It’s dark, visceral, and weirdly beautiful. Showtime’s newest macabre Victorian era-inpired horror drama Penny Dreadful opens its pilot episode with a terrific bang. And we’re here to see the fireworks.
With the absence of American Horror Story, most audiences are hoping that this new TV series will fill the void for goth horror on the small screen. But while John Logan and Sam Mendes are targeting for the horror-going audience, their show is not executed in a manner that one might expect.
Luckily, Penny Dreadful stays true to its inspiration in the Penny Dreadfuls tabloids of the Victorian era, spearheaded by fictional characters in various horrific situations. And as a period drama, it is a beautiful and impressive setting where our main protagonists can unfold and reveal their true nature.
Perhaps the most magnetic presence is Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives who, contrary to other characters, was originally written for the show. Being an unfamiliar character, we are glued to Vanessa’s enigmatic and seductive prowess, whether she’s merely sulking in the corner of a Wild Wild West show or staring coldly at a millenia-old vampiric creature and stopping it dead in its tracks. Green’s power grounds the show into a more visceral and personal level (a role which I think was originally intended for Josh Hartnett).
While most pilot episodes of TV shows depend entirely on creating a universe and presenting conflict for the main characters, it’s a welcome relief for Penny Dreadful to take its time exploring the troubled protagonists, giving slight nods to popular genre characters, and featuring London’s sinister city with all the dark corners without turning the show into a monster-per-week TV series.
As new audiences, we can take our time wandering through every dark alley and cowering from shadowy corners, all while journeying with the characters and exploring each of their personal conflict. If Eva Green is practically noticeable, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcom Murray and Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler all carry their roles equally well. Like Vanessa Ives, these two men have their own “baggage” but we’re not in a hurry to find out what’s inside. A surprisingly good performance is Harry Treadaway as the ambitious Dr. Frankenstein whose bold experiments have resulted in a ‘monster’, so to speak, to which he releases a bone chilling “I am Victor Frankenstein”. It’s definitely a great nod to the fictional character although we’re still given the chance to absorb his presence and be in less of a hurry to uncover his true motivations.
We’re enjoying the ride with Penny Dreadful, as London city slowly unfolds into a venue teeming with malevolent forces just hiding under lamplight shadows, foggy bridges, and towering chimneys. It’s all ominous, down to the last shadow and string of piano keys.
Penny Dreadful is beautiful, even if this is just our first taste. 😀