It seems the only way to get period spy shows now is when they're spun off from superhero franchises. Remember that 1960s-set, Avengers-like Hellfire Club we almost got, that was to be spun off from X-Men: First Class? (It would have focused on the White Queen, an X-Men character inspired by Emma Peel's guise in the classic Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone.") And we did, of course, get two superb seasons of Marvel's Agent Carter set in the late 1940s and spun off from Captain America: The First Avenger. There were even (really!), at one point, plans at Sony to make a Spider-man spinoff about Peter Parker's Aunt May... as a secret agent in the Sixties! That didn't happen, but this is almost as rich.
Last summer, as Deadline, reported, EPIX ordered the latest of these efforts, a 1960s spy show... about Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. And today, we got the first trailer for Pennyworth, from Gotham alums Bruno Heller (Rome) and Danny Cannon (Nikita). While the famous butler may have been originally created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger, it's unlikely that they ever imagined Alfred (originally depicted as plump and comical) as a former secret agent. Yet that aspect has entered into DC Comics lore in recent decades, and been notably explored in stories like Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, and All-Star Batman: The First Ally by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. This side of Alfred was first explored in detail on television in the 2013 animated series Beware the Batman, which featured a Jason Statham-ish take on Alfred. But I suspect the main inspiration for Heller was probably seeing Michael Caine as Alfred in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies and flashing back to the young Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine Palmer as an antecedent of Caine's Alfred, and indeed Pennyworth looks to take inspiration from the likes of Ipcress. (Hopefully it will also feature a John Barry-ish sound, as director Cannon has experience with that, having commissioned David Arnold's very Bondian Bjork song "Play Dead" for his breakout 1993 movie, The Young Americans.)
In the 10-episode drama series, Alfred Pennyworth (The Imitation Game's Jack Bannon), described by Deadline as "a former British SAS soldier in his 20s," forms a private security company "and goes to work with young billionaire Thomas Wayne (Fleabag's Ben Aldridge), who’s not yet Bruce’s father, in 1960s London." The end result appears, from this brief teaser, to somewhat resemble BBC's sadly short-lived period spy drama The Game. I'm excited for any Sixties spy drama, and if lashing their idea to a superhero franchise is the only way creators can get that kind of programming made, that's fine with me. I'm on board! Pennyworth premieres this summer on EPIX. Check it out:
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