Sunday, July 28, 2019

REVIEW: 'Pennyworth' - Alfred Finds a Romantic Connection Only for a Criminal Conspiracy to Disrupt It in 'Pilot'

Epix's Pennyworth - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Alfred Pennyworth, a young man just out of the English air service and at loose ends, endeavors to start a security company.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Epix's Pennyworth.

"Pilot" was written by Bruno Heller and directed by Danny Cannon

This series may be a Batman prequel in name only. Sure, it features some notable names associated with that famous mythology. And yet, it seems to be telling its own story that isn't beholden to anything that has already been established by the canon. That may be for the best because great storytellers have struggled when it comes to finding new depths in this particular DC world. Series creator Bruno Heller and director Danny Cannon have already done one Batman project in Gotham over at FOX. So, there had to be something of notable interest in this project that made them excited once more. It would be odd if they just wanted to make the same show all over again. So instead, they depict a radically different version of London in the 1960s. It is home to a young Alfred Pennyworth fresh out of military service and looking to start his own security firm. He has several run-ins with Thomas Wayne, an American businessman. And yet, this premiere isn't the start of a beautiful and prosperous friendship. Instead, it mostly depicts this relationship as a burden. One that forces Alfred into a whole lot of trouble. Now, that adds a fair amount of excitement to the proceedings. But it's also a huge exposition dump without offering the audience any sense as to why any of this should be important. The criminal elements appear to operate as some sort of conspiracy over the future of England. One side defines itself through fascism while the other drifts towards socialism. Those are buzzwords and nothing more here. The show could provide more context that may make this a powerful allegory to some sort of real-life parallels. But instead, it's mostly just a crime thriller in which Alfred and his friends go up against a corrupt system in the hopes of rescuing his girlfriend whose efforts to dump him never seem to stick. Now, it's empowering to see Esme as an important figure in this world who is more than just your typical damsel in distress. The premiere builds up her relationship with Alfred so that the audience is invested in what may happen to them. She fights back after she is abducted by Sykes because of whatever Thomas Wayne has discovered about the Raven Society. Right now, all of the conspiracy stuff is a complete mystery that makes no sense whatsoever. But a spark comes to the narrative thanks to a handful of performances. So much of this series ultimately rests on the shoulders of Jack Bannon as Alfred. That casting was so crucial. The series managed to find someone charismatic enough for the role while also finding new shades to a character seen many times already. Sure, there are some nudges to future developments here that are purely annoying - like him demeaning the work of a butler. But that never detracts too much from the action that comes from seeing Alfred as an effective soldier doing what's right and moral no matter what. Emma Corrin and Paloma Faith are also doing compelling work as the women who are constantly throwing Alfred into the action. Meanwhile, Ben Aldridge's attempt at an American accent is very distracting. It doesn't quite feel natural which runs the risk of taking the audience out of the actual storytelling. It's important that Alfred doesn't want to work for Thomas right now. But the show is seemingly having much more fun showcasing how Alfred continues to find trouble no matter where he goes. He may get awarded with a medal from the Queen by the end of this premiere. But Sykes still pops up several times in his personal life to hold his loved ones hostage for a bit. She may not be effective but she sure does bring a sense of style to the proceedings.