Sometimes it’s surprising that certain ideas and stories take so long to make it to television, they seem to come with an elevator pitch that’s so simple, so immediately intriguing that it seems an easy sell. But then you have to factor in the weird blindspots that frequently seem to come up in the television landscape. So on one hand for Penny Dreadful you’ve got “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” (official site). But then you have to remember how hard anything that could be described as ‘genre’ usually finds it to deliver either an audience or critical acclaim, let alone both.
Maybe times are a changin’ though, because The Walking Dead and American Horror Story have managed to succeed with both the critics and the ratings (all be it within the lower expectations of Cable). So the time is ripe for Penny Dreadful to jump on the creepy band wagon. Fortunately the tone is different enough however to not make it too shameless and the show completely commits to its concept. It’s extremely gothic with all the darkness, ick and melodrama that you’d hope for.
I actually watched all eight episodes in just a couple of days and it really was perfectly targeted. It’s not incredibly expensive and polished like American Horror Story, and it’s not got the depth and elegance of The Walking Dead, but it is a proper penny dreadful. The horror is grizzly and bloody and just this side of comical, the drama is over the top, the romance is all corsets and heaving bosoms (well, it’s Showtime, so the corsets come off fairly frequently, but you know what I mean) and the production has a sense of cheap practicality that’s completely fitting.
There’s some excellent performances pitched just right to deliver this. Eva Green’s performance is nothing short of spectacular. It’s huge, she throws herself into these epic emotional and physical scenes in a way that leaves me rather fearful for her. It’s perfect for the series and would be utterly ridiculous anywhere else. The rest of the supporting cast is similarly enthusiastic in their roles, committing whole heartedly to every single emotion and making everything just as large and intense as the series demands.
I really enjoyed Penny Dreadful, it’s completely distracting, entertaining and disposable in a really good way. Eight episodes was exactly the right length, even the one flashback episode managed to be one of the most interesting of the series when it would normally be a filler and each character brought something interesting to the screen. I don’t think it’s the best show of the year by a long way, but it so solidly delivers what it sets out to that I can’t help but respect it a great deal.