REVIEWED: SEASON 1 | WHERE TO WATCH: STARZPLAY (VIA APPLE TV, AMAZON PRIME VIDEO) FROM OCTOBER 25TH
It’s 1960s London and everything is going swingingly. Except that beneath the surface there lurks a society that is desperate for control and will do anything to get it. Stepping into this world is Alfred Pennyworth, an East End geezer fresh out of the Army who’s looking to make a name for himself with his own security firm. It’s slow going (he works as a doorman at a ‘gentlemen’s club’) until a chance encounter with a wealthy American businessman changes the course of his life forever.
As Alfred is pulled deeper and deeper into the dangerous and bloodthirsty world of secret societies, his battles with the past come to the fore with only his girlfriend Esme and army mates Bazza and Dave Boy to help guide him through it and help him to pick himself back up. It’s not easy, though. As fast as he turns his back on a world of violence, Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane inadvertently suck him back in again, forming a bond that will become legendary.
It’s no secret that the news of an Alfred spin-off series provoked a lot of sniggers and cries of ‘why?!’ from Bat-fans and critics alike. Even Teen Titans Go! To the Movies poked fun at the idea with a trailer for Alfred the Movie. In that sense, Pennyworth really didn’t have much to live up to. And that, in some respects, is why this series will blow you away.
Unlike its distant cousin, Gotham, Pennyworth never once leans on its credentials as a Batman prequel (with the small exception of its lead character’s future connection and a brilliant moment where Alfred pulls the Batman vanishing trick when talking to the chief of police). Instead, it allows itself free reign to create a compelling and visually stylish story of an ex-soldier trying to escape his violent past. Alfred (or Alfie as his loveable mates call him) is the quintessential reluctant hero, forced to dig deep in order to keep those he cares about alive (and to avenge those who’ve died). He’s also, very clearly, the embodiment of 1960s Michael Caine. But that is absolutely fine. Jack Bannon is bursting with stoic wide-boy charisma in the lead and is one of the reasons this show is so watchable. He’s backed up by an impressive ensemble cast too (including a stunning performance by singer Paloma Faith), all of whom admirably side-step the cheese factor that Gotham thrived on. In fact, the entire production appears to be dairy intolerant.
Series creator Bruno Heller does an exceptional job of spinning an interwoven web of mystery and intrigue, embellished superbly by the ambitious direction and cinematography, stunning set design and glorious Bond-esque music. There’s also a no-holds-barred approach to violence and language, which sets this apart from anything that’s ever emerged from the Bat-canon and goes a long way to making this feel grounded. Overall, Pennyworth looks and feels like an amalgam of every great ‘60s spy series but with modern-day cinematic television sensibilities and, as a result, is incredibly watchable and likeable… much like Alfred himself.