Synopsis: Pennyworth follows the Wayne family's legendary butler, Alfred Pennyworth, a former British SAS soldier who forms a security company and goes to work with Thomas Wayne in 1960s London.
Review: While FOX's Gotham took a unique look at what a prequel set in the mythology of DC's Dark Knight could look like, fans were hesitant in accepting a Batman show without Batman. While the series eventually embraced the pulpier side of the lore, Epix's Pennyworth takes things ever further back. Set in 1960s London, Pennyworth gived us a look at Batman's butler just as he meets Thomas Wayne for the first time. That means we now have a Batman prequel that doesn't have Batman but not even the villains or iconic Gotham City to play around in. That ends up working in this series' favor as Pennyworth feels right at home within the wide range of DC Comics stories but also serves as a distinct and unique look at a story we have never seen before.
Pennyworth shares a lot in common with Marvel/ABC's short-lived Agent Carter series. Both take place in a retro setting with anachronistic elements from the comic books that inspired them. Whereas Agent Carter was set in a post-World War II setting that gave it a noir-meets-B-movie feel, Pennyworth is a grittier and much more violent. Created by Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon (GOTHAM), this show shares no narrative links to their FOX series despite using some similar visual cues. Pennyworth really looks and feels unlike any other DC Comics series to date and has much better production values than anything on DC Universe so far. Epix really went all out to make Pennyworth look and feel as big budget as possible.
Over the course of the first season of Pennyworth, we meet young Alfie (Jack Bannon), a former British SAS soldier who deals with his post-traumatic stress from the battlefield by opening up a security business with his fellow veterans Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) and Bazza (Hainsley Lord Bennett). The trio are hard-drinking fighters looking for a better life. While Alfie lives at home with his butler father, he works as a bouncer at a local nightclub. It is there that he meets his love, Esme (Emma Corrin), a dancer and aspiring actress. He also runs into, separately, Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Thomas' future wife Martha Kane (Emma Paetz). Everyone is seemingly involved in spycraft of one level or another and pursue the talents of Alfred and his burgeoning security company. This eventually puts Alfred at odds with Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng) and his Raven Society, the big bads of the season.
While most episodes feature standalone jobs for Alfred and his crew, there is a season-long narrative that builds with each additional chapter. I found that over the first three episodes, the show was surprisingly fun and dark with Epix keeping all of the blood and profanity in place. Pennyworth features a great number of f-bombs, even compared to recent series like Doom Patrol and Titans. Whereas the swearing on those shows felt a bit forced, it works organically in this series and adds to the Guy Ritchie feel to the tale. Whether it be Jack Bannon's street accent that echoes Michael Caine in THE DARK KNIGHT or the complex MacGyver-esque solutions that Alfred finds to any problem, this show does share a lot in common with the aesthetic of movies like LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH.
With a killer soundtrack that includes recognizable tunes by The Rolling Stones and many others, Pennyworth is a lot of fun, especially without featuring any major acting talent. Jason Flemying is the most recognizable actor in the cast which works in favor of letting us really get to know these characters. Jack Bannon is one hell of a talent, giving his take on Alfred as equal parts James Bond, Michael Caine, and Jason Statham. This Alfred is talented and proficient as a soldier but has a lot to learn about the world. He is a flawed character but a really fun one too. The entire cast here avoid playing their roles as too over-the-top which avoids the series from ever feeling silly, but it still ventures close to that line without turning into another Gotham. The score by David E. Russo is appropriate for the period and gives a scale to the story while firmly putting it in the 1960s.
If you are looking for something that directly ties in to DC Comics or established lore, Pennyworth is not for you. If you could care less about the origin of Batman's butler, you will probably steer clear as well. But, if you are up for a violent and fun retro romp featuring some Brits kicking the ass of criminals and evil societies, you could do a lot worse than Pennyworth. While it works overall, there are a couple of moments that slip into the silly tone and style that turned some fans off of FOX's Gotham. Specifically a public execution scene that I won't spoil here, but some of the jokes employed are a bit groan-worthy and do not fit in with the rest of the series. Aside from these quibbles, Pennyworth is a fun look at a story that has never been explored to this level and gives us a fun world to explore. As long as you aren't squeamish when it comes to disembowelments shown on screen, Pennyworth is one of the better DC Comics small screen offerings.
Pennyworth premieres July 28th on Epix.