Gotham: "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)

Flabbergasted

 

So who's up to see Thomas and Martha Wayne killed yet again? Twenty-fourth time's a charm, or so I'm told.

Surprisingly, Gotham isn't bad for TV. What it lacks in narrative originality it tends to make up in nice visuals. For every bit of pithy dialogue there is a matching clunker, but there might be possibilities here if the conceit of a young, non-Bat Bruce Wayne and a bunch of precursor Bat villains doesn't run out of gas.

We open with a young Selina Kyle (the future Catwoman) on the rooftops of Gotham. That gives us an awesome shot of her poised gargoyle-like between two actual gargoyles before she takes to ground to steal a wallet and some milk. That naturally leads her to be skulking about in time to witness the alleyway murder of you know who. At least they get that out of the way quick.  

The main character of this show isn't, however, Bruce Wayne. It's Jim Gordon. He's a war hero straight arrow turned rookie detective who's partnered with a lackadaisical veteran cynic named Harvey Bullock. Bullock wants to drop a hot potato like the Wayne murders in a Gotham second, except noble Jim has already comforted young Bruce and taken his statement. From there it's a whirlagig of adorning a fairly clichéd murder investigation with all kinds of quirky characters and quick-on-the-mark betrayals.

What works? Gordon and Bullock have decent enough chemistry doing the whole Odd Couple action buddy thing. Most of the best lines are between them. When Gordon wants to upend the whole case over a lack of shiny shoes in a thug's closet, Bullock speaks for all of us: "Shiny shoes! Mother of God!" On the villain side, Jada Pinkett Smith chews up the scenery relentlessly as a psycho mobster named Fish Mahoney. She goes way over the top twice, but keeps it on just enough of a leash most of the time. She gets a good line summing up Gordon: "Aren't you a cool glass of milk?" A young Oswald Cobblepot (the future Penguin) is both creepy and vicious. That could get old if it becomes rote. A younger Alfred Pennyworth brings some animal English vitality to the historical "old guy" role, and Selina's lurking is suitably stylish.

What doesn't work? Jim Gordon has a girlfriend named Barbara who can't act, has awesome hair and lives in an apartment that screams wealth. The whole vibe of this subplot feels wrong. It gets worse when Barbara is confronted by Major Crimes detective Renee Montoya. The two exchange leaden, "blatant gestures" dialogue to beat us over the head with the fact that they used to be a lesbian item. I was embarrassed for lesbians everywhere. There's also a cameo appearance by Edward Nigma (the future Riddler) as an odd forensics cop who uses lame riddles. It felt perfunctory. Maybe they'll do more with him later.

What's just kind of there? A young Ivy (the future Poison Ivy) as the nondescript daughter of a thug who gets killed. She has lots of plants in their crappy apartment. Carmine Falcone is the well-heeled head of Gotham's gangs, but he could easily descend into rote, too. The actor seems good enough that maybe he won't.      

The story this week was Fish Mahoney setting up Ivy's thug dad to take the fall for the Wayne murders. Cobblepot then betrays her to Montoya, who confronts Gordon, who almost gets killed when he confronts Mahoney, and who almost gets saved by Bullock before Bullock, too, gets conked on the head. The two of them wind up hanging upside down in a meat locker when they are officially saved by Falcone. Our head Bad Guy at least has the sense to recognize when a plot is swirling the drain. For the record, he saves them because organized crime needs law and order.

Bullock drives Gordon to an abandoned wharf. Cobblepot is in the trunk. Bullock tells Gordon he has to walk Cobblepot to the end of the pier and put a bullet in his head. That will prove Gordon knows the score in Gotham. If Gordon refuses, Bullock has been ordered by Falcone to kill them both. Of course Gordon tells Cobblepot to never come back to Gotham while shooting just past his head and pushing him into the water. And of course Cobblepot kills the first person he meets after swimming to land. For a sandwich. One that didn't even look good.

Gordon tells a young Bruce Wayne they got the wrong man. He promises to keep at it until he gets the right one. Bruce thanks him. Selina poses stylishly on a wall as she watches Gordon drive away from Wayne Manor.

Not sure I'll watch it anymore, but if Smallville or Arrow appeals to you, you should give this a try.                   

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