‘Pennyworth’ Series Premiere Review: Bruce Wayne’s Butler Gets Some Shine

For all that people like to compare Marvel and DC Comics, the latter is thriving on television. With the Arrowverse and Black Lightning on the CW, Titans and Young Justice on DC Universe and plenty more, DCTV has a lot going for it right now. Admittedly, however, Epix’s series about Alfred Pennyworth’s days before going to work as the Wayne family butler, aptly titled Pennyworth, proved to be an interesting choice. After seeing the pilot episode, it’s safe to say Pennyworth gives Alfred a bit of flair, seamlessly sets up his working relationship with Thomas Wayne, and provides plenty of setup for the season-long arc. Still, while Pennyworth works well enough on its own in one episode, the subject matter would’ve made for a good standalone film rather than a series and is a major departure from its comic book origins.

Set in 1960s London, Pennyworth follows Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), currently a bouncer attempting to start his own security business. Formerly a special-forces officer, Alfred meets Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), a financial forensic analyst in town on business, at the lounge where he works and it’s there where he’s taught to “open doors with panache.” However, the two don’t cross paths again until they accidentally find themselves involved in the exploits of the secretive Raven Society — which, of course, include plans to take over the government and reinstate England to its former glory. The entanglement with the Raven Society brings out the special-forces side of Alfred and he plots like an agent on a mission, simultaneously scaring his girlfriend, Esmé (Emma Corrin) and bringing them closer together. 


Pennyworth flashes back to Alfred’s special-forces days and, while the memories obviously haunt him, they work to give us more information without overshadowing the events of the present. Alfred and Thomas meeting each other happens rather organically and Bannon and Aldridge have great camaraderie and chemistry. Pennyworth definitely works as a James Bond-esque series and it’s very much the vibe it carries throughout. 

There’s a lot of action, an overarching secret society plot with Alfred caught in the middle of it all. Things seem to simply happen to him at first before he starts to take control of the situation. In many ways, Pennyworth doesn’t necessarily draw from the comics in the sense that it doesn’t quite maintain much of Alfred’s mannerisms as we’ve come to know them. Obviously, this adaptation takes place several years (maybe decades) before he becomes a butler and father-figure to Bruce, but it often plays out like a thriller that only includes characters with familiar names more than anything else. It’s distinctive and familiar in that way, but the Alfred of it all is perhaps the least interesting part. 

As is the usual in comics, Alfred’s history has been altered a few times, but the backstory of being an actor seems to remain consistent. Of course, Pennyworth doesn’t tie itself down to any of these, choosing to give the acting background to Esmé instead and choosing to focus on Alfred’s special-forces background instead. Wanting to start his own security business is essentially setup for the reason he’ll eventually go to work at Wayne Manor, though how he ends up becoming a butler isn’t exactly clear from the events of the pilot. Comic book adaptations on television are tricky, but even with the changes, there’s some sense of the characters’ connection with their comic book counterparts and Pennyworth is largely devoid of it. 


Jack Bannon plays Alfred as a cool, collected, and smarmy young man who’s got a lot of swagger. He comes from humble means and the contentious relationship he has with his father is glimpsed in the episode, but the scenes never linger long enough before moving onto the next one. All signs point toward the series being more spectacle than focused on character or emotion, though there are still nine episodes left for me to be proven wrong. Regardless, the existence of the Raven Society and their country-changing plans clinches that idea.

One of the downfalls of the series premiere is that it actually has too many plot threads. It’s almost like it’s trying to cram multiple things in at once to set up the rest of the season, even when certain aspects could have been held off until the following episodes. An example of this is when Esmé is invited over for dinner to meet Alfred’s parents. The scene is meant to push the conflict between Alfred and Esmé right in time for her kidnapping by the Raven Society. However, because it’s only the first episode, relationship drama was unnecessary when the pair has only been dating for a couple of weeks and so the outcome of the situation doesn’t have as big an impact as there should have been. 

There’s definitely a lot to like in Pennyworth, but it’s also a series that would have worked better as a standalone film. There’s nothing that distinctly ties it to its comic book counterpart and so it does make it seem like the series’ existence is just another thrilling series, but one with name recognition. Pennyworth is a deliberate period piece with a seemingly clear plot and, though it’s an enjoyable watch that moves swiftly, there’s also no real excitement to see what comes next.

Rating: 3 out of 5