So in the interest of fairness, Batman probably shouldn’t be allowed to have the best superhero movie, video game adaptation, and comic book series, AND the best television show, right?
Well, it’s too early to tell if that last one is true, but let me say this about the pilot of Gotham: there’s not much they didn’t get right, both as a police procedural and as a comic book adaptation.
It starts like it should, with a scene we’ve seen before and know rather well. And it’s a scene that has been done so right by guys like Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan at different very important moments of Batman’s print and film history. We see a theater, an alley, three well-dressed people and a string of pearls. The scene comes up swiftly, almost like a surprise for its abrupt transition, but the version of the Wayne killings that Gotham gives us, and the way that it sets the stage for the pilot episode, is all-new and really, truly artful.
True to the title of this iteration of the Great Urban Myth, Gotham‘s pilot gives us a lot of long looks at the city itself: it’s dark (as it should be), backlit at night, but smoky and overcast during the day. No worries, Bat-fans: the sun makes no intrusive appearances, and the wide, low alleys are filled with smoke and rotting trash. Bad things are occurring in those selfsame alleys and, when we catch a vista of the city, we see old subway systems, Gothic architecture and searchlights scanning the low, humid cloud cover of the city.
And this city is bad. Really bad. The cops are crooked, mostly indistinguishable from criminals. Both parties show up at odd hours, seem to be always working and seem to know that they’re only fueling Gotham’s bad-ness with every exchange they make. The criminal element of Gotham City is very present in both the setting and the characterization of its principal figures. There has to be a compelling reason as to why Batman eventually teams up with Jim Gordon, and the premise of Gotham seems very much interested in that: it’s a good cop/bad cop police show, with Gordon and Harvey Bullock as the odd-couple at the center of the moral storm. There’s some great dialogue in that vein towards the end of the episode, and a lot of Easter Eggs and references to Bat-lore.
I think that’s what really exceeded my expectations of this pilot: the characters are new interpretations, but familiar all the same. Bullock’s belligerence and cynicism lose nothing in the absence of Batman, nor does Gordon’s idealism. Each of the characters from the comics that you’ll encounter in this pilot–and there are quite a few of them–are given a moment or two that is all his or her own, with visual or dialogue references to cement their place in the world, or at least this version of it. The characters are all really well-cast for their relative youth, especially the two leads. And for your Easter Egg hunters out there, get ready–there are a bunch.
9/10 – It’s hard to go higher than this for a pilot, as serial storytelling depends on a successfully-executed pattern that will only become clear in the next few weeks. Still, it’s hard to imagine a better launch to yet another interpretation of Batman for the mass media. The story is right, the characters are even better, and the city-world looks and feels every bit the depraved cesspool that will later be under the protection of the Dark Knight himself.