"Pilot" (S1/E1)
Author: Bill "Jett" Ramey (Follow @BATMANONFILM)
August 30, 2014

EPISODE INFO: "Pilot" was written by Bruno Heller and directed by Danny Cannon. It originally aired on the FOX television network on September 22, 2014. It is based on "Batman" characters owned and published by DC Comics.

MAIN CAST: Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Donal Logue (Harvey Bullock), Jada Pinkett-Smith (Fish Mooney), Erin Richards (Barbara Keen), David Mazouz (Bruce Wayne), Camren Bicondova (Selina Kyle), Sean Pertwee (Alfred Pennyworth), Robin Lord Taylor (Oswald Cobblepott)

Batman is THE most popular comic book superhero amongst the mainstream audience, and the proof is in the box office pudding.

Beginning with BATMAN in 1989, seven live-action Batman films have been released and ALL were successful in terms of making money – yes, even BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) made a profit.

Of course, the pinnacle of the Batman film series is director Chris Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) – the greatest comic book film/superhero film to date. And even though Nolan’s stewardship of Batman on film concluded when THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) ended his acclaimed “Dark Knight Trilogy,” the character’s cinematic adventures are far from done. In 2016, Batman will yet again hit the big screen in Zack Snyder’s BATMAN v SUPERMAN with Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader.

The bottom line here is that Batman on film is, has been, and will continue to be a HUGE success.

But what about Batman on TV?

There have been several animated Batman TV endeavors over the years highlighted by the classic BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES back in the 1990s. However, the only successful live-action Batman series on TV was BATMAN which ran on ABC nearly fifty years ago! Yes, there was the Batman-inspired BIRDS OF PREY on The WB (now The CW) in the early 2000’s, but it wasn’t very good and didn’t last long at all. There were a few attempts to bring the world of Batman to TV over the years – Brad Bird’s BRUCE WAYNE (which kind-sorta morphed into what became SMALLVILLE) and a series featuring Dick Grayson titled, well, GRAYSON – but none of those projects ever came to fruition.

Over the years, fans have suggested a variety of Bat-projects for TV including a weekly series featuring Batman on a network like HBO, A&E, FX, AMC, etc. (I’ve never been keen on that idea personally as I think live-action “Batman proper,” if you will, should be reserved for film.) Also, the idea of a police procedural – sort of like NYPD BLUE set in Gotham – has been proposed and it’s an idea that I’ve always supported.

Well finally, Batman – live-action Batman – is indeed coming to TV in the form of the Warner Bros. Television-produced GOTHAM which will air Monday nights on FOX.

The catch is that Batman ain’t in it – it’s a “Batmanless Batman” TV series.

GOTHAM – from ROME and THE MENTALISTS’s Bruo Heller (I interviewed him at San Diego Comic Con and he certainly comes off as an interesting character) – is one part NYPD BLUE set in Gotham Ciy and one part the Batman equivalent of SMALLVILLE, sort of. While its former ingredient excites me, the latter gives me pause – more on that in a bit.

Essentially, “Pilot” starts the series off with a detective story. The crime at hand? The murder of Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne (which is the most violent and bloody depiction of this iconic Batman moment ever outside the comics). Gotham Police Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and his young new partner, James “Jim” Gordon, are assigned the task of finding the murderer and bringing him to justice – the sooner the better (remember that when you watch this episode).

At the murder scene, Gordon is drawn to the one remaining member of the Wayne family and the only witness to the crime, the deceased couple’s young son Bruce (David Mazouz). The two seem to be kindred spirits as both lost parents to a violent crime at a young age. Gordon promises Bruce that he’ll bring the killer to justice. Later, Gordon will ask Bruce to make him a promise based on nothing more than blind trust which, I believe, will serve as an important angle as the pair’s relationship grows over the course of the series.

Rather quickly – probably a bit too quickly – the team of Bullock and Gordon find the “killer” of Gotham’s most wealthy and philanthropic couple and take him down, literally, with a bang. Murder solved, the perpetrator gets what was coming to him, case closed.

Or is it?

Along the way, we meet several of the series’ other major characters such as mid-level mobster Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith); her young lacky Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Lord Taylor); Gordon’s hot physician fiancé Barbara Keen (Erin Richards); Gotham’s top mobster Carmine Falcone (John Doman); future Catwoman Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova's ); and Bruce Wayne’s overly protective butler/pseudo-father Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee).

If that lists makes you think that “Pilot” is a tad crowded, that’s because it is and it’s one of the negatives of this episode. Heck, there are even additional characters in it that I didn’t mention!

Performance-wise, Taylor as Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepott and Pinkett-Smitth as Fish Mooney stood out for me. Even though JPS was a little hammy and over the top, you can tell she’s having fun playing such a bad person – and Fish Mooney is indeed bad. I really liked Taylor as The Penguin; in fact, I’d say he turned in the best performance of the entire cast in this pilot.

Chillin' with JPS at SDCC '14
And yes, she brought the bat!

As far as the others, I’d say that they were all just OK. To me, each really doesn’t know they’re character well enough yet to put their own unique stamp on it. This of course isn’t uncommon in the very first episode of a TV series, so I’m looking forward to seeing where these actors take their characters once they settle into the roles. Also, the dialogue came off rather cheesy at times; though I’m not exactly sure it was due to the actual line, the actor’s delivery, or a combination of both. Again, I’ll chalk it up to the fact that this was a pilot and hope this gets tightened up over the course of the season.

Aesthetically, GOTHAM looks awesome. It’s filmed in New York – which makes total sense as NYC was the inspiration for Gotham City. And despite the NYC vibe, there’s enough CGI added into the city backdrop/pan over scenes to make it look like, well, “Gotham.” I also dig the series’ “timeless” aspect. There’s a strong 80’s vibe going on here overall, but the clothing is modern and they communicate on 2000ish flip phones. To me, it looks like BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES brought to life…kinda.

All in all, I liked “Pilot” and I am looking forward to watching this series for, hopefully, many seasons. My only concern is that it’ll become a show about the origin of Batman’s classic villains, rather than a police procedural centered on Jim Gordon. Frankly, I don’t have to see a young Poison Ivy (Ivy Pepper?) potting plants or a teen Catwoman stealing milk for her cats (and sorta stalking Bruce Wayne) in this series. I get the fact that this sort of overt “This is the world of BATMAN!” vibe has to be included to sell the series to the mainstream. However, I fear – for that very reason – the showrunner will be tempted to turn GOTHAM into BATMAN VILLAINS BEGIN. My Batman sensibilities tell me that Batman’s rogues gallery come to be as a response to Batman coming to be and not vice versa – you know what I’m sayin’? Call me cynical, but this is why I brought up the “SMALLVILLE Influence” earlier in this review.

Look, if one doesn’t get the fact that The Joker shouldn’t exist – exist period – before Batman, then one doesn’t get Batman…at least in my opinion. ANYWAY…

Despite my concerns about this project after viewing “Pilot” (and visiting with the cast and crew during San Diego Comic Con '14), I remain very excited for GOTHAM and hope it ultimately goes down as another quality addition to the world of Batman. - Bill "Jett" Ramey


GOTHAM airs Mondays at 7PM CT/8PM ET on FOX.
CLICK HERE for all of BOF's GOTHAM coverage.

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