- Historical Fiction
Fix: Spy Thriller, Batman Without Batman, Alternate Universe 1960s London, Non-Superhero Origin Story, His Mother’s Name Is Mary (Not Martha)
Platforms: HBO Max, EPIX, DirecTV
In 1960s London, Bruce Wayne’s legendary butler, Alfred Pennyworth, forms a security company and goes to work with Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s billionaire father.
Before he was Bruce’s confidant and butler, and even before Thomas and Martha Wayne actually liked each other, Alfred Pennyworth was a man on a mission. At 26, he’d already served in the British special forces for a decade and returned home someone tired of violence—but also someone for whom peace wasn’t really an option.
Disclaimer: If I were British or a better anglophile, I would probably recognize way more people in this show than I do, looking at their IMDB pages. However, I am not (sadly) and so only really recognized these folk.
Jason Flemyng as Lord James Harwood
Because of Flemyng’s role as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the similar (albeit more modern) vibe Pennyworth has, I kept expecting Harwood to morph into a monstrous creature and roam the streets of London, killing people. But not all monsters are outwardly grotesque (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*) …
Polly Walker as Peggy Sykes
Walker is insanely prolific, but I spent her first few appearances in Pennyworth thinking she was one of the women from AbFab. (She’s not.)
Ben Aldridge as Thomas Wayne
I honestly didn’t recognize him, but I know we have a lot of fans of Fleabag and people who watched Reign, both of which Aldridge was in. I can’t comment on how Thomas Wayne is compared to his other roles, since I haven’t watched Fleabag* and I gave up on Reign early on, but I do have to commend him on his American accent. Had I not looked him up, I wouldn’t have known he was British!
*I tried! I gave it two episodes, but it’s just not for me. Even with the promise of Hot Priest.
Freddy Carter as Jason Ripper
Carter’s not a household name—yet—but I had to include him because he’s playing Kaz Brekker in the upcoming Shadow and Bone Netflix series. I just really, really hope that he plays Kaz like Kaz should be played, and nothing like Jason Ripper, because Jason Ripper is terrible, sad, and gross.
Couch-Sharing Capability: Adults Only
Pennyworth pulls no punches, and there are a lot of punches—and fights and gunshots and murders and torture—in the show. There are also topless bars, scenes of a non-standard sexual nature, and literal satanic orgies. So this is definitely not a superhero show for the kiddos. Plus, there actually aren’t any superheroes at all in Pennyworth, just regular blokes who are forced to do questionable things in the name of love and country (and sometimes just to make ends meet).
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Pull a Pint or Have a Cuppa
I’m basically just saying things that sound vaguely British now, but since Pennyworth‘s set in London, it seems appropriate. But I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to hit the hard stuff or go with something with alcohol in it.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Worth Your While
EPIX is a channel that not too many people have, but it’s worth seeking out this show, especially if you’re a Batman completist or like darkly comical spy shoes with hints of the paranormal. (I watched it as part of my Apple TV+ subscription, and it’s available for purchase on Amazon Prime.)
I know I mentioned above that this show is quite graphic, in more ways than one, but it’s a fascinating look at a man who most people probably never cared to learn more about. Sure, Alfred’s always great in the various versions of Bruce Wayne’s stories, but he’s often not much more than a father figure who offers Bruce solid advice or reminds him who the man behind the cowl really is. Important, sure, but Pennyworth dives deep into his youth and the factors that made him such an amazing member of the Wayne family, even though he wasn’t a Wayne by name.
The show can be a little confusing at times, with plotlines that seem to come out of nowhere and fizzle just as quickly, but most everything comes together by the end of the season’s 10 episodes. (And what’s not wrapped up will hopefully be sorted in the second season.) A bonus of the show is getting to know Thomas and Martha Wayne long before Bruce was born, and back when Martha was Martha Kane; the two are way more fascinating than those many (many) death scenes/flashbacks to their murders would have you believe. The show’s setting is also super intriguing; the alternate universe London is somewhat anachronistic (if you’ve ever seen Gotham, it’s similar) but super stylistic and dark. I would not want to live there, but visiting through my TV screen is a very entertaining time.
Plus, Young Alfred is quite fit.