Pennyworth (Tv Series) 2019 Review

Pennyworth is an American crime drama television series, based on characters published by DC Comics and created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, that premiered on July 28, 2019, on Epix. The series is executive produced by Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon and stars Jack Bannon as the titular character, alongside Ben Aldridge, Emma Paetz, Ryan Fletcher, Hainsley Lloyd Bennett, Paloma Faith, Polly Walker, and Jason Flemyng.

Pennyworth explores the early life of the titular Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, a former British SAS soldier who is forming his own security company in an alternate London which combines aspects of London in the 1950s and 1960s with invented events and practices (for example, televised public executions). Alfred becomes a target of the Raven Society, a group conspiring to take over the British government, and begins working against them alongside American agents of the No Name League, Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane, the future parents of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Story revoves around Former British SAS soldier Alfred Pennyworth becomes caught up in the conflict between American agent Thomas Wayne and the shadowy Raven Society. Alfred’s side job as a security consultant brings him to the attention of local crime lord John Ripper.

American No Name League agent Martha Kane hires Alfred to assist her on a dangerous mission. Martha enlists Alfred to help get the name of the new leader of the Raven Society. In the wake of Esme’s murder, Alfred is slowly pulled out of his depression by Ripper, who insists that an enemy of Alfred’s killed her. Ripper sends Alfred to a witch who gives him clues to find Esme’s killer.

Lord Harwood’s memory returns. While Thomas and Martha visit Crowley’s mansion seeking Patricia, Alfred closes in on Esme’s killer, Captain Curzon. As Alfred hunts down Curzon with help from Bet, Lord Harwood plots his return to power. Alfred is offered a way out of prison as the Prime Minister plots against both the Raven Society and the No Name League. While Lord Harwood stages a coup, Alfred, Bazza, and Dave Boy help Thomas and Martha rescue the Queen from the Sykes sisters. Lord Harwood, Francis Gaunt, and the Sykes are arrested. Alfred is pardoned, but finds himself trying to stop his father from assassinating the Queen and Prime Minister.

My Personal Thoughts

It’s nice when two people share the same passion and also happen to be two people who make television shows, though it’s inevitably more important that those two people actually have talent. Luckily, that’s the case with writer Bruno Heller and director Danny Cannon. The duo share a thing about Batman — they paired up for Fox’s Gotham and now offer up the highly entertaining, clever and engaging Pennyworth for Epix, based on the characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger for DC.

Pennyworth is the origin story of Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon, The Imitation Game, Ripper Street), who, of course, later becomes Bruce Wayne’s resourceful butler (Gotham was the DC origin story of Jim Gordon and, to a lesser but growing extent, the adolescent, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne).

Heller and Cannon had a real vision for Gotham, shepherding it through five seasons at Fox  — though Heller, who also created and penned Rome on HBO, stopped writing Gotham after the second season, while Cannon, who also penned some episodes as well as directed, contributed through all five.

Both men will find Pennyworth less exhausting, since it’s only 10 episodes (Gotham was a network-crazy 22 episodes for four seasons and 12 in the fifth), which should keep them creatively fresh throughout.

Pennyworth also has the advantage of being more grown-up and elegantly stylized, while not losing the sense that it’s a comic book come to life. Gotham also achieved that, but went for it in a more wildly cartoonish fashion, where Pennyworth has more grit and gravitas. The new series also isn’t hamstrung by the grade-school-Batman problem of Gotham, even though that show ultimately was more about Gordon.

Here, Pennyworth gives us Alfred as a young but mature British SAS soldier in his early twenties who leaves the service and starts up his own security company in rough and tumble 1960s London — an infinitely better premise partly because it’s so deeply British at its starting point and navigates through an interesting era in a real (though

Pennyworth Season 1 Episode 101: Pilot

visually exaggerated) city, devoid in the early going of the more cartoonish bad guys that later make Bruce Wayne’s life annoying across the pond.

Stylistically, it’s gripping and an enormous amount of fun (though, to be clear, shockingly violent in parts), with Bannon a real revelation as he swaggers around with his Cockney accent, channeling Michael Caine without coming off as a cheap imitation. He’s accompanied by SAS friends, Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett, Eastenders) and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher, Outlander).

You have to like that Alfred is a total badass here, and it’s interesting to see the kind of horror that his later refinement clearly hid. In a pinch, of course, Alfred was always handy and could hold his own, but in Pennyworth you get the full story — he didn’t need a costume to take control.

Alfred’s father (Ian Puleston-Davies) wants him to be a butler and his mother (Dorothy Atkinson) just wants him to be happy. But there’s a class struggle as he tries to court Esme (Emma Corrin, The Crown). Of course it’s Alfred’s work life that’s most interesting. As a bouncer he runs into Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge, Fleabag), an American doing suspicious work in England, while also getting mixed up in at least two competing interests against the British government (one involving a tremendously fun villain named Bet Sykes, played winningly by British singer Paloma Faith).

