Prequels are tricky. How do you generate any genuine suspense when the target audience for your show knows everything that follows? That’s one of the many issues facing Gotham, the new FOX series based in a universe where the Dark Knight is still a 12-year-old boy. It would have been far more interesting to set the series in an alternate Batman universe where anything goes, but that may be comic book blasphemy.
Throughout the pilot episode, Gotham is either a source of trivia or simply trivial. In the opening scene, a teenage girl scampers across the rooftops of the city until she steals a quart of milk from an unsuspecting shopper. Gee, is she gonna be Catwoman one day? The CSI expert in the Gotham PD likes to stump the detectives with brain teasers. Wait a second, isn’t there a villain in the Batman universe that has something to do with riddles? You get the idea. The origin stories and references to the DC source material are about as subtle as a shovel to the face. Then again, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some Easter eggs.
The pivotal moments are drained of any dramatic tension by the viewers’ superior knowledge. Detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie) marches the future Penguin to the end of a pier to put a bullet in his brain and prove that he’s a loyal, corrupt member of the Gotham PD. Instead, he fires the gun next to the young man’s head and let’s him fall in the ocean and swim away because he has to become a super villain one day. (Man, I never saw that coming.) Later in the episode, Gordon hangs upside down from a chain in a meat warehouse awaiting execution by Fish Mooney’s goons, but we all know that he grows up to become Gary Oldman, er, Commissioner Gordon, so we’re just waiting for the inevitable rescue.
The action sequences are a snooze as well. Do we really need another chase on foot through urban alleyways? And more importantly, is this the most thrilling moment they could devise for a pilot episode with huge ratings expectations? I’ve always said I’d never buy a downtown restaurant because one day a cop would chase a criminal through my kitchen and trash the place. The Gotham pilot proves me right once again. Be sure to buy hot pursuit coverage if you’re going into the restaurant biz.
Gotham is blessed with a strong adult cast: Ben McKenzie (Southland), Donal Logue (Life, Terriers), John Doman (The Wire), Sean Pertwee (Elementary) and Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne). Now it needs to give them something interesting to do. Films and television shows based on comic books, by definition, take place in a static universe. There are certain absolute truths that cannot be broken, making actual character development problematic.
Gotham appears in the family-friendly 8 p.m. (EST) time slot, yet it’s filled with Sam Peckinpah-inspired splashes of blood and PG-13 language. Facebook was awash with pictures of comic book enthusiasts sitting down to watch the show with their small children. They probably spent the rest of the night discussing the strippers at Fish Mooney’s bar and the S&M Leatherface executioner who planned on chopping Detective Gordon into small pieces.
Gotham is about young people finding their true selves yet the pilot fails to give the series a unique identity. Although completely unintentional, that’s a very ironic, 21st-century “meta” approach. However, it doesn’t necessarily make for interesting viewing.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.