Pennyworth, Season 1 featured image.

Pennyworth, Season 1

Dept. of Pithy Prequels


I didn’t need a series about the early years of Batman’s butler. Just like I didn’t need a series about Superman’s grandfather. Or a series about the early years of James Gordon. At least that was my first thought when Pennyworth was announced back in 2018. I was clearly wrong.

DC’s track record with these sorts of prequels hasn’t been great. Both Gotham and Krypton suffered from some serious shortcomings.

By shoehorning a Batman origin story into its narrative, Gotham betrayed its own characters by not treating them as individuals in their own right. They were always only framed in relation to Bruce Wayne and Batman, and because of that, came across as extras in their own show. (For an example of how to do it properly, check out the “Gotham Central” comics by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.)

Krypton, on the other hand, was just painfully boring.

Jack Bannon is Alfred Pennyworth.

Pennyworth is none of those things. Pennyworth is way more fun. One part spy caper, one part dark illuminati-esque thriller, this is a series that is stylish and sexy, but most of all, confident. Where Gotham was constantly pandering, almost afraid of finding its own voice, Pennyworth is a series that feels far more self-assured.

Both Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon – the creative duo behind both shows – seem to be consciously distancing themselves from the format that got them this job. By breaking away from the hoary tropes that plague prequels – shameless fan service, unnecessary retcons, overwrought plot machinations – and keeping the series focused on Alfred, Thomas, and Martha, Pennyworth allows for its characters to grow and develop at their own pace. Alfred, Thomas, and Martha are interesting in their own right. And we are curious about their individual stories. All of this despite the fact that we already know their respective fates.

Jack Bannon and Ben Aldridge in DC's Pennyworth.

Pennyworth, which follows our titular protagonist, a former SAS operative, as he returns to a comic book skewed post-war London and restarts his life as a security consultant, isn’t your typical origin story. My fear going into this was that the series, in trying to tell the tale of how Alfred became Alfred, would demystify the character to the point of disinterest.

The mystery of Alfred’s past is one of the things that has made the character so compelling. And any attempt at going too far inside the mind of the character, at over explaining his motivations, runs the risk of making him ordinary. The last thing I wanted was yet another story about broken soldier seeking redemption for past sins.

But the Alfred here is fully formed. Already possessing all of the characteristics that make him the man we know and love. He is loyal. He is skilled. He is fearless. Always putting the needs of others ahead of his own safety and wellbeing. He isn’t just another sidekick. He is a bona fide hero.

Which is precisely why this works so well. These are genuine heroes caught up in a cloak-and-dagger conspiracy, set that in a version of London that’s hyperviolent, historically asymmetrical, and full of gothic villains.

Emma Corrin as Esme Winikus in DC's Pennyworth.

The other reason this works so well is because of Jack Bannon. He is an absolute delight on screen. Smart and brutal. Debonaire, yet vulnerable. Occasionally slipping into a spot-on impression of Michael Caine. He is Alfred Pennyworth.

The show also benefits from not being on network television. Leaning into the sex and violence afforded to it by a mature rating, we get a London that’s both sensual and savage. We get a world that looks absolutely fantastic.

Jason Flemyng as Lord James Harwood in DC's Pennyworth.

Yes, Pennyworth is just one more cog in the lucrative intellectual property machine that is the Batman franchise, but it’s hard to be cynical about something when it is executed this stylishly. This doesn’t feel like just another shameless cash grab.

With a second season already in production, and James Purefoy joining the cast, it looks like Pennyworth can only get better. I say keep ’em coming.

Warner TV, Season 1, 10 episodes
Showrunners: Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon
Writers: Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon
Cast: Jack Bannon, Ben Aldridge, Emma Paetz, Hainsley Lloyd Bennett, Ryan Fletcher, Dorothy Atkinson, Ian Puleston-Davies, Paloma Faith, Polly Walker, and Jason Flemyng

Pennyworth premieres on Warner TV (Astro Ch 712 HD / UnifiTV Ch 451) on Friday, June 29, at 9PM.   

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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