June 17, 2020

PENNYWORTH: Alfred, You Naughty Boy...

Starring Jack Bannon, Ben Aldridge, Emma Paetz, Hainsley Lloyd Bennett, Ryan Fletcher, Jayson Fleming, Emma Corrin, Dorothy Atkinson, Ian Pileston-Davies, Paloma Faith, Polly Walker. Various directors. (2019/564 min)

Review by Cuddles, the Couch Potato😽

Pennyworth is a strange show and probably not intended for fans of the so-called DC Universe (no matter which universe is your thing). In fact, only the DC logo and the names of three principal characters link it to anything we might be familiar with.

While the titular character is best-known as the Wayne family's loyal and resourceful butler, the series takes place in the late 1960s, when young Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) is an ex-soldier with a fledgling security company. The setting is an alternate, dystopian vision of England on the brink of civil war. Two extremist organizations with their own agendas – the puritanical Raven Society and the CIA-supported No Name Group – are both trying to overthrow the current government. Initially hired by American agent Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), Pennyworth becomes more of a hired-gun and occasional assassin, though his allegiance remains with the Queen and he absolutely does not trust Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), a CIA agent working undercover.

A few episodic subplots exist within the overall story arc, such as Pennyworth helping a gay computer whiz defect to America, ridding his neighborhood a local gangster's psychotic nephew and falling in love with dancer Esme (Emma Corrin). Some of these side-quests are interesting, but a few feel like they belong in a different show, such as Martha & Thomas' inexplicable confrontation with legendary satanist Alistair Crowley and Alfred consulting an incarcerated witch to find a killer.

Alfred actually prefers Superman comics.
Though there isn't a cape, gadget or flamboyant super-villain to be found, Alfred is a pretty badass anti-hero, re-imagined as a skilled killer who thinks on his feet. He also has just enough personal integrity and working class charm to remain likable, even when he's blowing someone's head off. He's well-played by Bannon, whose reserved mannerisms remind me of a young Michael Caine (maybe that's why he got the job). In a sea of antagonists – including some in England's own government - Raven Society henchwoman Bet Sykes (Paloma Faith) is the most entertaining and arguably the closest the series has to a psychotic Batman villain.

But even though Pennyworth ain't your daddy's DC Universe, it ain't your kids', either. Several characters – including Alfred – engage in some serious bumping & grinding. What's really surprising, however, is the copious amount of bloody violence...shootings, stabbings, eye-piercings, dismemberments, suggested cannibalism, disembowelings and even some poor bastard whose nose is lopped off...all depicted in loving, graphic detail.

Because of all this, one might cynically assume the sole purpose of making it Alfred Pennyworth's story is for brand name recognition, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. With just three quick name changes, the series could be about anybody, especially since it doesn't appear to take place in any existing DC Universe. Still, the first season Pennyworth is pretty binge-worthy. Smart, exciting, brutal and often quite funny, the show offers an intriguingly-shady backstory to a beloved comic book character. 


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