review by Amanda West aka: WestSide
Like many others in our cyber world, I seem to fall victim to my Facebook/Netflix/social media page more often than I would like to admit. As a rabid follower of the popular Showtime series Dexter, I would often see suggestions appear to me in my daily news feed. You know the ones to which I refer. “Because you liked Dexter, you should try: insert title here.” It was via this Facebook suggestion where I first happened upon the title Penny Dreadful. After a few clicks I discovered this would be a new Gothic horror series on Showtime featuring “timeless horror characters”. Oh dear God, what fresh Hell was this going to be? In a world where we have been inundated with sparkly vampires and cuddly werewolves we needed another ridiculous display? Although I was somewhat intrigued, my expectations were not high. Alas, my desperation to fill the Dexter void in my Sunday evening television time slot outweighed my skepticism. To my utmost surprise, upon viewing the Penny Dreadful series premier. I was delightedly refreshed to realize series creator John Logan provided me more than a replacement. He has given me a new love affair. Logan and his writing team have taken the classic literature characters of Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, as well as some fascinatingly complex original players, and tossed them all into a supernatural/horror/Gothic blender. Then he flipped the mix switch. What he produces is a deliciously dramatic, scary, heart-pounding cocktail. Shaken, not stirred, of course. (Come on, we DO have a former James Bond in the cast).
Penny Dreadful is set in London and opens in 1891 just as the terrifying rampage of Jack the Ripper comes to a close. In this charming, almost Dickens-like, Victorian setting, original characters Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) search for the latter’s missing daughter, Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), who has been abducted. Vanessa employs the assistance of an American named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), a mysterious soul with amazing sharp shooting techniques and a seemingly dismal past. Throughout their search, these three encounter Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), as well as other assorted original characters in what quickly becomes a quality hybrid production, mixing supernatural horror, Scooby Doo/Sherlock Holmes detective fiction, and epic suspense. For good measure, Logan and his writing team also throw in the spooky classics like serial killers, séances, and demonic possession. Yes, that’s correct. Satan, too, joins in on the fun.
So, what makes Penny Dreadful so special? Why is it so freaking great? I’m so glad you asked. There are several reasons, but I have narrowed it down for your reading pleasure.
1. The characters. Everyone is fabulous and the character development is tremendous, but namely, Eva Green and Josh Hartnett knock it out of the park. Green’s portrayal as the complex, poised, and wickedly disturbed Vanessa Ives is hauntingly charming. Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler is easily one of his best roles. Chandler’s seems to have more to hide than anyone and once you think you have him figured out, he surprises you. And yes, ladies, Mr. Hartnett is still very easy on the eyes. Just when you think he can’t get any hotter, you are wrong.
2. Monsters are scary again. No longer do vampires sparkle, nor do they resemble pale prepubescent girls. They are actually scary! No longer is Frankenstein’s monster the big green dude with the bolts protruding from his neck a la Herman Munster. He is actually scary!
3. Lucifer likes to leap. Just when you think one character is who you think they are, they aren’t. Satan likes to jump around and take over. What seems to be real may not be so real. You are kept on your toes. While we are on the subject of demonic possessions, THOSE are actually scary again, too! Projectile vomiting, head spinning, vein busting, face biting,..oh yeah!!!
4. Last but not least…good writing. Not much really to say here. It’s just beautifully written. The witty banter between the characters along with the plot lines makes for a well-executed drama. Enough said.
I could go on for days, but who has that kind of time? Bottom line, watch the show. Season one is over, but that gives you time to catch up before next year. If you haven’t seen this show I say it’s high time you got on Showtime On Demand (or used your friend who has Showtime) and get caught up. Believe me, you will actually want to watch each episode more than once to really pick up on everything. I, myself, have seen episode 7 at least five times (Trust me, you will understand when you get there). I guarantee with each viewing you will see or notice something new. Until next time, friends.
review by Amanda West