Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'Gotham' Premiere a Disappointment -- Is It Worth a Second Chance?

Gotham pilot Ben McKenzie Detective James Gordon soulful eyes bandaged hand hugging Barbara screencaps photos recaps review

I gotta be honest, the majority of my investment in "Gotham" came from lead actor Ben McKenzie's soulful-eyed trustworthy-guy face in the promos. The "Southland" vet has Dutch, English, and Scottish ancestry, the blend giving him the perfect blond, tough, noble bearing for those good Irish cop roles he's well-suited for. The thought of watching Gordon as a young detective, with his pure soul shining out in the dark and creepy Batman universe, suddenly seemed appealing.

And yet the premiere of "Gotham" seems to disregard its greatest asset, giving Gordon a lot rougher edges, murky motives, and moral compromises right from the get-go. He's sort of pre-jaded, and while he's definitely painted as a good and (mostly) honest guy, he lacks the warmth as yet that would make him a truly appealing central character.

Ben McKenzie angry Penguin Detective Gordon Gotham pilot screencaps

Not helping that appeal is Gordon's girlfriend Barbara (Erin Richards), who has the helium voice and demeanor of a Playboy model and of course had a possible relationship with Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena), a major crimes cop. A bit of sexual diversity is nice, but this feels more like comic book geek guys going, "Heheheheh, two hot chicks doin' it! And the guy might get a threesome!"

 Donal Logue Harvey Bullock Gotham pilot screencaps

"Gotham" is presented as a noir crime drama, and pairs Gordon with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, taking a little side-step over from his role on "Copper"), a veteran detective who lives in all the gray areas of police corruption and mob control of the city. Jada Pinkett Smith is a bright spot in the pilot, playing her head-cracking "legit businesswoman" role of Fish Mooney with just the right amount of flash and relish.

Jada Pinkett Smith Fish Mooney Gotham premiere episode photos

Like many pilots, in its effort to make an impression, "Gotham" threw as much paint on the canvas as possible. For a 7-pm-Central show that is going to get family viewers, there was a lot of emphasis on the "noir," which the show interpreted as dimly lit scenery and vivid blood, blood, blood. Let's see Bruce Wayne's parents actually getting shot, let's see blood on Bruce's hands, let's see a guy getting beaten with a baseball bat, then another guy beaten bloody, and another guy shot, and on and on. It felt a lot less noir and a lot more "gratuitously violent monotony".

Gotham pilot Bruce Wayne parents murdererd wrapped in blanket photos David Mazouz screencaps

We also got the usual "look how many comic characters we can throw into an episode!" issue, because the Gordon/Bruce intro wasn't enough for 45 minutes. We also had to have a young Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, and Poison Ivy, and probably more that aficionados will pick up on. For all the dark and soulless feel of "Gotham," though, young Selina (Camren Bicondova) lurking around the edges of Bruce's life with large, sympathetic eyes inspired a few welcome notes of emotion.

Gotham Catwoman Selina Kyle Camren Bicondova screencaps leather jacket fingerless gloves goggles

"Gotham" also isn't quite sure of its tone or style yet. While largely sticking with a traditional cinematic look, the pilot suddenly interjected a few odd close-up perspective shots of Gordon during a chase scene. While you could imagine these views as frames in a comic book, they stuck out oddly in a show that hadn't really used any stylized shots beforehand.

All-in-all "Gotham" fell flat when presenting its first impression. But shows like "Arrow" and timeslot follower "Sleepy Hollow" were a bit slow out of the gate, as well, so it's possible that "Gotham" will hit its stride as the season progresses. There is plenty of opportunity for juicy character arcs here, with the intertwining lives of future heroes and villains, and a chance to see those well-worn stories get tweaked in new directions.

The key will be for Gordon to be more engaging and likable, someone we can both identify with and cheer for amidst all of the chaos and crookedness around him. Maybe I'm crazy to wish for a smooshy moral center in a dystopian nightmare tornado, but a gal likes to have something good to hold onto in a show she invests in weekly.

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

PHOTOS: 2014 "Gotham" pilot screencaps, IGN promo video, 2014, fair use.

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