(Take Me to the Premieres) On TV: (Thoughts on) Gotham – “Pilot”

So, where does Batman live?

gotham-title-card-season-2

Bruno Heller’s new series, Gotham, which is based on the mythology and characters of DC Comics’ Batman, premiered on September 22, 2014 on FOX. And it was about time I checked it out. Gotham focuses on Detective James Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) early years at the Gotham Police Department, as well as the origin stories of several villains and the formative years of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz, who will grow into Adam West/Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer/George Clooney/Christian Bale/Ben Affleck; yes, I’m giving the Batfleck the chance to prove himself).

For the record, McKenzie wants you to know he can pull off a mustache (Note: Just watch Junebug (2005). It’s a great film…). Pretty, but not nearly as alluring as Gary Oldman. Now that I’m thinking about it, McKenzie’s Junebug co-star Amy Adams (pictured; right) played Lois Lane in Man of Steel (2013) and a villain of the week on Smallville’s first season, and auditioned for Superman Returns (2005). Quite a coincidence, uh?

While I’m not a hardcore devotee of comic books, I totally dig Batman. I definitely have a soft spot for the Caped Crusader and all the other fascinating characters that populate Gotham City. So, seeing a new, well-written adaptation of their stories seemed attractive. So, here are the thoughts that flew through my mind while watching the pilot, just for fun:

First of all, the series is not badly lit. Sometimes, its colors retain a dreamy, somewhat pulpy quality. Something that is more similar to Tim Burton’s version of Gotham. It doesn’t really take much to warm up to this type of visuals, since the series looks good. And it is gritty enough, but not as gritty as the Christopher Nolan films.

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It’s time to try defying gravity… Sort of…

The first character to appear is a teenaged Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), running on a rooftop. At some point, I thought she was going to jump from there to the street – which would’ve thrown any promise of groundedness out of the window – but it turns out the writers just made her jump on a food truck and then on the street… Which is still a very TV thing, but more believable than the other option. Anyways, I like how Bicondova’s facial expressions remind both of a tricky little girl and a cat. And she has a cool, winky smile that’s totally spot-on with Catwoman’s future playfulness and self-confidence (note: Bicondova said she thinks the best adult Catwoman is Julie Newmar from the 1960s Batman television series). I like that. Plus, her eyewear is straight out of the comics. How cool is that they’re putting easter eggs from the first scene already? Anyways, at the end of the day Selina’s just a girl like many others who just wants to steal some money and milk to feed street cats… And who unwittingly witnesses the murder of Gotham’s richest couple.

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I imagine that seeing well-loved rich kid Bruce with his parents must have made orphan Selina a tad envious… That before some crook shot them dead, of course. The scene of the murder of the Waynes and Bruce’s reaction also looks a lot like the art from Year One (1987). It’s pretty remarkable how well they adapted it. Mazouz stated he thought about his goldfish’s death while screaming. I imagine it must have been pretty odd for the actors who played Thomas and Martha (Grayson McCouch and Brette Taylor) to just stand there, playing dead, for a number of takes while that kid just screamed his lungs out… Since Heller stated they’re planning to stay away from the more fantastical aspects of the comic book world, I supposed we ain’t getting Zatanna anytime soon. Which is too bad: Zatanna is cool, and seeing her childhood association with Bruce would be fun since it would be a first. But hey, at least we’re getting Tommy Elliot (Cole Vallis).

As soon as Alfred (Sean Pertwee) picks Bruce up from the crime scene, he’s telling him to keep his head up… I suppose he’s taking the concept of “tough love” just a little bit too much to heart. Also, Mazouz looks much better with his hair short and straight. Much, much better. Regarding that, I’d advise all normally unattractive people to move to this particular version of Gotham City, where it seems like usually unattractive characters can be turned into pretty young things (apparently, Heller forgot Gotham wasn’t a CW pilot).

The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in the comics. Art by Brian Bolland

Beware, people: there’s a new skinny bitch in town (He does kinda look like the evil butler who turns out to be a murderer, doesn’t he?)

