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Zaphod's Zeitgeist
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Post by DerGolgo » Tue Sep 22, 2020 8:43 am

So, as you may have noticed, someone recently made a series about none other than the young Alfred Pennyworth.
As in Bruce Wayne's personal butler, housekeeper, valet, legal guardian, bugger if I can list them all.

This series specifically looks at young Alfred, his life in Britain, and how he met Thomas Wayne.
And having more time on my hands than I really presently need, I went and watched the thing. Season one, so far. And it's taken me a few weeks to decide to let y'all know my verdict.

My verdict:
It's... Hm. Tricky.

Now that television is going Dodo, we also happen to live in the golden age of television, as some describe it.
Anything related to one of the predominant pop-culture entities, the Bat, obviously comes with a massive audience more-or-less built in. Anything officially Bats is gonna get watched by n+1 people, where n are the incorrigible hardcore fans who will stay up all night to watch even just the first teaser the moment it drops.

The story of Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, meanwhile, is hardly an insignificant spinoff.
Consequently, this show got the a-list treatment, the whole nine yards, the full monty.
Production values are spotless, AAA-grade for TV, and would be entirely acceptable for a major motion picture. Considering what DC in particular have foisted upon the world (***ahem***Superstach***), I cannot really see reason for complaint.

But they didn't stop at the production values.
While any well-known actors herein were either not known to me, or unrecognizable, they didn't just cast a bunch of wankers, expecting the glitz of the set pieces would make up for a cast who couldn't act their way out of a community theater. On fire.
Nope. The cast, by and large, were entirely competent, if not outright good. Sure, a hiccup here and there, pobody is nerfect, no reason to condemn the show.

And then we get to the guts.
Premise, Plot, and DC-Canon.
The Premise
The premise of Pennyworth is, well. Convoluted.
We learn pretty early on that Alfred is literally a servant-class lad, working as a nightclub bouncer after finishing his tour of duty with the SAS, fighting The Hun in some unnamed jungle. More of The Hun later.

Alfred is the epitome of the swinging 60s action man. Dapper, suave, perfectly groomed. And will kill you with his pinky if you're out of line. Or will at least bust you up.
Women want to be with him, men want to be like him.
Somehow, the writers have managed to recreate, well, James Bond, basically, without having him be a mid-20th-century misogynist jackass. At least not much of one, and the character works.

His parents are, well, servants. His father a professional butler working big to-do's for the upper crust of the upper crust.
Nice Touch
Nice touch: when someone tries to kill their boy (or maybe it was their boy's fiancee), these two try and kill them right back. Like, beating and kicking them to death in a pretty impressive show of violence.
In his job, Alfred is confronted with the scum and lowlives of 1960s London. And he, along with his two ex-SAS mates, may just work for some of them, so long as it's not too dirty.

The Britain we get to see is very much the Britain of the 1960s, as recorded by pop-culture.
Certainly not as recorded by the history books.
How would a man who is in his 20s in the mid 60s have fought "The Hun"?
When he wasn't even old enough for school when Germany surrendered in 45?
Well, see, this isn't our history or timeline.
No, Pennyworth is set in an alternate reality, where the Allies didn't defeat Germany, and the war went on until the early 60s or so, before ending with a peace treaty (or at least an armistice).

What I liked about this:
NO title crawl. NO overdubbed exposition monologue to explain it. Not even the five-minute info-dump of one character explaining to another character what they, as a character in this world, should already be well familiar with.
Or if there was, I managed to miss it. Which I don't think I did.
Instead of the info-dump, the viewer has to puzzle this together for themselves. A radio report mentioning negotiations with Nazi Germany doesn't come until a few episodes in.
Some of this alternative Britain is very much based in our history.

Like a fascist group assembled around a bunch of ex-soldiers who want to stage a revolution to, well, it's never actually explained what they want to do, just that it's somehow setting things right, or some phrase like that. They are the Raven Society.
This sort of thing actually was going on in 1960s Britain. Iirc, David Stirling, more or less the man who invented the SAS, had his fingers in some such pies, and Admiral Louis Mountbatten, cousin to the queen, was approached to lead the revolutionary government (allegedly).

Or like a gangland crime-boss who dissects the corpses of people who he had killed, so as not to waste the good meat and offal.
I don't think the Cray brothers ever ate any of their victims, but they would feed them to boars or pigs, so as to get rid of the evidence.

Some of the alternative Britain is very much not based in our history.
Like when public and televised hangings at "New Tyburn" are how the government dispatches traitors.

Overall, though, rather than a premise that prompted the plot, we seem to have a premise made to attract Batman fans, and to excuse plot elements that wouldn't have fit recorded history.

Which is really fucking infuriating, since superhero stories aren't about historical accuracy.
But did we need a whole alternative timeline?
I really must wonder if here, the war went on till 1960ish not because they wanted to create an alternative Britain. Which, mostly, they didn't.
But because the writers couldn't come up with any war an SAS veteran of Pennyworth's age might have fought in except a WW2 prolonged by a decade and a half.

