A PENNY DREADFUL premiere review for your thoughts

11 May

penny-dreadful-sir-malcolm

Stewart here…

Being so busy watching other quality shows, I rarely have time to indulge in finding new ones.  So, when I was informed that Showtime put up the first episode of Penny Dreadful, their new supernatural series online for nada, I thought it would be worth a look.  Now, I had heard about it over the last year, mostly because of its talent behind it: Sam Mendes and John Logan, director and writer respectively of the recent James Bond movie, Skyfall (and the follow-up due around 2015), with Logan the main writer of the show.  But up until the time of hearing the premiere was available to watch, did not much about it.

In some ways, my lack of knowledge may have made watching the first episode, “Night Work”, a far more enjoyable experience. If there’s a show I could compare it to, it would be along the lines of American Horror Story, albeit more consistent and less sporadic in its mashing-up of genre creatures. Its set in London in 1891, and we get dropped into things quickly with our protagonists: adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), occultist Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), and sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). Ethan is part of a traveling Wild West show, and is hired by Vanessa for a night’s worth of work with her and Sir Malcolm. And from there, we get dropped into some dark territory as we find out Malcolm is searching for a missing loved one, which runs into an inhuman force which may be terrorizing London.

What’s nice about the episode (directed by The Orphanage and The Impossible director J.A. Bayona) is how much Hartnett’s Ethan serves as our entry way into this world, and then decides to leave him out of the loop for the second half of it, focusing on the recruitment of another person for Sir Malcolm’s quest (and this may be slight spoilers which we’ll get to later, since we don’t know who this is until the episode’s end). We’re set up with a lot of secrets with our protagonists that are kept from us (like, why is Vanessa spending her nights intensely praying and who did take Malcolm’s loved one), and a mood that gets downright creepy too waft through. Being a cable show and horror-based, there’s some gory moments (and some slight male nudity), but also a sense of dread instead of camp that’s found in other shows of the type.

The acting is good, with Dalton being the tortured patriarchal figure of this bunch and Hartnett being the quietly tortured newbie. The stand-out is Green (who besides Dalton, is another actor connected to the Bond series) as Vanessa, who is alluring and composed veneer is enough to make those brief scenes of her praying alone and almost possessed to mania fascinating to watch.

In all fairness, you could have just called this the "Stare At Eva Green Weekly Show" and I still would've watched this.  Aaaaaa.

In all fairness, you could have just called this the “Stare At Eva Green Weekly Show” and I still would’ve watched this. Aaaaaa.

(slight spoilers ahead)

Considering the time period, and unless it got spoiled for you looking at promos, it’s not a slight surprise to see literary monsters of the period pop up, like vampires in Ethan’s introduction to the world Sir Malcolm and Vanessa inhabit. It is surprising to piece together that the second person hired in Malcolm’s quest is doctor Victor Frankenstein, and witnessing the birth of (“the” or “one of”) his monster in the episode’s climax. Its an effective scene that goes from scary to tragic so gradually, as the doctor tries to connect with his creation.

Then there’s the Creatures (vampires as we know them), who have Egyptian symbols buried under their skin, and what connection that plays to what’s going on, other than its from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.  That Malcolm’s daughter is missing, named Mina, and appears briefly to Malcolm gives me another creepy theory as to what may be going on.  There is another tragic literary character that will pop up later (not here, and not quite who you think it is), but from the jump, you want to see how all these elements set up will pay off.

(slight spoilers over)

It seems we’re going for less a Sleepy Hollow vibe than Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Penny Dreadful, and that’s not a bad place to start. Mash-up of literary figures have been a mixed bag to see (see the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie for evidence of that), but the first episode holds a lot of promise to something entertaining as well as scary.  I have no clue where this will go over its eight episode season (starting Sunday, May 11th), however, I’m curious enough to see what dark corners are yet to be looked into.

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