Penny Dreadful: Season One
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Some of literature's most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. Penny Dreadful is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama.
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There is not one original idea in this mess. The "writers" steal ideas from a half dozen classic English novels.
They combine them, and not at all successfully, into one big steaming pile.
What incredible arrogance to think they can "improve" these novels.
We end up with Frankenstein's monster, Dorian Grey, a Vampire, and God knows what else.... All existing at the same time in Victorian England. Add a cowboy sharpshooter, played by a semi comatose Josh Hartnett. Then add Eva Green playing one of the most repugnant females since Grace Jones annoyed Conan the Barbarian.
The result is a joke which insists on pretending to be "art".
The show focuses around a quintet of desperate and lost souls: Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, CASINO ROYALE) is a strong, independent modern woman whose soul is torn between darkness and light; Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a fierce explorer who has returned home to constantly increasing tragic occurences; Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) is a brash American ex-patriate and performing sharpshooter fleeing from his own dark past; Brona Croft (Billie Piper, DOCTOR WHO) is a brave but tragic Northern Irish lass suffering from consumption, and Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) who has a price to pay for exploring the fringes of science. Murray and Ives have brought Chandler and Frankenstein into their quest to find Murray's daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn) and save her from the preternatural evil she has fallen victim to. Also inserting himself into the lives of these characters at different times is the beautifully young and hedonistic Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), and always around the periphery is Frankenstein's creation, now called Caliban (Rory Kinnear), who hates his creator for abandoning him.
Using characters that are extremely well-established in Victorian literature like Shelley's Frankenstein, characters from Stoker's DRACULA, such as Mina Harker and Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner), and Wilde's Gray might give the viewer bad flashbacks of a B-grade attempt at making another LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, but thankfully that is not the case. Aside from who these characters are, they exist mostly on the periphery of their own stories so they can firmly exist in this new tale, which is part of the show's genius. Many of the new characters are archetypes (Chandler as the handsome and fearsome Yankee gunslinger, Ives as the beautiful and darkly mysterious woman) that through extensive characterization and incredibly solid acting, grow far beyond the archetypal characters they would be in something lesser. Dalton does probably his best work in decades here as the volatile yet controlled Sir Malcolm. Treadaway is exceptional as the egotistical yet fearful Frankenstein. Carney is pitch perfect as Gray, with his orgies and absinthe and his appreciation of beauty and its duplicity. Piper is wonderful as Brona, projecting a courage and sexiness in the face of her withering, although her northern Irish accent might take a bit to get used to. Kinnear is tremendous as "the creature", who plays the both the tragic and the fury of his situation, but still demands empathy and compassion. Hartnett does his most complex work yet here as the hired gun with several depths still to plumb. But while all of these actors do great, and in some cases, career-best work, the show thoroughly belongs to Eva Green. With her piercing eyes, her smooth and easy smile, and the way she seems to glide across a room; all of this belies a great darkness and fearsome sexuality behind her beauty and charm and class. The arc of Vanessa, as we discover it, from the incredibly intense seance scene in Episode 2, to her dark and tragic past revealed in Episode 5 to her utter desperation and horror in Episode 7. The finale might feel a little on the weaker side because it's not terribly surprising. Everything that you think is going to happen does happen, with the exception of one HUGE shocking revelation about one of the characters near the end that some people say audiences are able to see coming from early on in the show, but I never saw it coming. At all. There's also a brilliant scene with Vanessa and a Welsh priest where they talk vaguely about her possession and how whatever is inside her has changed her into something abnormal. The priest replies, "Do you really want to be normal?" and knowing what the characters do, the question is indeed prescient.
The visual feast this program also serves up is a delight of beauty and grotesqueries. Gray's home and its absence of anything practical except for his dozens and dozens of portraits; Ethan and Brona's dockside squalor; Victor's dank and cluttered laboratory; the Murray home with its huge maps and imposing heights and depths, and the theatre of the Grand Guignol (the theatrical equivalent of the penny dreadful) which invokes amazement, gore-filled horror and heartbreak; all of these things help establish not only the setting but the tone and atmosphere of the show. It also has no shyness for the more sensational elements either. The show has heaping helpings of gore, nudity and sex, much like the penny dreadfuls of old, and thankfully, it seldom seems gratuitous.
It's easy to pigeonhole PENNY DREADFUL as a horror show, but that's just scratching the surface of a multi-faceted drama of damaged and desperate people suffering from and/or committing horrifying acts. But under the skilled and careful eyes of Logan and Mendes, this is another amazing program from Showtime and easily one of the best new shows of 2014.
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