Pilot – | Review Score – 4/5
The Landlord’s Daughter – | Review Score –4/5
Martha Kane – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Lady Penelope – | Review Score – 4/5
Shirley Bassey – | Review Score – 4/5
Cilla Black – | Review Score – 4/5
Julie Christie – | Review Score – 3/5
Sandie Shaw – | Review Score – 4/5
Alma Coogan – | Review Score – 4/5
Marianne Faithful – | Review Score – 4.5/5
On paper, Pennyworth has all the ingredients to feel like a cheap spin-off riding Batman’s coat-tail. After all, a prequel series based on Batman’s butler set during his younger years with espionage influences feels like a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, Pennyworth is anything but a disaster. Not only is Pennyworth an enjoyable, well-paced crime thriller, it has enough charm and confidence about it to easily stand as its own thing away from its caped crusader.
The story revolves around a young Alfred Pennyworth, a suave man fresh out of the British Special Air Service and working security wherever he can. With big dreams around starting his own security firm, a chance encounter with Thomas Wayne sees him take his first step toward this and in the process, unknowingly changing his life forever. Caught in the middle of a tense struggle for control of the city, Pennyworth’s first season sees Alfred thrust into the middle of this conflict. With the world a chaotic, unstable place, the Raven Society and No-Name League begin a bitter conflict that spans the entirety of the season.
To complicate matters, wildcard Bet Sykes, played by the wonderfully charismatic, screen-stealing Paloma Faith, ends up fascinated and obsessed with Alfred’s girlfriend Esme while Alfred himself ends up caught in familial matters too. All of this weaves perfectly around the main conflict of the story, building up to two dramatic spikes – one partway through the series involving Esme and another during the finale, which leaves things hanging in the balance and all eyes turned toward a possible second season.
While there are a few half-baked sub-plots that don’t really do much to advance the plot, involving one with Martha Wayne and Aleister Crowley, most of the season is pretty concise and well-paced, doing well to flesh out each of the characters whilst giving Pennyworth a unique crime-drama slant to proceedings. While there are still clear influences of Gotham and Batman sprinkled throughout the show, Pennyworth just as easily stands on its own as a separate show and universe, such is the strength of the writing.
Aesthetically, there’s a distinct visual style used here too and it helps paint the world as a turbulent and uneasy place. Smoke wisps through the air, there’s a distinct muted colour palette used through much of the first season while the musical score is consistent with the time period. There’s a real understanding of this too, with no anachronisms to speak of and some nice themes across the ten episodes.
Patriotism, comradeship, loyalty and vengeance are all big topics explored throughout the season and the different facets of this are cleverly executed through the dialogue for our characters. Alfred’s Father exhibits a lot of the blind patriotism while Alfred’s explosive vengeance during the second half of the series paints him in a very different light to the cool, suave guy we were introduced to originally. All these ideas interweave perfectly with the main narrative and add an extra depth to Pennyworth.
I, like many other people I’d imagine, wrote this one off long before the first episode dropped. One of the best parts of this job is being proved wrong and Pennyworth perfectly exhibits that. Confidently written, well-paced and armed with an eclectic group of memorable characters, Pennyworth is one of the bigger suprises this year and well worth checking out. With an open ending and plenty of questions left unanswered, hopefully this isn’t the last we see of Batman’s butler after a solid opening season of action.