It’s a well known truth that Bruce Wayne is the least interesting character in the Batman mythos. Between his tired portrayal and function as dumping grounds for every possible psychological issue that writers can think of, it’s a wonder that Christopher Nolan’s comical take on the character didn’t end his run.
So it’s with little surprise that someone over at Warner television figured that the natural course of action following the conclusion of Gotham would be to go back further in the history of Batman. Where we once had the non-adventures of a pre-pubescent Bruce Wayne alongside the life of the eventual Commissioner Gordon, Pennyworth features the young trio of Alfred Pennyworth, Thomas Wayne, and Martha Kane fighting a shadow organisation in London.
The premise is honestly not as bad as it is contrived—unfortunately, it is impossible to not feel a sense of futility while watching the show. Beats of it are resonant of the Cumberbatch and Freeman-starring Sherlock, and Alfred’s British espionage past is naturally reminiscent of James Bond. It is basically anything but Batman. And it doesn’t help that this seems to be a bit of trend.
While, the 21st Century began with the well-meaning if not draggy take on Superman’s boyhood in Smallville, the idea of exploring superhero-adjacent content has gotten a little out of hand. Krypton, like Pennyworth, explored the origins of Superman’s ancestors but at least had the decency to be set on a planet with mythos-appropriate context. Gotham didn’t even need to be a Batman related show, and could have just as likely been a prequel to NYPD Blue. And Pennyworth just pushes the envelope further by borrowing the names of characters from the Batman comics and branding their foes after a black bird.
This particular trend is especially troubling given the recent, mostly unnecessary Joker film. While being a fine movie in its own right, though more a love letter to the Scorsese of yesteryears than its own product, the Joker branding was especially superfluous. Skinned in the green and purple colours inspired by one of pop cultures more over-glorified characters, Joker was a sheer by-the-numbers exercise in appealing to the increasing faux-darkness loving fanbase associated to the early DCEU.
Pennyworth plays similarly with stereotypical British espionage tropes, down to the less competent Yankee sidekicks dressed in Batman-themed character skins. And while the writing itself could be improved, the show is by-and-large okay—not memorable, but okay. It does make you wonder, though, why this wasn’t just a James Bond series? Or even better, a dark and gritty remake of Johnny English, in the vein of how The Dark Knight Trilogy rebooted Batman as a comedy.
The acting is fine, if not stiff because, y’know, that’s how you do the British according to the Yanks. But the only standout feature may be the music. As a whole the show is unremarkable enough to never really attract enough criticism to be sent to the chopping block.
Ultimately, regardless of this series’ meandering pointlessness, its future seems to be secure for the near future with a second season coming up. If we’re lucky, maybe we might get a Batgirl show at some point.