For whatever reason, we seemed to have missed the memo about the new Batman prequel series, Pennyworth. Announced back in May, the series is set to revolve around Batman’s trusty confidant and butler. Wait…what? Are you kidding us? Of all the great Batman characters that could have possibly been chosen, Alfred was the top pick? And does Pennyworth even offer a story worth telling?
Epix is behind the new series, with former Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller producing Pennyworth. The show is not directly related to Gotham. Instead, Pennyworth will explore Alfred’s backstory in the ’60s. Essentially, this is an origin story that’s a prequel of a prequel. Indeed, one of the most static and easily uninteresting characters in Batman canon is getting his own period-set series. This isn’t to say that Alfred is a bad character, it’s that he really only works when he’s paired with Batman / Bruce Wayne. If there’s no Bruce Wayne in the series, Alfred becomes a much less interesting choice to follow because his core dynamic is missing.
Aside from begging the question of whether we even need this series in the first place, Pennyworth also carries the stench of Gotham in tow. Moreover, it also raises concerns about whether there is enough lore to sustain a series about Alfred. Luckily, Thomas Wayne is set to make an appearance in the show, although the size of his role is still unclear. But there’s only so much to work with in terms of Thomas and Alfred’s backstory together. Even worse is the fact that there’s not really a definitive, quintessential backstory for either of the two characters.
Since his introduction in April 1943, Alfred has gone through various iterations in the comics. Originally, Alfred was intended to be comedic relief for Batman and Robin. Slowly but surely, Alfred morphed into the character we have a today. In 2013, Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank created Batman: Earth One, which modernized Alfred’s origin. Based on the information we know about Pennyworth, that comic is likely to serve as the inspiration for the new series. But is that really enough to justify an entire series?
The new version of Alfred depicts a former soldier of the British Royal marines who is a skilled martial artist and sharpshooter. At one point, Alfred saves Thomas’ life, forging an indelible bond with Bruce’s father. It’s highly likely that Alfred and Thomas will team up in the new series, but this only muddies the waters even further. Thomas Wayne isn’t Bruce Wayne, and he’s not that interesting in his own right. Thomas is also a character we primarily know from Bruce’s perspective. He’s not exactly Howard Stark, in terms of personality or a memorable presence.
By learning more about Thomas and Alfred’s backstory, it’s harder for the audience to relate to them because it adds baggage to their characters that’s not necessarily needed. It could potentially lead the characters down the path of becoming irredeemable. With Alfred in particular, Pennyworth plans to explore how its title character reconciles “the kind-hearted boy he used to be with the cold, calculated killer he was forced to become.” This version of Alfred doesn’t even remotely sound like the character who is beloved by Batman fans. In fact, this new direction for the this show could potentially be destructive for Alfred’s reputation outside of the comic books.
Can a ’60s era story about Alfred Pennyworth become a viable piece of television entertainment? Gotham has suffered a steadily declined in viewership since it’s premiere. If Gotham can’t hold on to a sizable audience, what makes Epix think that a show like Pennyworth would? In many ways, it feels like a bit of a paradoxical move in terms of both business and fan appeal. In other words, nobody really seems to want the series.
If Gotham is the weirdest interpretation of Batman lore that we’ve seen thus far, then Pennyworth might very well be the most unnecessary. To be fair, there’s precedent for unlikely comic book prequel series. Much like Pennyworth is attempting to do, Smallville managed to get several seasons out of an extended Superman origin story. The major difference between Smallville and Pennyworth is the fact that Superman has more than enough lore to fill a prequel series. Even Gotham had enough characters and potential to justify itself, even though it arguably never lived up to what it could have been Pennyworth doesn’t even have that kind of upside. At best, it’s barely Batman-adjacent.
There’s a good possibility that Pennyworth could end up being just a one-off season of television. If this were to be the case, then it could work. And if Pennyworth can capture the right tone for it’s setting and characters, then it could be enjoyable…and hopefully even entertaining! But the fact remains that a prequel series about Alfred Pennyworth is likely to be silly fun at best, and completely pointless at worst.
What do you think? Is Alfred worthy of his own TV series? Let us know in the comments below!