Penny Dreadful: Sundays at 9 Eastern on Showtime
There’s been an increasing space for horror on the television landscape over the years. In addition to AMC’s blockbuster The Walking Dead, one can find ghoulish figures on FX (American Horror Story), A&E (Bates Motel), NBC (the entirety of their Friday night block), and SyFy (which admittedly deals more heavily in horror than the other networks mentioned above). Showtime is adding their own take on the horror sub-genre tonight with it’s newest series Penny Dreadful.
Set in Victorian-era London, Penny Dreadful plays off of the origin stories of the numerous horrors that were set in that time. This means that we get a world with Vampires, Frankenstein’s Monster, and even Dorian Gray while also having it’s fair share of mystics and hucksters. When Sir Malcolm Murray’s (Timothy Dalton) daughter is taken by supernatural forces, he assembles a team including trick gunman Ethan Childress (Josh Hartnett), Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadway), and his mistress Vanessa Ives (Eva Green).
So how is Penny Dreadful? The show is actually quite good. It’s writers, John Logan and Sam Mendes, who teamed up for Skyfall, understand very early on that showing is more important than telling in most horror formats, and the show’s strong visual sensibilities help to embody that dynamic. It also allows the show to avoid the oft used info dump in the pilots of many shows, creating a sense of mystery as to what exactly Dreadful’s undead are capable of.
Visually speaking, Penny Dreadful is the most encompassing celebration of gore on the small screen since Hannibal. Blood and viscera are constantly present, whether it’s on murder scenes, the resurrection clinic or even in the Egyptologist’s office. In addition to the gore and unease, the show is pretty masterful in it’s handling of jump scares, finding new and original ways make you fly out of your seat. The framing is also terrific, particularly in it’s action scenes – there’s at least one pan that puts you in the mind of a trick shot spraying bullets 360 degrees in a circle.
The acting in Penny Dreadful is fairly strong as well. Logan and Mendes wanted a more, more human aspect to horror shows, and the incredibly subtlety in traditionally hammy characters such as Frankenstein’s monster is amazing to witness. The acting is also very strong in it’s two leads: Hartnett is a delight as old western gunslinger Chandler, and Dalton plays an incredible man on a hunt for vengeance in finding his daughter’s kidnapper (in a lot of ways think of Dalton as Liam Neeson in a supernatural Taken).
The Final Verdict: It’s been a while since Showtime has found a truly killer new show (Masters of Sex was the last one?). Luckily for them, Penny Dreadful is incredibly delightful, hitting all of the right notes while missing very few – it’s mystics do tend to be written a little over-vague. It’s an easy recommendation on my part to say watch this – while it could have benefited from a slightly later start (I feel the Game of Thrones crowd will dig this show), there’s no reason this shouldn’t evolve into a summer hit.