When it comes to horror, I often think TV is overlooked. But the past few years have brought out some real contenders – Supernatural (which I reviewed here), Grimm (which I plan on reviewing), American Horror Story (I probably should review this), and Showtime’s latest foray into the horror genre – Penny Dreadful.
I might be one of the only people that thought 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a blast. Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, and a host of others all band together to save the world. When I saw the preview for Penny Dreadful, that movie came to mind.
To be honest, I watched the first two episodes of this show, and I’m still not sure where the story’s going. Because it’s on Showtime there’s a lot more leeway when it comes to what can and cannot be said and shown. Network TV works with a lot of restraints, but five minutes into the first episode, we can see that Penny Dreadful doesn’t suffer from those limitations – cue the gunslinger taking a nameless damsel up against a wagon, butt-thrusting and all.
While it’s easy to glean what – shall we say – talents our cast of characters have, the character’s names aren’t as familiar – with the exception of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the scoundrel Dorian Gray. Because of that, I’m expecting the writers to tinker with mythology. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – how many times do horror fans scream for something new?
Note: There are potential spoilers throughout this review, so you may want to stop here and return after watching the show.
In this premiere episode, we are introduced to Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm Murray and Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives who are recruiting a band of worthy candidates to fulfill a mission. The mission becomes clear as the episode progresses – finding Murray’s daughter, Mina. (Yes, I think it’s that Mina – see Bram Stoker’s horror novel Dracula.)
Early in the episode, Ives recruits Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for some “night work.” Murray and Ives, along with Chandler, venture into a vampire hideout in hopes of finding Mina. After a short battle with the vampires, their hunt remains fruitless. However, they do kill and collect one fine specimen of a vampire.
The body is taken to a young “resurrection” doctor for insight into the beast. The body is found to be strange to say the least. Under its “exoskeleton” is an abundance of hieroglyphics, which leads us to meet Mr. Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), an eccentric Egyptologist. Mr. Lyle agrees to translate the markings if Murray and Ives attend his upcoming party.
Later on, Murray recruits the doctor to be part of the team. You may call him Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). As the episode wraps up, Dr. Frankenstein’s true skills are introduced. Then the episode ends, and we are left wanting more!
Timothy Dalton is admirable as a heartbroken father desperately seeking the evil that took his daughter. Unfortunately, Dalton didn’t have much to do in this episode other than look worried and… I guess “regal” is the right word.
I found Eva Green’s character the most interesting. I don’t know what Vanessa Ives is supposed to be. I don’t know what her deal is or who she is, but Green rocked! She has the cold beauty thing down pat, and I enjoyed her back and forth with Ethan Chandler in a waterfront bar when she inquires about his… skills.
Speaking of Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler, although we don’t know much about the character other than the fact that he’s a gunslinger and comfortable with violence, I was intrigued by the backstory.
And, of course, we meet the good Dr. Frankenstein when he is a young scientist grasping at the lines between life and death. And the final scene had me bug-eye staring at my screen as I fought to figure out what was going on.
While I do think Showtime takes advantage of the leeway it has over network TV, many of the shocks fit. Nothing felt over the top or done just to show off, and there were a number of scenes that had my husband (who gamely watched with me) and I raising our eyebrows.
There is some blood and a bit of gore, but I think Penny Dreadful is more cerebral – more of a thriller than a straight horror – and that leaves this horror fan craving more.