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Gotham

When I first heard that there was going to be a television show about Gotham, in which there would be no Batman, I was very intrigued. The recent Christopher Nolan films have demonstrated that this world can be gritty and realistic, even when it’s villains seem intent on wearing costumes (never bringing a change of clothes along for the ride). Nolan’s films felt more like crime thrillers than traditional superhero movies, so it makes sense that someone would try to capitalise on the success that those films had, whilst also trying to do something interesting with well-known and beloved characters.

The difficulty for this show will be whether or not it can generate enough interest to keep the audience on board, because we already know a lot about these characters and where they come from, and without Batman “Gotham” could end up feeling like a Sunday roast without the meat. Personally I love the idea, and I hope that this show will be able to offer further insight into the iconic city, whilst also providing a different take on some of its most famous inhabitants. My biggest concern at this point is whether or not the actors will be able to provide performances of the calibre that I’m expecting, because I want the actors playing returning characters to match the performances we have seen in previous films, but it seems hard to believe that anyone could be as good at playing Inspector Gordon as Gary Oldman was, or that we could see a more voluptuous Catwoman than one played by Anne Hathaway.

The first episode of the series offers some indication for what we can expect to see from the season. It attempted to portray Gotham as a city filled with lowlifes and scum, including those sitting in positions of authority. Gotham is a place consumed by moral indecency and corruption, which will be something of a problem for the main character in this episode, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). The episode was intended to establish the nature of the show and introduce some of the characters we can expect to see a lot of in the future, but while doing this it also demonstrated the fact that the level of writing and acting we can expect to see from “Gotham” is pretty substandard and very frustrating. However, as this episode is a pilot, it may be that it doesn’t truly capture the calibre of the show, because this is simply a first look at what “Gotham” may have to offer, and there is a lot more that can be done with the premise, so I don’t think that the success of the series will depend upon this episode alone (which is probably for the best).

The first scene was pretty awful, which I believe is a cardinal sin when making a television programme. If “Gotham” ends up being a hit with audiences watching it upon release, it is likely that people will be influenced to watch it after the fact. If this happens then potential viewers will need to be sufficiently immersed immediately, given the access to great television many people have now on Netflix and other similar television apps. But if a new viewer tries to get into “Gotham” in a year’s time they will have to sit through this garbage, and it will be their first experience of the show, which I believe will lead many potential audience members to give up right then and there. It’s a real shame that the show opened with such a lacklustre and trivial scene, and one which I believe the writers may come to regret.

The acting in the opening scene was absolutely terrible from everyone involved, especially David Mazouz, the young child actor playing Bruce Wayne. (SPOILER ALERT) The scene in question begins with a shot of Gotham’s skyline, much like that seen on some of the artwork for the show. We then see Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) doing what she does best, as she traverses the rooftops of Gotham with ease and steals whatever she can along the way. As she decides to stop to offer milk to a stray cat (which I thought was a ridiculous addition to the scene), we see a young Bruce Wayne walking into a dark alleyway, accompanied by his parents, Thomas (Grayson McCouch) and Martha (Brette Taylor).

No prizes for guessing what happens next! A mugger attempts to take what he can from the unsuspecting family, and after he is suitably compensated for not blowing the trio away into oblivion… he decides to shoot Thomas and Martha anyway. Now, this could’ve been entertaining if it had been executed in the right way, because there is an interesting reason for why the mugger proceeded to kill Bruce’s parents despite getting what he wanted, but perhaps there could’ve been some sort of struggle, or at least a moment of awkward silence as the Wayne’s realised their fate, so that the scene didn’t feel quite so rushed. The scene made no sense at the time, and even though it was explained to the audience why the murders happened as they did, it was still a stupid way to start the show. Attempting to confuse your audience from the get-go isn’t the right way to open a generic television programme, and focusing on the murder of the Wayne’s is a really dull focus for the opening episode; it’s something we’ve seen enough times before. It was a poorly performed scene, which culminated in a pathetic scream of despair from the woeful child actor, and from this point onwards I was extremely worried about the quality of what was to follow.

This episode is anything but original. It uses tired old clichés, which in other genres have been made into parodies, such as montages to show the passage of time, in which Gordon and his partner interrogate a few criminal stereotypes. The dialogue isn’t much better, as we hear our characters bicker between one another, delivering such gems as ‘stay frosty’. I don’t understand how the writers can take themselves seriously when this is the kind of interaction they believe will capture an audience, it makes me angry to think that they were actually paid for working on this episode. There is nothing fresh about it, not even the setting, and it was painful to watch for the majority of the run time.

The performances were atrocious, particularly from McKenzie (Gordon), who has a cocky demeanour which is totally unjustified, and lacks any sort of charm. I am aware that he is supposed to be a bit out of his depth and unaware of the real scope of his task, but he isn’t likeable in any way, and his facial expressions alone are enough to make me want to smash my television screen. He delivers his lines extremely rigidly with absolutely no passion, and he is by far the most annoying character on the show, which is a massive issue when you consider that he will occupy the screen for most of the time that “Gotham” is on air. The first line that Robin Lord Taylor delivered as Oswald Cobblepot (the Penguin), an impetuous ‘I don’t like to be called that’, was so artificial and feeble that I couldn’t help but laugh, and the fact that the writers felt the need to introduce his character in such an unsubtle way so early on was very disappointing. Everything about the performances on this show so far are over the top and not particularly believable.

So, after sufficiently criticising the show, let me try to make some predictions (because there certainly aren’t any positives to speak of). Firstly, I think that the show might shake things up a little bit, so I’m going to predict that Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) will get killed off at some point. (SPOILER ALERT) At the end of the episode Gordon pretended that he had killed Oswald, when in fact he hadn’t, and his partner (Harvey Bullock, played by Donal Logue) had warned him that if he didn’t kill Oswald he and those closest to him would be in danger. Therefore, it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that there will be some significant collateral damage as a result of Gordon’s actions, or lack thereof. If this doesn’t happen then I expect to see Kean have some sort of secret which tears the two apart, as I’m sure that this show will have its fair share of melodrama in the future.

I also think that Gordon will struggle with his morality quite a lot in the series, because he clearly doesn’t want to use force when it isn’t necessary, and he wants to believe that he is better than the men he is chasing, so there’s bound to plenty of moments in which he faces an internal struggle when dealing with the villains of “Gotham”. I feel that eventually there will be something which triggers a change in Gordon, and I don’t think it will be too long before we see him kill one of the villainous characters on the show (maybe my first prediction will link to this one?).

I don’t think that there’s much point in wasting time elaborating on the specific aspects of this episode; I feel that it’s enough to say that as a whole it was incredibly disappointing and that this could be a pretty terrible television show. However, as I mentioned previously, a pilot isn’t always a definitive indication of how good or bad a programme will actually be, so there is a chance that “Gotham” will improve and become at least slightly more credible. There are plenty of origin stories to be told and a host of new characters to be introduced, so if these characters are performed by actors with some skill and understanding of what their role requires, “Gotham” could potentially improve. Still, this episode was one of the worst pieces of television I’ve seen all year, rivalled only by the dreadfulness of the season opener for “The Leftovers” and the season finale of “True Blood”.

3/10

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