Juggling more adult fare, Heller manages to make Pennyworth a compelling modern drama but adds in a darker hint of comic book ink, never letting the tone tilt too much toward the outlandish or over-the-top, but also just unhinged enough to stand out. Early on, that’s the grandest achievement of Pennyworth and no small feat, either, since source material rooted in overly familiar comic-book history can struggle.

Cannon, whose cinematic work on Gotham instantly gave it a mood, once again dabbles in the darker hues here while making the alleys and roads of East London and environs seem rooted in something real (as opposed to a fictitious New York fantasy).

There’s something very compelling about Pennyworth as a comic adaptation that’s allowed to be more noirish and cultish than cartoonish, and it adds to Epix’s strong, growing bench.

GOTHAM: Sean Pertwee in the “A Dark Knight: No Man’s Land” season finale episode of GOTHAM airing Thursday, May 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Giovanni Rufino / FOX

“Pennyworth” is a lot like “Better Call Saul” — the origin story of a supporting player in a larger story that hasn’t started yet, EPIX’s new series about Batman’s future butler doesn’t feature the Dark Knight or even the promise of getting to his story, eventually. Instead, it starts its own story of Alfred Pennyworth and finds compelling new life within — just like “Better Call Saul!”

OK, maybe not just like Vince Gilligan’s heralded spinoff, but it’s off to a great start through four episodes. The hour-long drama starts Alfred’s story shortly after his service in the war, as the 20-something Pennyworth (played by Jack Bannon) returns home to his mother and father, determined to run a security business and lead a more peaceful life. While that’s getting off the ground, he works as a bouncer and doorman at an underground London club, and it’s here he first runs into a young American by the name of Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge).

Pennyworth Season 1 Episode 101: Pilot

It’s here that “Pennyworth” makes its first good impression, built on the back of many smart choices. For one, Wayne isn’t treated like royalty. A lot of billionaires — and his introduction sees him as a bit of an overprotective, inept brother, relying on the good luck of Pennyworth’s talents and discretion to get out of an ugly situation. That the show doesn’t treat the Wayne name with an air of royalty, as if he’s the most important person in a show that’s not really his, is really encouraging, and it only bears out from there.

Alfred himself is a well-rounded central figure, built from the heroic goods of more-than-capable soldier, but not such a smoothed-over goodie goodie to be made boring. He shows off his fighting abilities in the middle of a restaurant, careful not to bother the other patrons too much while tossing a hooligan over a table. There are shades of Future Alfred there, but not too many — he’s still got to become that wizened advisor to Master Wayne, so it’s nice to see he’s also got a few blindspots, too.

Jack Bannon and Ben Aldridge in "Pennyworth"

Stories that have well-known, predetermined endings are tricky. Stories about peripheral characters before the main draw gets involved are tricky. Origin stories aren’t that tricky, but they become tricky when you’re telling one with the two previous requirements in place. In these ways (and few others), “Pennyworth” is a lot like “Better Call Saul” — the origin story of a supporting player in a larger story that hasn’t started yet, EPIX’s new series about Batman’s future butler doesn’t feature the Dark Knight or even the promise of getting to his story, eventually. Instead, it starts its own story of Alfred Pennyworth and finds compelling new life within — just like “Better Call Saul!”

Pennyworth Season 1 Episode 101: Pilot

OK, maybe not just like Vince Gilligan’s heralded spinoff, but it’s off to a great start through four episodes. The hour-long drama starts Alfred’s story shortly after his service in the war, as the 20-something Pennyworth (played by Jack Bannon) returns home to his mother and father, determined to run a security business and lead a more peaceful life. While that’s getting off the ground, he works as a bouncer and doorman at an underground London club, and it’s here he first runs into a young American by the name of Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge).

Pennyworth Season 1 Episode 101: Pilot

It’s here that “Pennyworth” makes its first good impression, built on the back of many smart choices. For one, Wayne isn’t treated like royalty. He’s kind of a smarmy dick — like a lot of billionaires — and his introduction sees him as a bit of an overprotective, inept brother, relying on the good luck of Pennyworth’s talents and discretion to get out of an ugly situation. That the show doesn’t treat the Wayne name with an air of royalty, as if he’s the most important person in a show that’s not really his, is really encouraging, and it only bears out from there.

Alfred himself is a well-rounded central figure, built from the heroic goods of more-than-capable soldier, but not such a smoothed-over goodie goodie to be made boring. He shows off his fighting abilities in the middle of a restaurant, careful not to bother the other patrons too much while tossing a hooligan over a table. There are shades of Future Alfred there, but not too many — he’s still got to become that wizened advisor to Master Wayne, so it’s nice to see he’s also got a few blindspots, too.

