Epix’s Pennyworth is Overpriced

Spouse and I watched some free shows from the premium cable channels during Watchathon. One series we watched was Epix’s fantasy Pennyworth.

I didn’t know the show was based on a DC comic book set in an alternate Britain. I thought, from the previews, that this would be Batman’s Butler; the Early Years. But no.

Alfred Pennyworth, former army-boy, SAS trained, is never going to be a butler. At first, he wants to start a security firm with his two army-buds, Dave-Boy and Baz. Soon, though, Alfred (or Alfie) is drawing on his SAS-honed skills to help CIA operative Thomas Wayne (who is, I guess, not Bruce Wayne’s father in this world) and the No Name Group, one of two minority parties struggling against Britain’s corrupt administration.

At or around Episode 5, Alfie’s fiance Emse is stalked and killed by someone with a grudge against Alfie. In other words, she is fridged. Fridging occurs when writers introduce a female character solely to have a villain murder her, usually in a horrible way, so that the male protagonist will suffer. Esme’s murder ticks every single box for “fridging,” and with it, Pennyworth pivots from being a mildly interesting action show to a white-male-power-fantasy delivery system.

Alfie can kill anyone he wants, he can hurt anyone he wants, be an asshole all he wants, because he’s grieving. The social consequences that affect everyone else don’t apply to Alfie. In the first or second episode we see lawbreakers hanged and eviscerated — when Alfie fatally shoots two people in full view of about six police, he gets seven years, and is immediately sprung to commit an assassination. Which he doesn’t do, because he doesn’t want to, but his sentence is commuted anyway because he saves the Queen who has been abducted.

The story has no moral code, nor even a code of conduct. Alfie can do whatever he wants, and if he wants to do it, it’s… well, not good (they don’t go that far) but acceptable.

The world through which Alfie strides, drinking, sulking and killing, is thicker than tissue, but not much. It’s about the consistency of cardboard, like stage sets drawn by children and propped up on chairs. The two minority political parties are socialist and fascist, both equally corrupt at the top. The government is corrupt… Yawn. This post-WWII (maybe?) world is not explained. The story tosses in notorious British celebrities with little or no explanation — there’s an undertaker named John Ripper (get it?) and Aleister Crowley is less Satanic and more Satanically annoying. I mean, he does roofie a woman and probably rape her (we don’t see it), but onscreen he’s just a smug entitled jerk.

A bright spot in this disappointment is Alfie’s mother, who is a great character beautifully played by Dorothy Atkinson.

Watchathon offered 10 of Season One’s 13 episodes. I watched the ninth and tenth on a Sunday, with an excellent vodka tonic; fresh lime juice, Spirit Works Vodka and Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic. I can enthusiastically recommend the cocktail.

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