When I first heard the premise, terrible images popped into my mind of a puberty-stricken Bruce Wayne fighting off bullies at Gotham High School and ferreting out corruption behind the gym after school. Bane would be an insufferable jock, Poison Ivy would be the cheerleader temptress, and Catwoman would be the cute goth girl with all the answers. Perfectly horrid, right? That shows how much faith I have in studios like Fox and ABC becoming custodians of the origins of venerated DC characters.
Now that I've been to San Diego Comic-Con and seen the pilot, I am happy to report that my nightmare vision did not play out on the huge Hall H screen.
So, let’s cut to the chase. Is it worth watching? What did they do well? What did they get wrong?
The episode revolves around the Gotham City PD’s handling of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne (oops spoiler: Bruce’s parents don’t live). This seems like a natural place for the series to begin and establishes the connection between Gordon and young Bruce. We learn that corruption in the GCPD ranks will be a major on-going plot element, and we’re familiarized with the feuding crime bosses Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and the head of the Falcone family. The loyalties of the young and not-quite-stable Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor) factor largely into the episode as well, as does Gordon’s relationship with his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).
Overall, the casting and the performances were solid. Ben McKenzie’s Gordon is highly likeable, and he has the acting chops to anchor the series. It was really fun watching Jada Pinkett Smith revel in her power and over-dramatization of the typical crime boss. Robin Taylor has an ease with the fidgety and neurotic Cobblepot that is fairly mesmerizing and scene-stealing. Perhaps my favorite casting (and tone) choice is having Donal Logue, a typically comedic actor, play the morally bankrupt Bullock. His comedy background lets him easily convey the nonchalant and flippant viewpoint on the fact that he’s already sold his soul to save his skin.
The plot had enough moving parts and layers to keep my interest. I wasn't surprised by how anything played out, but I did want to see it play out.
While I did like that the plot had layers, it did feel far too contrived to have so many eventual villains so tightly interwoven in their early lives. For some reason, the showrunners felt they should introduce everyone right away, so we get Selena Kyle, Ivy Pepper (whom we’d know better as Pamela Isley), Cobblepot, Mooney, Falcone, and a random comedian who might be more relevant later (are they setting up the Joker?). I would not have felt short-changed if I’d been made to wait a bit to see some of these come out of the woodwork; in fact, it might have left some mystery or built more anticipation.
I’m not convinced that we’ll only occasionally see the young Bruce. Wayne manor factors in heavily, and the writers went to the trouble of making Alfred the source of comic relief by which he continually doles out zinger one-liners that have too much snark to fall within my comfortable range of possible Alfred personalities.
The story presents the Falcone family as having a “you complete me” or “we’re two sides of the same coin” perspective on their relationship to GCPD, which clearly echoes the familiar Joker/Batman dynamic. I felt that the psychologically complex morality-dance that Batman and the Joker have with one another should be their special thing, not to be emulated by other hero-villain pairings in the same mythos. But maybe I was reading too much into that one.
It is visually compelling; the performances are fun and worthwhile. However, the plot may end up being too contrived/forced for me to appreciate it. And I think the entire premise for the show is still on shaky ground. Maybe if they make Gordon enough of a tragic hero, I could get into that. And if the villains are as ruthless and vicious as they hint in the pilot, the show could be appropriately dark enough…
I’d say check out the pilot and decide for yourself. Personally, I've got too many other shows to catch up on and am too apprehensive about the TV treatment of any comic property, so I’ll be waiting until a broader consensus is reached once several episodes have aired.