn't bad, but it isn't terribly inspiring either. Nonetheless, I'm one of the few who is genuinely sold on the central idea of the series. There are dozens of superhero properties out there right now, and decades worth of screen takes on Batman. If they're going to do another one, it has to do something that's a bit different to what we've seen before. And while there's been a glut of prequels and remakes in recent years, sometimes they are a good idea. Sometimes there is a story to tell. I never would have said anyone was clamouring to hear the story of how Jim Gordon started out in Gotham City, but once it was suggested... well, I was intrigued. 

This first episode has its flaws. God, does it have flaws. The dialogue is frequently so cliched as to be risible. The plot doesn't so much resolve as just stop when Falcone walks in, and while I understand that it's setting things up for the long game, as an episode in itself it feels neither self-contained nor the first part of a serial. I love the idea of setting up various villainous characters in their early guises, but this really hammers it in. It's just about acceptable when the crooks sneer at Oswald and call him Penguin, and he screeches that he doesn't like to be called that. But the Ed Nygma as a riddling coroner, that just doesn't work. Ivy Pepper, presented as being the future Poison Ivy (did not enough people recognise the name Pamela Isley?), is too young to really stand a chance of coming into her villainy, so I'm guessing she's just a cute Easter egg. The pickpocketing Selina Kyle might work though, and I like the idea that she was witness to the Waynes' shooting. But really, there is such a thing as too much at once. If that comedian does turn out to be the Joker (which I doubt he will, but just in case) well, that's really going to be too much thrown into this first episode.

Still, there's a lot to like. There's a retro, prohibitionist vibe going alongside the mobile phones and contemporary trappings, and while in any other setting this would be sloppy, it works here. Gotham inhabits its own tilted time zone, not quite modern and not quite antiquated, which is exactly how it should be. I like Ben McKenzie. He hasn't convinced me as Jim Gordon yet, and he's going to have a hard time selling it to everyone who's seen Gary Oldman make his turn at the part definitive. Still, he has a gallant charm and I can see him working once he's more used to the role. Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, is a good addition to the set-up, and shows that with a few original characters to interact with the DC archetypes, there's interesting ground to cover. The gender and race balance is refreshingly mixed. Robin Lord Taylor is excellent as Oswald, all twitchy nerviness barely covering his restrained brutality. He's a little man who wants to be a bruiser, and he's by far the best thing about this.

Some of the casting lets it down though. Sean Pertwee is badly miscast as Alfred, cockneying it up way too much. He also looks and sounds so much like his dad these days that it just looks to me like the Doctor shouting at Bruce Wayne, but that's by the by. I'm very pleased to see Harvey Bullock finally get some decent live-action screen time, but I'm not convinced by Donal Logue in the role. He's not big enough, hard enough or imposing enough for Bullock. He should be a bull of a man; it's in the name. Admittedly I'm influenced by the animated version of the character, but that's because it worked. I can't buy Bullock in this.

Still, I want this to work, and I think it can. It needs to be able to tell it's own stories, without relying on nostalgia for the established characters. I'm eager to see how the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon develops, how Gordon stands a chance in a city where pretty much everyone seems to be on the side of the mob, and  what the future holds for Mssr. Cobblepot. I'm convinced this series can succeed, but it needs work.

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