In the comics, the Penguin is a very fat, very short, grotesque-looking man with a very big nose. Then, here on Gotham, we meet a young Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and he is… Pretty? I mean, he still looks creepy and very white, has an odd hairdo, a prosthetic nose and odd teeth, but… I mean, you can’t say he’s unattractive. And “unattractive” is actually the very first word that comes to mind when you think of the Penguin.

The very best physical representation of the Penguin on-screen was Danny DeVito’s in Batman Returns (1992). I mean, he was the spitting image of the comic book character. It’s impressive how identical they were. However, what Gotham‘s Cobblepot lacks in physical repulsiveness, he makes up for in delightful mannerism. Seriously, his first scene is awesome. Just the way his eyes glimmer with joy as he watches a poor guy getting beat up is marvellous. He’s like a little kid in a candy shop who knows no bigger joy. And then he starts beating the guy up himself, and it’s monstrous (but oh-so-fabulous. Totally in-character).

You can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh… Sorry, I couldn’t resist… All in fun! Fun!

In the comics, Cobblepot was bullied as a kid and has to deal with an overbearing mother. So, not only getting to savagely beat people up plays as sweet revenge for him, it also serves as some sort of — perhaps unconscious — rebellion. Note: Cobblepot carries an umbrella. And he is also an informant for the police [there you go, Allen and Montoya (Andrew Stewart-Jones and Victoria Cartagena)!] while in the comics he was an informant for Batman himself… Easter eggs! And I know I promised myself I wouldn’t have been that girl who does point out that this is a series set in Gotham where a dude named Robin plays the Penguin… But I guess I just did…

Even Fish herself is perplexed by her own hairstyle choices…

Cobblepot’s boss is original character Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith. I like Pinkett-Smith a lot, and I love the movies Set It Off (1996) and Scream 2 (1997). It is just too bad she didn’t have more success in film. Anyways, Fish’s nightclub has an actual fish sign outside of it… Lovely… In the comics, the Penguin is a nightclub owner… Does this mean he’ll eventually take over Fish’s? Does this mean the entire nightclub thing is an easter egg itself? And Fish is badass. I love the distinctive way she speaks. But what the hell is that stuff on her hair? No, no… Hell to the no. No me gusta. And she gets all touchy-feely with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). She also tells Cobblepot she sees him as sort of a son, which strikes me weird since I guess there are not even ten years of difference between the two…

Then she beats him up, provoking ugly damage to his legs that cause him to walk like a penguin… Ouch… (Note: I had to wear a cast for a month because of a teeny-tiny fracture at a teeny-tiny foot bone, and had it removed around two weeks ago. And I still sort of limp. This guy’s legs suffered permanent damage the same day and he already walks so well? But hey, it’s the magic of TV… Please…) However, I’m curious to see whether Fish gets popular enough to be added in the DC Comics canon like Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) from FOX’s Batman: the Animated Series, Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) from the WB/CW’s Smallville and John Diggle (David Ramsey) from the CW’s Arrow. And I’m also curious to see her demise at the hands of the Penguin. Because it will obviously be at the ends of the Penguin (or will it?)

We also get a teeny-tiny glimpse of Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara), although it seems the writers will be departing from much of the source material with this depiction. In the comics, she’s a lieutenant twelve years Gordon’s junior who engages in an extramarital affair with him and eventually becomes his second wife. Speaking of Gordon wives, Barbara Kean is also introduced. And she’s drop dead gorgeous! And played by Erin Richards! Who played a badass cop on BBC’s Being Human! And is now playing the fiancée and former girlfriend of cops Gordon and Montoya! And she looks really great! Seriously, she looks gorgeous!

Her beauty is beyond compare with shining locks of golden hair, ivory skin and eyes of emerald green (are her eyes actually emerald green?)! Kidding… Sort of… Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Anyways, her apartment gives a nod to the Oracle headquarters in the comics (Go easter eggs, go!). Plus, she and Jim have sex, so maybe we’ll be getting Babs soon! No, I’m kidding… It would be a mistake to bring Babs in so soon.

