We burned through all eight episodes of the new Showtime horror series Penny Dreadful a few weeks ago. I had my doubts. Carjo wanted to see it because it had Reeve Carney in it and she was kinda crushing on him. But after NBC’s wretched Dracula I really didn’t want to subject myself to another rehashing of Victorian horror cliches.
Dracula was particularly wretched. It had some steampunk themes but no focus to them. I have no problem with turning the tropes of Dracula around but to make him an American inventor? That’s sheer idiocy. There was also a plethora of anachronisms that made you want to throw yourself off the nearest bridge, cheesy acting, a mess of a plot, and little sense of style. In other words, a typical broadcast network attempt at genre TV without a clue how to pull it off. Same old, same old.
Penny Dreadful proved to be different. Of course being on Showtime they had no limitations for sex and violence but they had plenty of imagination on how to exploit that freedom. There were some anachronisms but not to the point of constant irritation. A few plot holes and the foreshadowing was sometimes less than subtle. But ye gods, none of those quibbles mattered. The acting was stunning. Rory Kinnear and Timothy Dalton were particularly good, so was Billie Piper and Josh Hartnett. But Eva Green just steals every scene she’s in, spitting out lines with Shakespearean intensity. Her delivery in exchanges like this is breath-taking:
Vaness Ives: Have you imagined for one moment what this has been for me? An unforgivable transgression that has marked me for life. You think you’ve suffered? You think you know blood? You think you’ve walked on corpses? Spread them from here to the horizon, and I have walked further! You weak, foul, lustful, vainglorious felon! How dare you presume to speak to me of death!
Sir Malcolm Murray: Then we shall speak of it together
Penny Dreadful plays with the tropes of things that went bump in the Victorian night but it is the right kind of play. Rarely over the top and mostly true to what the freight to the psyche these issues would truly cost. We can’t weight for season two.