A Batman show that’s not about Batman, yet still capitalizes on other well-known characters while focusing on an incarnation of Jim Gordon that’s rather different from what we’re used to. And Jada Pinkett-Smith is there for some reason. That’s pretty much what the pilot episode of Gotham is in a nutshell.
The biggest problem of the episode is not necessarily the “more realistic” atmosphere or the changed characterizations, it’s the writing. The dialogue feels like it came out of a 1950’s pulp rag. While that might work on the page for certain stories, it doesn’t work at all for television, and certainly not for the vibe Gotham seems to be aiming for. Try an experiment: turn the show on and go into another room. Just listen to it. It’s terrible.
Pair up subpar writing with stiff acting from the majority of the cast, and you’ve got a show that’s gone from ‘potentially amazing’ to ‘eh’. Everyone, with very few exceptions, seems to be stuck in a perpetual state of “grrr intense grumpyface stare grrrrrr”. The biggest offender is Ben McKenzie as Gordon, but even young David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne suffers from it. Now, I’ll give Bruce a free pass; the kid did just lose his parents in a pretty horrifying way. And he’s not the show’s focus anyway (hopefully). But Gordon is going to need to discover how to do a couple more expressions if he doesn’t want to become as stone-faced as a gargoyle.
I also wonder why Bullock’s corruption was revealed so early in Gordon’s career. It would have been much more interesting is that had been kept secret and kept Gordon from appearing as such a hypocrite. “I’m gonna clean up the GCPD from the inside! While being totally and painfully aware of my crooked partner from the beginning! And also knowing that I’ll be forced to do illegal things even though I’m totally not okay with them!” Yeah, it’s not as black-and-white as just going to Internal Affairs in a department that’s probably tainted from the bottom up, but still. That could have been a big reveal mid-season or even for the finale. Fans of the comics would already know that Bullock is a dirty cop, but seeing it unfold for Gordon would have been more satisfying than how it was handled in the pilot.
There were some bright points, though. Sean Pertwee as Alfred is a brilliant casting choice, as is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot and Cory Michael Smith as the briefly-seen Edward Nygma. The inclusion of Renee Montoya is a smart move (although I do worry if she’s only there to provide some kind of forced tension instead of being there on her own merit). Opening and closing with a teenage Selina Kyle prowling around without saying a word is also rather intriguing.
But that’s about it. Everything else, including the talk that there will be a “Joker” in each episode (really???), is just flat or downright unnecessary. Every new show does have growing pains to work through, so the next episode may be better. Or it could be a repeat of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: borderline boring until over halfway through the season, by which time the majority of the target audience will have moved on to more interesting things. Only time will tell.