Penny Dreadful: My Gothic TV Obsession
As TV shows come and go, and off seasons break our hearts a little everyday, we often seek to fill the voids left by beloved or despised characters. I have done such a thing - my love affairs with Criminal Minds and Supernatural have had to stumble to a halt yet again, as the dark months between seasons continues.
As you can tell, if I can be a loyal fan for more than a decade I most certainly will, and both of these shows I've basically become an adult while watching. They both have long-term cast I love and both have a somewhat morbid theme. Be still my dark, beating heart.
I flit between shows a lot - I love my Star Trek, I enjoy a bit of Arrested Development, or Once Upon A Time, but I can't fall into them the way I can with CM or SPN. I can binge watch for days with those two lovelies. So it surprised me when I suddenly felt an itch to return to a show I watched 2 episodes of and then abandoned - Penny Dreadful.
If you hadn't guessed by the title - SPOILER ALERT. I want to convince you to watch it, but I have to talk about parts of it to get you there - so be prepared. Though I will do my best not to destroy the whole thing.
I tend not to judge a show on the pilot alone as it has a monumental task to perform. I go at least two episodes in and then return as I want or leave behind. I honestly thought I was done with Penny Dreadful. The first two episodes are very dark and macabre, but in an uncomfortable way that didn't quite catch me. However, they definitely stuck with me.
I started watching again about a week ago on a whim, and I have since devoured the first season and have begun the second. And I am truly in love. I'm not normally one for shows that posit themselves as drama as PD felt like it aimed for in those first two episodes, so to see it become a wonderful Gothic, sexy, gore-fest as it continued really grabbed me.
There's a lot of main characters for a TV show (they've still got nothing on Game of Thrones, but they pride themselves on confusion, I think) which pleases me greatly. It offers such a diverse range of stories and histories and, I hope, will mean consistently good episodes. Each character is somewhat based on a famous story, fictional or not, from the Victorian period, and let's you have moments of recognition but still be hooked waiting for the twist.
My favourite character is Miss Vanessa Ives. Played by the incredible Eva Green, my love of this character is part fascination with her malevolent gifts and part awe for the superb acting on the part of Green. She is impossible to stop watching whether she is quietly wrestling with a crisis of faith, violently fighting off demonic possession or getting passionate with someone on screen.
But I truly love all of the characters - Timothy Dalton as the stoic Sir Malcom Murray, Josh Hartnett as the gun-slinger Mr Ethan Chandler, Reeve Carney as the seductive Dorian Gray, Harry Treadway as the naive Dr Frankenstein and Billie Piper as the unfortunate Brona / Lily. There are many more, and it's more than a relief to say I don't think there's a weak casting in the entire bunch. Even bit parts are fantastically performed (OMG, Fenton, is all I can say).
Penny Dreadful is one of those sows that is sumptuously shot - each frame could be a still in a gallery. The light is wonderfully controlled and truly lends an atmosphere to every scene. It especially makes the John Clare / Callaban / Frankenstein's Monster scenes work beautifully. Rory Kinnear plays the character with a Shakespearean grace that really make the character so much more than it may have been. He takes the role out of cliche and makes it tragically unique and the play of light really makes this work.
I think what truly captures me with this show is the mix of sex and violence. The bloody horror is framed by passionate, beautiful, and forbidden sex scenes that have the usual period drama build of sexual tension, but with an actual pay off. It is by no means for the easily embarrassed but the scenes fit the show and the characters, in case you were worried. There's a healthy attitude to sexual agency and sexual fluidity that I am proud of the show for. I have to admit, I fist pumped the moment where Dorian Gray and Ethan Chandler give in to each other. The tension was palpable and the moment just worked.
And it is never treated as odd, unusual, abhorred or anything else after the fact. Dorian Gray sleeps with anyone at all who catches his attention, and again, it is simply presented beautifully and never commented on. One that note - expect lots of nudity all round. It's artful though so don't blush too hard.
To sum up, before I get into describing the story line and ruining it all, Penny Dreadful is what you need to fill your days with if you enjoy crime shows, horror films, period dramas, or Game of Thrones. I'm a season and a bit in and I can say with certainty it's become a favourite. What are you waiting for? Sink your teeth in.