Or because, well, the premise was cooked up to attract fans, and justify some plot elements, rather than to tell a story.
The Plot

The plot is very much centered on Alfred Pennyworth. And even though Thomas Wayne appears fairly early in the series, he doesn't immediately become the center of Pennyworth's universe. Instead, he pops in and out of the plot at various occasions, some more, some less well written.
He is working for the US government, but also cooperating with a nebulously-lefty underground group, the No Name League, intent on fighting the fash Raven Society. Also intent on eventually overthrowing the government, but mostly fighting the Raven Society, it seems.

The overall plot. Well.

I don't want to give away too much. Except that the plot is held together by string and spittle, and a few stern looks from matron.
Instead of one season wide arc, with a few subplots and sidequests, it seems like they were trying to stuff multiple seasons worth of plot into those 10 episodes... and still needed some filler.

The reason behind the revenge plot that becomes a pretty central part for some of the series is hinted at a few times.
But, even with those hints, is just so nonsensical, and so ill-introduced to the plot, it just feels like someone wanted that character to go avenge the death of their love, and that death had to have happened for a reason.
A silly reason. Introduced as if someone was checking off boxes. At no point really showing how that reason motivated the killer, or could have/would have motivated the killer.

The various revolutionary groups. Well. I kinda liked that the 2nd in command, and subsequent commander, of the fash Raven Society, seems to have been written and cast to resemble Margret Thatcher. At least that's who she reminds me of.
I didn't like how all those revolutionary groups were really just presented as revolutionary underground groups, with little motivation or goals illustrated.

Along the plot, there are some neat ideas. And I mean neat stuff. Outright original, or implemented in an original manner.
Which just makes the nonsense of a plot only more infuriating.

Overall, the story is political, about revolution, and concludes with the worst CGI terrorist bombing I recall seeing recently. That stood out because, as I said, production values were otherwise top-notch.

FFS. When we see a massive gunfight in a fairly small room, the survivors are presented as having temporarily lost their hearing, with the high-pitched whine, as you would expected to happen when guns, nay, when a gun is fired in such a small room and at such close range.
Even shows and movies that claim to be based in reality when it comes to the violence. They don't have people loose their hearing after firing a machine gun inside a closet. They got this one right here.
And yet, in the explosion at the conclusion of the show, the hero walks out, carrying a woman in his arms. He doesn't appear concussed or anything from an explosion that took down a fucking English manor house, or gutted it at least. The old as long as the flames don't touch you, an explosion won't hurt you! trope.

This inconsistency is, for me, really aggravating.
They had everything. But couldn't put together a good plot, and not even villains with motivations beyond being evil.
They had some pretty interesting ideas, and a few characters that did seem well motivated. Watch out for the sisters Sykes.

I came away from the show with the impression the entire plot was just an excuse to use some ideas the writers had, with no attention given to the plot actually working as a plot, rather than just as an excuse.
...for some stuff that was bizarre, yet lame.
Like Her Majesty making a booty-call on the action-man protagonist.
Her Majesty here being a sexy, fancy-free minx in her 20s, depressed by regimented court-life and in desperate need of some working-class distraction.
Instead of a married woman and mother in her 40s, as Elizabeth II was in the real 1960s.
The DC Canon

Just not.
Pennyworth, the ex-SAS guy who made friends with and would eventually be employed by Thomas Wayne.

That's it. That's all the canon I remember seeing. And the employment was not yet established in the series.

They could have called him "Albert Poundsworth", the American character "Mr. A. Merican", and the whole plot would have worked exactly the same (or would not have worked, as the case may be).

This is not the origin story of Alfred Pennyworth. Not any Alfred Pennyworth I'm familiar with.
It's the story of someone maybe resembling Alfred Pennyworth. In an alternate reality, any connection to the Bat being bolted on to bring in viewers for an otherwise wholly original show. I cannot see how this should click into the DCEU, with or without the most recent Joker movie.

@Ames, you surely have a deeper insight. Is the timeline where WW2 drags on to the 1960s and ends in an armistice part of some previously established parallel Batverse?

Well, maybe there will be a season 2. Judging by the final episode of season 1, I would not be surprised if Alfred travels back in time, wins the war single handed (or at least gets it won by 1945. I doubt it, but it would not surprise me, either.
Meh. It passes the time. It's okay for background noise while playing KSP.
The most infuriating bits of "plot" are spaced far enough apart to bring the blood pressure down again.
The acting is generally solid, production values are, until the last shot in the series, quite flawless, some of it is fun to watch, some is a little original even.
The entire edifice built from these bricks, however, is crooked. I cannot recommend you watch it, except to maybe reach your own verdict.
It was okay to watch. Just not worth watching.

If there were absolutely anything to be afraid of, don't you think I would have worn pants?

I said I have a big stick.

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