Pennyworth examines some of the unsung heroes in Batman's extended orbit and none of these figures as heavily as Alfred. Recently, Bruno Heller, the executive producer revealed that he would have liked to do this show before Gotham. Anyone who has seen the later show knows how wild that series got before that series finale. In Pennyworth, he sees a much more contained story.
Epix's series stars Alfred in his days before helping Bruce Wayne continue the war on crime in Gotham. It focuses on his days out of the service and the transition to the more widely seen butler role that he plays in other versions of Batman's story. Pennyworth may come before Gotham chronologically, but that isn't the only reason that this prequel could have been made first according to Heller.
“To a degree, I would’ve liked to do Alfred before Gotham because Alfred is an extremely well-known mythic character that no one knows the backstory of. There’s a great amount of leeway to tell any kind of story you want,” the executive producer told Variety. “There was a real story to be told, just with the simple question of how does a SAS soldier become a butler? That’s a strange journey. And how did he get from London to America?”
In the grand scheme of things, focusing on just one character and fleshing out their backstory in this detail just wasn't possible on Gotham. It took a project like Pennyworth to really interrogate Alfred and what made him who he is. When there is so much going on, it can be hard to spend time with supporting characters for any length of time.
“You can tell a simple story in Pennyworth,” Heller continued. “One of the challenges making Gotham was it rapidly became a carnival pageant. There’s so many great characters and the pressure to put all of them in there as quickly as possible was understandable and very strong. But in retrospect, I would say to the detriment of storytelling because it becomes one life to live. You have ten very powerful storylines all running at the same time.”
Heller also revealed a detail that came from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. The origin story and how this tidbit fits in makes more sense in the context of what we'll see on Pennyworth.
"Michael Caine insisted on his Alfred being a kick-ass soldier, which hadn't been in the canon before as far as I know. So it gave us an in there. That's why it's dark and violent because Michael Caine's soul is dark and violent," Heller joked.
Less plates spinning means more time to focus on telling that central narrative and letting those other tendrils grow out naturally. It sounds like Heller and the showrunners have found a more comfortable balance this time around. The only drawback is that fans might not see too much of the larger-scale action that dominated the end of Gotham's run in Epix's new series.