I don’t know how I missed the build up for Showtime’s new series Penny Dreadful, but the second I became aware of it I was eeeenterested. (Catch the first episode for free, and legitimately, here, if you are Showtimeless)
Victorian London. Famous supernatural figures come to life (Frankenstein, Dorian Grey, etc). The photos are atmospheric. The trailers are gory and creeptastic. Eva Green’s voice and severity are mesmerizing. Josh Hartnett, playing the gunslinging American everyman – or is he? – is compelling. Timothy Dalton, cast as a rich adventurer of a noble is on a mission and it’s his goal that appears to be driving the other characters.
The first episode didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Well, maybe to my expectations but not to my wishes. New series, especially those with additional components – historical setting and politics, paranormal worldbuilding – can sometimes be clunky. New series sometimes feel like they’re going both too fast and too slow as they attempt to introduce the characters and their backstories, and the current conflict and goals, while weaving in hints and teasers. That, I can forgive. Shows tend to smooth out a few episodes in. (I gave up on watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D five episodes in because I felt like it wasn’t evening out, only to be dragged back in by praise and Holy Shit, I’m so glad I did. One, it smoothed out and became delightfully entertaining in a hurry. And, two, dear God, so much backstory for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So much. Seriously. I don’t know how they wound all those episodes up in conjunction with the movie. I guess mega-million dollar budgets might come in handy for building a story bible.)
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT – STOP NOW IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO BEING SPOILED
…Eva Green’s character – Vanessa Ives – appears to have suffered a childhood trauma of the supernatural sort. She’s now devoutly religious (I think), sensitive to the supernatural and potentially powerful. Hartnett is Ethan Chandler, a hard-drinking American gunslinger running away from troubles, though it doesn’t appear he’s gotten very far, and I suspect that he may be a werewolf. It’s a hunch, but I feel like my were-dar is pretty finely tuned.
Timothy Dalton is…burdened with ponderous speeches. That’s appropriate for the character, but I found it distracting and not so entertaining. It’s not that I don’t like confident, pompous characters. It’s that I thought the time allotted to speeches was large, and so those speeches should have been awesome. They did not come across as awesome.
Harry Treadaway, who I do not know at all…oh, wait! Turns out he was in the Lone Ranger. So, yeah, I do not know him at all. He plays Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessive and smug and sarcastic in his superior intelligence, and even though he trades an overblown speech with Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm, I forgive him. Because, during the pilot itself, he reanimates his creature and it’s soooo…hold on. I have to back up.
Vanessa Ives apparently fucked something up which resulted in Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina (MINA HARKER REFERENCE, EHHHHH?) falling in with a bad crowd (gnarly-ass vampires covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics. you know, that sort of crowd), so he’s making her try to find the girl. She recruits Ethan Chandler and, following a gruesome, violent raid on an opium den cum vampire charnal house, they draw Victor Frankenstein into the fold. There’s also a flamboyant Egyptologist at the British Museum (shout out to the British Museum!) who may or may not be an ally. And Jack the Ripper – or something (looking at you, Josh Hartnett, with your amazing hair and sad puppy befuddlement) – is terrorizing London. And there’s some tension between Chandler and Ives over a tarot deck which I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to read as sexual, because I didn’t. And THEN Frankenstein animates his creature, resulting in a startling and haunting scene that I adored the most. Like, The Most.
I’ll keep tuning in, in the hopes Penny Dreadful hooks me with its fantastic cast and stellar promise. Did you watch? What do you think?