September 30, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Gotham”


GOTHAM:  Monday 9PM on FOX

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on GOTHAM:  Years before Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) would become Gotham City’s police commissioner, he was a rookie detective, working with the corrupt Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).  The town was dominated by gangsters Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Carmine Falcone (John Doman), who owned everyone and everything (except Jim Gordon).  There were also plenty of familiar faces around:  young versions of Catwoman aka street kid Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), The Riddler aka police technician Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), and The Penguin, aka small-time but vicious criminal Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor).  And, of course, the very young and recently orphaned Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), along with his butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee).  At the close of the pilot, Gordon was asked to prove his fealty to Gotham’s crime overlords by killing Cobblepot, who was claimed by Mooney to have killed the Waynes, but he let the young Penguin go with the warning never to come back to town.

Episode 2:  The establishing shots in Gotham are a show unto themselves, sleek, gliding, atmospheric CG landscapes that create a world of urban noir.  All of the show’s production values remained impressively high in the series’ first post-pilot episode, directed by Danny Cannon, with large-scale sets and stylish costumes.  The villains of the episode, child abductors played by guest stars Lili Taylor and Frank Whaley, were effectively creepy, especially Taylor, unsettlingly chipper as she poked Gotham’s street kids with a poisoned pin to sedate them before sending them overseas for unknown but nefarious purposes.

What continued to sit uneasily on Gotham‘s shoulders was the mantle of being a Batman prequel on top of all of this.  Sequences with troubled young Bruce Wayne (burning his own hand over a candle) were shoehorned into the episode like a duty, establishing Gordon as the one man (besides Alfred) the boy will trust but feeling like a distraction from the rest of the show.  The fact that Catwoman-to-be was one of the kids being victimized by the evil couple felt like an afterthought, even though Bicondova, and Lord Taylor in his Penguin sequences (he didn’t go far from Gotham), were striking in their individual ways.  The need to include them, along with Mooney and Falcone, short-changed the episode’s actual plot, which as written by series creator Bruno Heller felt under-developed.  A sequence with Gordon and his fiancee Barbara (Erin Richards) was also sketchy–the pilot had suggested that Barbara had a romantic past with Rene Montoya (Virginia Cartagena), another Gotham City detective (she and her partner also had a token scene in the episode), but here Barbara was just the spunky girlfriend who called the local press to report the child abductions when Jim told her the police department wasn’t pursuing the case.

It’s increasingly clear that although Heller has plenty of rich material to play with, and a cast able to capture the stylization of the show’s heightened visuals, if he can’t figure out how to meld the Batman-related material with the Gotham City cop show, his hours are going to feel both overloaded and undernourished.  Gotham had a terrific start in the ratings last week, and considering the rest of FOX’s schedule, if the numbers don’t utterly collapse at once, the show will get a speedy full season pick-up, which will give it plenty of time to come to terms with its schizophrenic nature.  If it can master its own complicated formula, Gotham can be a pungent genre entertainment, but it also has the potential to misfire.  For now, it’s a work in progress.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Gorgeous But Uneven


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."