Frankenstein. Dorian Gray. Maybe-or-maybe-not-but-probably an American werewolf in London. Eva Green! Five episodes in and Penny Dreadful — Showtime’s freshman series set in the Victorian Gothic London of dreams (or is it nightmares?) — has established itself as sleeper hit. And by sleeper, I mean it’s a hit in my mind, and everyone else must be sleeping and missing out. Despite getting renewed for an extended second season, not many people are watching it. At the very least, not many people are talking about it.
It’s captivating and ironically original, but it’s certainly not the greatest series ever created. Penny Dreadful is almost too much show — the quest to find and rehabilitate Mina Murray, Frankenstein’s experiments/”family” drama, the Devil/Amun-ra’s obsession with Vanessa Ives/Amunet/Akasha, serial murders — or werewolf attacks? — in London, Dorian Gray’s search for love in hopeless orgy parties, and more. It can be overwhelming. Yet each character is written and acted with such richness that you can only embrace the crazy and go for the ride.
Plus, any show that has the gall to kill off my favorite character in the second episode as a means to introduce another main character can be described as anything but mediocre.
You may ask yourself: if it’s as good (and crazy) as this pop culture addict claims it is, why am I not watching it?
Here are the five (and only five) reasons why you aren’t watching Penny Dreadful, complete with tailored responses for why you should be:
I’ve never even heard of this show.
That’s because mainstream pop culture media isn’t talking about it — not to the extent that consumers have become used to. For every Mad Men and Game of Thrones media takeover, there’s a Sleepy Hollow or The Legend of Korra that falls through the media coverage cracks. Mainstream pop culture media is often predictable and slow to the take. As a result, it can be kind of boring. It isn’t until enough TV nerds — who are lucky enough to have jobs in the media — annoy their editors enough to get coverage on such unique, quality series. Plus, it’s an unusally busy early summer TV season this year — a bombastic season of Game of Thrones is winding down, the final season of Mad Men is sending fans and critics into a tizzy, and The Bachelorette is on, you guys!
Now, however, you have heard of the dark and twisty “genre” show playing over on Showtime. Go watch and enjoy the magic.
I don’t have Showtime.
This is the Internet age. If you need help reading between the lines on this matter, then maybe I’ll write a post about that one day. For now (and for legal purposes), I’m sticking with plausible deniability.
I don’t really like horror, gore, and all that supernatural tom-foolery.
“Genre” TV (I put genre in quotes because it’s an asinine industry term that shoves anything that isn’t conventional into one category) often gets a bad rap often, I hate to say this, for good reason. Even in a post-Game of Thrones world, most “genre” lack compelling plots and characters, not to mention sizable budgets. (See: Syfy’s Bitten.) Those that do receive critical attention — like True Blood and American Horror Story — are so campy that by the end of the season, the characters and plot become parodies of themselves. While it is a bit early to judge how well Penny Dreadful will avoid this fate, a short, eight-episode season allows the storyline to focus on the most salient and tantalizing points.
Plus, the skeletal structure of the series is not that of a “genre” show but of a good ol’ fashioned mystery series. Penny Dreadful is less of a horror show than a suspenseful, period detective series. Instead of conventional detectives on a case, however, there is a team of shady, uniquely talented people loosely bound together to figure out the darkness that lurks out in the world as well as inside themselves.
As for the gore, yes there is a spattering of blood and guts every couple of episodes. It is, nonetheless, all for enhancing and driving the story forward, never gratuitous.
Remember how I mentioned my favorite character died in the second episode? It was shocking and gruesome that left me gutted (SPOILER ALERT!) in the way masterful “genre” TV should.
If I wanted to watch League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, then I would just watch the fun-awful movie. Or like a real person who knows their stuff, I would read Alan Moore’s excellent graphic novel series, thank you very much.
This bizarrely specific reason is one I sincerely understand. When Penny Dreadful was first announced, I scoffed at the premise, thinking it to be another half-assed Victorian gothic figure reimagining — this time with more nudity. Unlike the 2003 film, the Showtime drama takes itself seriously. There is no unspoken wink to the camera after a famous literary figure is introduced or mentioned. Figures likes Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creature, and Dracula have been reimagined ad naseum — why not in a manner with the same weight and gravitas as the depiction of a desperate, terminally ill chemistry teacher or a conflicted mobster?
The names may be familiar but the attitudes and depictions of these stock public domain characters remain unique to the show. Trust me, this is no Van Helsing.
It just looks stupid. Plus, I don’t even like Eva Green.
You’re stupid. Who doesn’t like Eva Green?!
Um, I do watch it, and it’s great!
Then, let’s talk about it because I don’t have enough IRL or Tumblr friends with which to talk about it at length!