I tuned into the pilot episode of “Gotham” with zero apprehension last night.
Why would I? Conceptually, the Batman origin story TV series had me at hello.
“Let’s not just go back to the beginning,” the storytellers seemed to say in the ads. “We need to loiter awhile.
“But this origin story needs to be different in its focus. It needs to be on James Gordon. Tormented, torn hero cop whose relationship with Batman in his later years is as complicated as it gets, perhaps the way an agnostic views God. Let’s break his youth open like a pinata and see what falls out. The baddies, too. Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman. (Joker?) Documenting their respective descents into madness/whatever onscreen seems overdue.”
Take my money, take my time, “Gotham.” You have my undivided attention. I sat and held my sleeping month-old daughter as the pilot episode began.
Then it was over. Then I did get apprehensive. This show, this slick, demented concept about a dark city and its denizens seemed to finish with a dull puff when I’d been anticipating fireworks. Dark, shadowy fireworks. There were here-and-there moments, to be sure. Glimmers of hope. Enough to keep me in my chair.
But that was it. I’d sat down expecting to be chewed up by this city and the things that lurked in it. Instead, watching felt like more of an obligation, a line item to be checked on a Batman fan’s to-do list.
In the words of every parent: “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” “Gotham” wasn’t an F. More of a C, but a C when you were positive an A was in your future. I think the latter may be more discouraging.
I’ve had a few hours to digest why I feel the way I do, and think I have it pinned down. One word keeps popping up.
“Pacing.” The finesse component of storytelling. The balance of too much and too little. In my demanding, Batman-elitist opinion, it is “Gotham’s” major flaw.
Most know Batman’s origin story already, so the following isn’t exactly a spoiler: Parents gunned down in an alley while a young Bruce Wayne watches; the event is an anecdote of Gotham’s general horribleness; Bruce decides to take matters into his own hands, to become one with the darkness to fight it.
But, and this is key, to show the devastation of a killing that would put one on a path like that, the relationship between the murder victims and their young son would need to be seen much more clearly. “Gotham” doesn’t do that. A couple scant minutes in, the murder happens. Thomas and Martha Wayne are there, and then they’re not. It’s awful, awful, awful, but because I knew nothing about their relationship with their son, the gut-wrenching sympathy I’d expect to have wasn’t there. It felt more like a necessary hurdle to get to the next chapter than a tear-your-heart-out moment of sadness and despair.
Then it just keeps happening. Some characters felt dropped into the spotlight, not offered. Here’s - *clunk* – Oswald Cobblepot. Here’s - *shove* – Edward Nygma. Alfred Pennyworth. Selina Kyle. Remember these guys?
Rapid fire. This marathon story felt very much like a sprint. I felt dragged, not led.
A few points, just to be fair.
1) I am, apparently, in the minority. A quick glance at the Rotten Tomatoes website shows that, thus far, a majority of critics and audiences are sold. About 95 percent of its reviews from professional critics are positive, while 88 percent of viewers gave it a thumbs-up.
2) My high expectations may have clouded reality. This is the nerd in me talking; the near-perfection demanding, takes-it-too-seriously weirdo who gets upset over things like this. Batman is in a different class when it comes to comic book heroes; he’s the standard when it comes to heroism, the elite; and I so, so want other people to understand why. Christopher Nolan’s recent Dark Knight Trilogy did that for a lot of non-comic readers, especially the first two installments.
3) The show is not without its charms. The landscape of “Gotham” is wonderful, a sprawling tapestry of shadowy buildings, lonely alleys and dim streetlights, primed perfectly for a bad guy uprising. Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot – The Penguin before he was The Penguin – was a great choice for the role. Cory Michael Smith, Edward Nygma’s portrayer, was also very interesting to watch in his brief moment on screen. Looking forward to seeing more of them both.
So while I was somewhat underwhelmed by the first page turn in this origin story’s origin story, we are just getting started. Of course I’ll be back next week, maybe checking a few heightened expectations at the door this time.