Writers: created by Bruno Heller, Bob Finger, Danny Cannon, Bob Kane
Directors: Rob Bailey, Bill Eagles, Danny Cannon, Jon East, Clare Kilner, China Moo-Young
Starring: Deon Bashford, Jack Bannon, Ben Aldridge, Ryan Fletcher, Dorothy Atkinson, Ian Puleston-Davies, Paloma Faith, Jason Flemyng, Emma Corrin, and more
Episodes: 10 episodes of 1hr each
Rating: R for nudity and other adult themes
Watching the first few enjoyable episodes of Pennyworth, Bruno Heller’s prequel about the stalwart and iconic Alfred Pennyworth, butler to the Wayne family, and faithful companion to Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, Batman. If the name Bruno Heller sounds familiar, he’s the mind behind Gotham and other series. If you were not a fan of the Gotham series, don’t be alarmed; Pennyworth is a whole different animal. Do not expect a whole lot of Batman easter eggs here; there’s very little to connect this series to the caped crusader.
Pennyworth, unlike that other show, so far at least, seems to not have any of Gotham’s split personality in terms of approach used to tell its story: the switching between over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek material and straight dark drama is not in evidence here. What we get instead this time around is a loving well-made period piece tribute to the great TV detective series and other closely related sub-genres.
This adult series features both violence and nudity, including graphically depicted gore and violence. These are the new norm in a post-Game Of Thrones world. At least, there is a brief moment of nudity in each episode I watched. At first look, Pennyworth appears to be a well-done production of the sort I normally enjoy a great deal. The look and texture of the series (lighting, costumes, props, sets, atmosphere, fight scenes, etc.) are all up to high-quality standards.
Instead of trying to create an over-the-top gothic urban setting, it attempts to portray a TV pop-art version of a grim and gritty down-to-earth version of historical reality and a world still in disrepair. Pennyworth follows the Wayne family’s legendary butler, Alfred Pennyworth, a former British SAS soldier, who the series portrays as a borderline anti-hero at times. The series depicts our protagonist, fresh out of the service, forming a security company and working with Thomas Wayne in London’s alternative 1960s. The show benefits from showing the potential to be either a great detective series or a great spy-fi series, or both. Pennyworth, the series is an enjoyable mix of sub-genres I have always enjoyed, noir, spy-fi, and crime drama, all working in harmony while also exploring human nature.
I found a lot to like here; the period the series depicts, the very early sixties, is one that has always fascinated me in particular. This is not the deep, dark, serious sort of ponderously heavy material, but rather the style of writing considered clever by some and cute by others that while it appears to be almost noir is actually of a lighter vein and written to entertain, not create hours of deep discussion regarding the dark nature of humanity. The stories are about local problems or puzzles that need resolving, and so far, Alfred seems to be up to the challenge. The few episodes I watched reminded me of several classic past series in this same sub-genre or neighboring ones that DNA closely relates. Influences from productions like The Ipcress File, The Maltese Falcon, Mike Hammer, I Spy, The Avengers, and even a touch of The Man From Uncle are easy to spot here. Not a bad set of influences.
Likewise, the stories are tributes to the subgenre also, clever little mysteries that coincidentally touch on current social and other issues, which Alfred and friends resolve with equally clever solutions that are also sometimes ironically amusing.
Being a period piece, the show is all about style. The series sets, costumes, and props effectively capture the look and zeitgeist of the period, along with a few choice locations, nicely. The smokey pub frequented by the show’s eponymous character, garish signs, street life, and beatnik-type art and performances is all excellently done.
Alfred, the series’s main protagonist, is enjoyably and ably portrayed by Jack Bannon, who has a slightly reminiscent visual appearance of British film star Dirk Bogarde cockney-influenced speech inflections conjures a young Michael Caine. He is depicted as a clever, capable and ambitious lad of above-average intelligence, fresh out of the army and eager to conquer the world, who tells his somewhat stodgy but supportive parents he ‘wants to be his own man’ as he carves out a niche for himself along with a couple of veteran friends.
The ensemble cast is excellent and thoroughly enjoyable also. At least not yet. Thomas Wayne, played by Ben Aldridge, is not the iconic, memorable figure you might expect here. The show’s creators were smart enough to realize he shouldn’t overshadow the show’s chief protagonist, Alfred. Wayne is a secondary character here, so far. Also very enjoyable were the actors portraying Alfred’s parents.
A special mention to a pair (trio really) of delightful villains Paloma Faith as the sociopathic and homicidal Bet Sykes and Jason Flemyng as the somewhat crazed and over-zealous Lord Harwood and Since I am not from the UK, I do not know if all of the accents I hear during an episode are as authentic as they should be; I’ll leave that distinction to a more practiced ear, but there are no obvious or distracting screw-ups of that sort I am aware of at the moment.
Well, I guess it’s no secret I enjoyed the first few episodes of this rookie series. I have always been a big fan of spy-fi and detective stories, and I found it to be a refreshing change of pace from the other genre series out there at the moment. It’s not from Disney or Marvel, and that’s getting harder to say every day.