The next wave of television series based off of comic book characters started last night with the premiere of Fox’s Batman prequel series, Gotham. Starring Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue as Detectives James Gordon and Harvey Bullock, the Bruno Heller series was billed as a “larger than life” operatic soap featuring early versions of Batman and his famous rogues. While Warner Bros. is hoping that Gotham will be the harbinger for a wave of successful television shows appearing on TV stations over the next year, the show's pilot episode was uneven at best with strong acting performances wasted with atrocious dialogue and a plot bogged down by too many distractions.
Gotham takes care of the necessary Batman origin elements early, with Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) watching his parents’ murder in the first two minutes of the show as a hidden and silent Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) lurks nearby. As Gordon and Bullock investigate the Waynes’ murder, Gordon, who only recently arrived in Gotham City, starts to learn of the immense corruption plaguing the city, personified by local crime lord Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and her lackey Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Taylor).
From a comic fan’s perspective, there’s plenty to like about Gotham. With plenty of DC characters appearing in the pilot and strong performances by many of the show’s actors, especially Robin Taylor’s Cobblepott, the show has plenty of tools to draw in both casual and hardcore fans of the Batman universe. And unlike Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Gotham doesn’t suffer from a lack of vision. Director Danny Cannon adds plenty of flair and unique camera angles to help the pilot episode stand out, at least from a technical angle, from other network television shows.
But that doesn’t mean that Gotham doesn’t have its own gargantuan flaws to overcome. The pilot episode struggled to balance its dearth of DC characters with actual plot, giving the show a bloated feel. Appearances by characters such as the Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy felt tossed in and meaningless, and only served as a needless distraction for viewers. It was as if Gotham’s producers couldn’t decide whether these characters should exactly be given a purpose or just exist as Easter eggs for comic book fans, and so decided on a weird mix of both. However, that issue should be resolved as Gotham soldiers on and hopefully fleshes out more of its secondary characters.
What was more worrisome and potentially even more disastrous was Gotham’s terrible dialogue, which turned the drama's premiere into a melodramatic farce. Scenes that were supposed to be serious and tension filled felt cheesy instead because of lines that wouldn’t show up in even the worst DC comic book. While some viewers will be patient as the show’s plot unfolds, few will give dialogue this bad much leeway in future episodes.
Somewhere in last night’s episode of Gotham is a potentially good television show about a young Batman and the city that he loves. Hopefully, Gotham’s producers find it before its viewership abandons the show in favor of one of the many other comic book shows rolling out in the next month. For now, Gotham gets a firm “wait and see” with a brief window to see if it improves.