When word first got out that Showtime would be bringing us a psycho-sexual horror show over flowing with characters plucked from the pages of classic horror lit; most horror fans either frantically searched for a fresh pair of panties after messing themselves, or got super butt hurt about it. The show was either going to be the first season of American Horror Story, or the fifth season of True Blood.
What we got was quite possibly one of the most consistent and well done horror shows in history. Within 8 episodes Penny Dreadful took us on a journey that managed to be as thrilling as it was unique. They some how managed to take what on paper sounds like a sexier version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and bring us atmosphere and character but the butt load. Be warned that I am going to get into some spoiler territory so ya, you’ve been warned or whatever.
The basic plot of the show is this: Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) is searching for his daughter Mina who has been taken by dark and evil forces. He is joined by Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the gorgeous, likely insane and definitely touched by dark forces herself. Vanessa feels compelled to use her connection with the darkness to help Sir Malcom find Mina. But this isn’t just a standard save the girl plot. As the show unfolds it reveals the incredibly troubled and complicated past that Vanessa and Mina’s families have shared through the years.
Joining them are Sembene (Danny Sapani), Sir Malcom’s hulking African man servant/body guard; who despite the fewest lines of any of the core cast remains a powerful presence. Sexy American sharp shooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) joins them as a hired gun trying to run from a bloody past.
In their quest to find out more about the monsters that have taken Mina, they come to Victor Frankenstein. A sad eyed poet who dissects bodies and pontificates about science as if it is equal parts prose and alchemy. Victor’s own dark past complicates his work for Sir Malcom to say the least. But I suppose that’s what happens when you have slightly homoerotic over tones with reanimated corpses.
Penny Dreadful manages to take all the elements so loved within the various works it draws from and manages to make them feel fresh and exciting. The show manages to include references to just about every important element of Dracula without it feeling ham fisted or as if they have a check list of easter eggs to get through.
The acting is fantastic throughout. It is a true testament to Eva Green’s talent that she is able to go from Victorian lady blushing while Dorian Gray flirts to an unhinged mess channeling the dead loved ones of her friends and revealing the other character’s darkest fears and secrets. Josh Hartnett gives a career best performance as Ethan, whether he is getting his drunken homo love on, or praying for his consumption riddled girlfriend. Timothy Dalton is in turns heart breaking and enraging as a man determined to do anything to save the last shred of his soul as represented by Mina.
The show manages to be one of the queerest on TV. While American Horror Story gave us Lana Banana, Hannibal gives us more gay subtext than cannibal puns and True Blood gives us beefcake galore and a few throw away gay day dreams, Penny Dreadful is like one giant queer melting pot. Dorian Gray is a proper bisexual, Mina’s brother is definitely friends with Dorothy, Mina and Vanessa have some strong Hammer Horror lesbian under tones, Victor might be a little too obsessed with building the perfect man and don’t even get me started on that kiss!
In addition to a riveting take on it’s source material, fantastic acting and a masterful plot, Penny Dreadful is gorgeously shot. Everything in frame is perfectly art directed, lit and filmed. By treating the costumes and sets as if this were a Merchant Ivory period piece and the practical effects and gore like something out of your favorite horror film, they manage a show that manages to be as delightfully pulpy as the titular horror stories and as exquisite as the worlds found in the novels by Shelley, Stoker and Wilde.
At just 8 hour long episodes which have finished airing, Penny Dreadful is the kind of show made for binge watching. And since it’s been renewed for a 10 episode second season, you can rest assured that the various plot points left unresolved by the first series end will be explored. If you are a fan of Hannibal, American Horror Story, you will fall in love with Penny Dreadful.