Pennyworth TV REVIEW: Alfred gets a stylish, dark, Bond-ish backstory
Ironic? Coincidental? Cosmic balance? Not sure what the right word or phrase is, but just as DC Comics decided to make writer Tom King's scripted death of Alfred Pennyworth (literally at the hands of Bane in a 2019 Batman comic) a permanent one, a tv series featuring the character debuted on Epix.
Pennyworth has been flying under the radar ever since. Now awaiting word on whether it will receive a third season on EPIX (or perhaps elsewhere), Pennyworth features the deadly-serious, R-rated adventures of a young Alfred Pennyworth. As any Batman fan knows, Alfred would go on to become the butler to Thomas and Martha Wayne, and after their murder, would raise their young son Bruce. Eventually, Alfred would serve as the trusted aide to Bruce’s alter ego, the Batman.
Alfred Pennyworth has been around since Batman #16 in 1943, but has never had an interesting or compelling backstory in any medium until Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, where Alfred (played by Michael Caine) was given a British special forces military past, which made him much more qualified and able to assist Bruce/Batman in many ways, including knowing how to patch up an often seriously wounded crimefighter. The "badass military veteran Alfred" became canon in subsequent tv shows and movies (Sean Pertwee on Gotham, and Jeremy Irons in Batman v Superman, Justice League).
Pennyworth decided to take the Michael Caine version and run with it. Actor Jack Bannon looks and sounds like a young Caine (he absolutely nails Caine’s accent), with a wicked widow’s peak that would make Eddie Munster jealous. Set in London in the early 1960s, Pennyworth follows this young Alfred, a recent war veteran suffering from PTSD, as he tries to make his way back into civilian life.
A little too quickly and neatly, Alfred falls in love with a young exotic dancer and aspiring actress. What happens in their love story perhaps explains why Alfred remained a lifelong bachelor.
We get peeks into Alfred's home life, as he lives with his parents after returning from the war. Alfred's father is a stern, demanding man and a proud butler, which no doubt inspires his son's future profession.
Putting his training and expertise to use, Alfred opens his own personal security firm, employing a couple of his war buddies. They start out as well-dressed bouncers in a posh gentleman’s club, but soon are coerced into contracted wet work and spy work. Soon, Alfred and his mates become mixed up in some pretty powerful goings-on in British political society, and in the dark corners of a fascist criminal organization planning to overthrow the government. Alfred meets and battles some very colorful and vicious characters, and also makes some unlikely allies, including a Dr. Thomas Wayne—who just happens to be in London—and Martha Kane, an agent who would become Mrs. Wayne.
Stylish is a word I would use to describe Pennyworth, from the very cool animated opening credits sequence and theme music, to the hairstyles, fashions, and cars. Another word would be violent. This show is not for the faint of heart. There’s plenty of bloody murder…and torture…and dismemberment.
Things happen in this show, and they happen quickly. There’s never a dull moment or an “off” episode. Even if you’re not a fan of the Batman universe, this series will satisfy anyone who loves a good fight, spy stories, gritty crime dramas, a love story, and lots of colorful characters. Batman fans will enjoy seeing how Alfred gains the experience to become the capable mentor to Bruce/Batman, how he meets the Waynes, and what makes him decide to leave England behind.
Some say this is an alternate universe version of Alfred and the Waynes, some say it is canon. Either way (and who cares?), Pennyworth is a bloody good time.
Pennyworth season two ended in April 2021 on EPIX, but both seasons are available to rent on Amazon Prime. The season 1 DVD set is available from Amazon.
Pennyworth (2021) a 7-issue series inspired by the tv show, that premiered Aug. 11, 2021 from DC Comics,