Namely, women. One sucker punches him near the end of that early scene, foreshadowing many problems to come with his overconfident self-perception. Alfred doesn’t really know who he is yet, and that’s reflected as it so often is to men: through the (smarter) people they date. To get into much more might enter spoiler territory, but the women of “Pennyworth” are pretty well characterized on their own, outside of Alfred’s, too, even if there is a bit of a James Bond element to his lifestyle, as well as the show’s style. (The opening credits look like they’re ripped straight from Bond 20, while Alfred’s “for Queen and country” attitude compliments his 007-esque abilities.)

Stories that have well-known, predetermined endings are tricky. Stories about peripheral characters before the main draw gets involved are tricky. Origin stories aren’t that tricky, but they become tricky when you’re telling one with the two previous requirements in place. In these ways (and few others), “Pennyworth” is a lot like “Better Call Saul” — the origin story of a supporting player in a larger story that hasn’t started yet, EPIX’s new series about Batman’s future butler doesn’t feature the Dark Knight or even the promise of getting to his story, eventually. Instead, it starts its own story of Alfred Pennyworth and finds compelling new life within — just like “Better Call Saul!”

OK, maybe not just like Vince Gilligan’s heralded spinoff, but it’s off to a great start through four episodes. The hour-long drama starts Alfred’s story shortly after his service in the war, as the 20-something Pennyworth (played by Jack Bannon) returns home to his mother and father, determined to run a security business and lead a more peaceful life. While that’s getting off the ground, he works as a bouncer and doorman at an underground London club, and it’s here he first runs into a young American by the name of Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge).

It’s here that “Pennyworth” makes its first good impression, built on the back of many smart choices. For one, Wayne isn’t treated like royalty. A lot of billionaires — and his introduction sees him as a bit of an overprotective, inept brother, relying on the good luck of Pennyworth’s talents and discretion to get out of an ugly situation. That the show doesn’t treat the Wayne name with an air of royalty, as if he’s the most important person in a show that’s not really his, is really encouraging, and it only bears out from there.

Alfred himself is a well-rounded central figure, built from the heroic goods of more-than-capable soldier, but not such a smoothed-over goodie goodie to be made boring. He shows off his fighting abilities in the middle of a restaurant, careful not to bother the other patrons too much while tossing a hooligan over a table. There are shades of Future Alfred there, but not too many — he’s still got to become that wizened advisor to Master Wayne, so it’s nice to see he’s also got a few blindspots, too.

Pennyworth EPIX TV show Season 1 Episode 1

Namely, women. One sucker punches him near the end of that early scene, foreshadowing many problems to come with his overconfident self-perception. Alfred doesn’t really know who he is yet, and that’s reflected as it so often is to men: through the (smarter) people they date. To get into much more might enter spoiler territory, but the women of “Pennyworth” are pretty well characterized on their own, outside of Alfred’s, too, even if there is a bit of a James Bond element to his lifestyle, as well as the show’s style. (The opening credits look like they’re ripped straight from Bond 20, while Alfred’s “for Queen and country” attitude compliments his 007-esque abilities.)

And here’s where we talk about how damn good “Pennyworth” looks. Considering how gorgeous Bruno Heller (executive producer and writer) and Danny Cannon (executive producer and director) made “Gotham” — even with a broadcast budget — it should come as no surprise that London has rarely looked better than it does here. The lighting, both diegetic and non-diegetic, is stunning, making the crisp imagery pop when enemies are fighting and bringing beauty to a smoky side street when a noir-ish vibe is more appropriate. The costumes are pristine, sets expansive, and locations exciting in both their look and disparity. One episode is off to the countryside while another is buried in the bowels of a city. Along with sharp scripts, these touches help each hour stand out, and build on the overall enjoyment of spending time with “Pennyworth.”

Though there are some structural issues (the premiere is nearly feature length, with wobbly beginning and ending notes) and the big-picture strife between warring political parties takes up a bit too much time, “Pennyworth” establishes an admirable long-game and introduces a number of characters you’ll grow attached to quite quickly. Bannon is a talented lead, flashing charm and strength as well as he balances immediate assuredness (for those hard-to-escape scenarios) and long-view obliviousness (toward his own path in life). The show mimics his versatility, coming across as an exciting new chapter in Bruce Wayne’s growing televised saga. “Pennyworth” sounds like a bad idea, but Batman die-hards and casual fans should both soon discover how very good it is.

Pennyworth Season 1 Gallery

I will rate this TV Series 9/10

GenreCrime
Drama
Based onAlfred Pennyworth
by Bill FingerJerry Robinson
Starring Jack Bannon Ben Aldridge Emma Paetz Hainsley Lloyd Bennett Ryan Fletcher Dorothy Atkinson Ian Puleston-Davies Paloma Faith Jason Flemyng
Composer(s) David E. Russo Komeil S. Hosseini
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes10 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Bruno Heller Danny Cannon
Production company(s) Primrose Hill Productions DC Entertainment Warner Horizon Television
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original networkEpix
Original releaseJuly 28, 2019 –
present

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