I’ll admit, I started watching Penny Dreadful mostly because I have had a giant actress-crush on Eva Green since I saw Perfect Sense (which is a truly stellar movie if you haven’t seen it yet). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, it looked Gothic horror to me, which while it isn’t my favorite is just fine in my book. Turns out, the show is even more up my alley than I thought it would be! Penny Dreadful is a mash-up of the 19th-century British horror fiction that has interesting twists on traditional characters, a pretty hefty dose of creepy, and some really surprising character arcs even in the first few episodes. The costumes are gorgeous, the monsters are scary, and the cast is strangely alluring. Mild spoiler alerts for the rest of this post, but I’ll try to stay away from anything too specific.
|Cast photos courtesy of Showtime.|
Penny Dreadful features a whole bunch of very familiar characters to anyone who has dipped a toe in 19th Century British horror. Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, and Victor Frankenstein all play important roles in the show, but none of them are exactly as they were in their original stories. Frankenstein comes off as a bit more of a medical geek, pale and reclusive in exactly the right ways, with a dark secret following him around. Gray is as self-indulgent and hedonistic as always, but there’s something going on beyond his fabled painting. Harker in this incarnation is even more the damsel in distress than she is in Dracula.
More than just bringing back traditional characters of horror, Penny Dreadful has captured the essence of Victorian era horror. It’s dirty and scary and gory. If I do have one complaint it’s that sometimes the gore is a little overboard for my particular tastes, but I can move past that because of the show’s other favorable aspects. However, if the sight of blood makes you a little ill, you should probably pass on this show because there is a lot of it.
The main character of this series is the enigmatic Vanessa Ives, played by Eva Green. She’s tortured and complicated, just the way I like my protagonists. Actually, everyone in this show is tortured to some degree or another, which is likely one of the reasons I like it so much. The character arcs as a whole are interesting, and more than a little surprising. I won’t go into any more detail because I don’t want to spoil any of the twists.
There’s only one more episode left in the first season, but the series has already been renewed for a second ten episode season next year, and I’m just thrilled. Somewhere along the way, I realized that Penny Dreadful is trying to provide an origin tale for the paranormal genre as we know it today—it takes a healthy dose of traditional horror, adds in some scandalous sex, and a dash of Gothic sensibilities. The show has already featured vampires, possessions, and arcane magic; the only thing missing is werewolves. (There was a hint of my favorite paranormal beast in the episode “Resurrection” and I’m hoping they make an actual appearance in season two.)
Who should watch: Anyone who likes horror, Gothic costumes, and monsters.
Who should skip it: Anyone who is squeamish or has an aversion to horror.
Post Script: If you like werewolves as much as I do, check out my werewolf series, Broods of Fenrir.