Bullock tells Gordon to meet him “at the corner of 4th and Grundy”. Easter egg: Solomon Grundy. There’s a comedian performing for Fish in a scene. Some have speculated he may be a reference to the Joker… Though his joke cracks Fish up, I had to replay it twice before I got it.

“I am not afraid of death. So much as I am of dying, I wanna die how my father died. Peaceful. In his sleep. Not like his screaming, terrified passengers”…

– The Comedian (Jon Beavers)

Got it? GOT IT?

“What’s nowhere but everywhere, except for where something is… Nothing”… You just have to see that BIG smile on Nygma’s face. It’s priceless.

And that’s Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith)! The Riddler! Wow, wow, this is lovely, wow! All buttoned-up and equipped with a big, enthusiastic, adopted-orphan smile, big curiosity and already talking in riddles, he’s just an infectious addition to the cast of characters. For him, knowledge is the same blast that vicious violence is for Cobblepot. His is by far the most smile-inducing introduction of the pilot. And this pilot has quite a few smile-inducing moments.

I’m glad the Waynes’ murder wasn’t solved in one episode, so the series can have a season-wide arc. Or maybe the investigation will spread out for more seasons… We’ll see… And I’ll try not to be all nitpick-y about how Poison Ivy’s (Clare Foley) name in the comics is Pamela Isley – not Ivy Pepper – and that she is supposed to be the daughter of wealthy people since the pilot is a good one and it’s just too much fun to watch Foley yell “BASTARDS!” at the police… Kid’s got an attitude. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) also pops up, very Godfather-y. The scene where Gordon tells young Bruce that his parents’ killer is still on the loose and that he needs to clean up the police from the inside may come off as weird to some, but in the end in makes sense that the no-nonsense, moral Gordon would want the boy to know the truth… And Selina’s hanging around Wayne Manor in an appropriately feline and somewhat theatrical way… Unnoticed… Don’t they have security cameras there?

Gordon spared Cobblepot’s life when nearly forced to kill him to prove he would’ve tolerated some criminals’ activity and sent him away from Gotham while making Bullock believe he had shot him dead, when he actually only tossed him off a dock. In the pilot’s final scene, Cobblepot brutally kills a fisherman and steals his sandwich. In his defense, he had a very bad day… Maybe they’re furthering his affinity for violence, or maybe they’re introducing his relationship with food…

I also counted down all the times Gordon looked like he was thinking “What the hell did I get myself into?” during the episode. At least four. I’m also noticing people smile a lot in Gotham City. Even though they really have no reason to… And I’m noticing I never realized how much I tend to get fixated on the way people smile before writing this… It’s kinda weird…

Now, here are some possible (or maybe not) allusions to Batman, just for fun:

  • Mooney’s signature weapon is a baseball bat
  • Gordon and Bullock are hanged upside-down by Fish’s thugs, just like bats
  • Bruce walks on top of Wayne Manor to “conquer fear” (or maybe he just wanted to defy gravity, too. Yes, this is where my Wicked love reappears)… What else does Bruce Wayne fear? BATS! (At least in some versions… Also, I found the way Alfred yells at Bruce to get off the rooftop to be pretty darn amusing, though non-related to bats)… Jonathan Crane’s also afraid of bats…

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the Gotham pilot scored a 70% rating, with the critic consensus reading:

“Though overcrowded with introductions, the Gotham pilot sets the template for an engrossing crime drama with moody atmosphere and likable lead actors”

Mondays are kicking ass (and looking great. Dashing)

Gotham airs on Mondays on FOX at 8/7c.

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4 thoughts on “(Take Me to the Premieres) On TV: (Thoughts on) Gotham – “Pilot”

  1. A long but a very well written piece on the premiere. I liked the premiere but I lost interest after watching the next few episodes. They didn’t get the pace right. Penguin was back in gotham, in the second episode. Hope they do slow things down a bit.

    Like

  2. You’re dead-on with regards to the atmosphere/setting in this show. While the characters and plot continue to stumble around a bit, they’ve really nailed the gothic/urban jungle thing. Gotham feels huge and old and grimy and beautiful.

    Here’s to hoping the rest of the show sorts itself out over time.

    Like

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