The Butler Did It
Batman’s Alfred Gets His Own Origin Story in ‘Pennyworth’
Did we really need yet another Batman property, you ask? And did it have to be a prequel to a prequel? ‘Gotham’ producers Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller think you do. However, ‘Pennyworth’ is a completely different animal. Cannon and Heller admit themselves it’s not a companion to their earlier series. For one, it’s way darker and dirtier. I foolishly watched the pilot with my 8-year old son. At least that only had the word “fuck” in it. By the second episode, which I wisely watched alone, you had prison sex, accompanying used condoms, and a guy in a gimp mask. But the second episode was decidedly better because it appears to embrace the insanity.
This seems to be the series Cannon and Heller might have done if they weren’t constrained by network television standards. This in on Epix, which apparently allows HBO levels of titillation. If you liked the macabre black comedy moments of ‘Gotham,’ you’ll love ‘Pennyworth.’ But what does the show say about Batman? After all, the show takes place in London. There are definite traces of Dark Knight mythology, but they are properly buried here. Jack Bannon does a solid Michael Caine impression as “Alfie,” a former SAS officer trying to get his security firm off the ground. Beyond the accent, Bannon’s window’s peak reminds you who the character will eventually be. Of course, his dad is already a butler in the series.
A Fateful Meeting
We meet Thomas Wayne in the premiere as he crosses paths with Alfred. They exchange business cards, while only the audience knows the relationship they will one day have. But by the second episode we see Master Wayne is far from an angel himself. As he is torturing a prisoner for information, the following exchange occurs:
“Fuck your cunt mother.”
Wayne: “Well I’ve considered the notion, but the appropriate moment’s never really arisen.”
Bet you didn’t expect Batman’s dad to say that. ‘Pennyworth’ is undeniably British, from the slang to the humor. But it will grow on you. This is the dark side of Swinging Sixties London. The first minutes of the pilot are scored by the Stones’ “Paint It Black” to make sure you understand. Singer Paloma Faith is worth mentioning as Bet Sykes, who scares the shit out of Alfred’s girlfriend Esme (Emma Corrin).
Last summer’s Teen Titans Go To The Movies first explored the ridiculousness of an Alfred property in amazing fashion, but ‘Pennyworth’ definitely has potential. Rather than simply diluting the Batman brand further, it makes us wonder not about why Bruce will one day straddle the line between justice and vengeance. What kind of a person would help him do it? We know Alfred is basically Bruce’s father after his parents’ murder. What would make Alfred that surrogate parent? Did he ever have kids of his own? Was he ever married? What life did he have that would eventually be subordinated to serve “young Master Wayne?” There is some fertile ground there. Keep an eye on ‘Pennyworth’ to see how they till it.