Penny Dreadful is in a unique position. On the one hand, it’s chock full of great visuals, fun occult subject matter, and two Bond movie alums: Timothy Dalton and Eva Green. On the other hand, it asks questions and establishes mysteries before it introduces the characters or the rules of the world. You won’t know what the hell is happening for the first 20 minutes of the premiere episode. The series relies on the viewer's knowledge of a variety of subject matter, and patience. This might be where it gets its namesake. Penny Dreadfuls were British serial stories, purchased for a penny, that featured lurid and sensational stories occasionally Gothic in nature. It is definitely going for a pulpy and occult, but feels like a very pretentious version of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
“Who the f**k are you people?”
The episode begins with a girl sneaking out of her bed opening a door and screaming her head off. Then we cut to an older woman (Green) who is frantically praying as spiders, presumably not radioactive, crawl from a crucifix to her arm. Then without warning we cut to Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) a.k.a. Wyatt Twerp, a charming sharpshooter in a Wild West Show... in England. Despite poor career choices, he (or Hartnett’s butt double) does well with the ladies. Without much of an introduction Green’s character tries to convince him to work with her, and we understand that she must be some sort of witch. After all, Green played similar characters in The Golden Compass, Dark Shadows, and Camelot. At this point, the show is getting precariously close to going up its own rear with pretension. Is it above exposition? Great visuals and creepy mysteries are great but even better if we know who the hell the characters are.
Despite all human logic, Wyatt Twerp meets Green’s character without knowing her name or what she wants at a seedy opium den. Enter Sir Malcolm (Dalton), he tells Ethan to join him in a creepy basement... and he does. Then he proceeds to talk to a bunch of men in a weird language, maybe Elvish or ancient Sumerian. Who knows? All we know is they are vampires because they have fangs. Then they attack and they kill them all. Ethan, is unfazed until they enter a room full of dead bodies and get attacked by a snake creature. They are able to fight him because Green’s character stares him down. They take the dead body to some weird lab where people are dissecting bodies. A doctor cuts open the creature they killed and it has hieroglyphs written all over its skin. Then after 20 minutes where the audience doesn’t know what the hell is going on, Wyatt Twerp who, up until know, has been entirely stoic, says, “Who the f**k are you people?” Their response: come to yet another undisclosed location.
Let the Magic Begin
Ethan shows up at the house and, surprise, he gets to learn Green’s character’s name, Vanessa Ives. She’s creepy and gives him an awkward card reading and then explains what’s going on. Sir Malcolm’s daughter is the girl who disappeared and they are looking for her. Sir Malcolm and Vanessa take the hieroglyphs to an eccentric Ancient Egyptian expert who looks like an extra in The Hunger Games. It turns out the writings are fromthe Egyptian book of the Dead.
Remember that doctor that cut open the creature. He’s an important character apparently and gets invited to Sir Malcolm’s home, The Explorer’s Club. He, like Wyatt Twerp, is getting drafted for some sort of secret undertaking. This is starting to become the origin story of a Victorian England version of The Avengers, only without the luxury of any exposition. Suddenly, Malcolm sees his daughter. Only she’s not a child, she’s a creepy monster teen. He and Vanessa have a strange connection. It’s unclear yet if she is responsible for his daughter’s condition, or if they’re trying to cure her. But who cares? Because...
That Doctor who is so vital to the team? The one whose name we never learn? That’s for a big ol' reveal. On his way home from dinner, on a rainy night, he decides to raise the dead. He pulls a tarp to reveal a corpse sewn together and then he reanimates it because he is none other than Dr. Viktor Frankenstein. His monster flashes his peen for a few minutes and they share a tender moment of new life.
It’s unclear where the show is going as the next episode is primed to introduce more characters. It seems engaging, has a pretty terrific cast, and some great production value. However, mystery for mystery’s sake can be sloppy storytelling. It seems like we won’t know for sure if this is a worthwhile watch until the next episode.
Fans of Sleepy Hollow may be in for quite a treat with a new Showtime series Penny Dreadful. As viewers patiently await the return of FOX's hit show, they may find solace in this new horror series. John Logan and Sam Mendes are behind this (respectively as creator and executive producer), and Eva Green and Josh Hartnett are taking the leads. A trailer was recently released, and it looks like a good, scary time:
Sleepy Hollow takes place in the present day, but with all of Ichabod Crane's flashbacks, it also has a seriously old-timey vibe. There is a great distinction here, as Crane lived during the American Revolution, while Penny Dreadful takes place in Victorian London. Both shows have — as their basis — this idea of people taking on supernatural forces. The folks working on Penny Dreadful have, however, stressed that their stories will be rooted in more realistic situations. Everyone is human, but the tagline of the series points to the idea that all humans have a bit of monster in them.
While there is no replacement for Tom Mison or Nicole Beharie, you have to appeciate this smoking hot cast. Green and Hartnett are joined by newcomer Reeve Carney (he plays Dorian Gray). And literary influence weighs heavy on both shows. Much of Crane's vast knowledge comes from his love of literature and his familiarity with the Bible. Similarly, many of the frightening characters we can expect to meet on Penny Dreadful come from classic works of literature (like Dorian Gray and Frankenstein).
You can actually watch the season premiere before it airs on May 11 right now on Showtime. Chances are, if you're a self-proclaimed Sleepy Head, you'll dig the vibe. But it's also good to know that the series has its own unique plans for entertaining us.
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With May almost here, the fall television series is starting to wind down in earnest. But just because all of your old favorites are wrapping up for the year, that doesn't mean you have to resort to something drastic like reading or exercise. There's a new crop of television shows vying for your attention once summer rolls around. We've assembled a list of five new shows you should check out.
Why you should watch: Steven Soderbergh is sure working hard for a retiree. The recently retired filmmaker will direct all 10 episodes of this limited series that follows Clive Owen as a doctor working in 1900, back when true understanding of medicine was in its infancy, and healthcare was less of a science and more of a series of uneducated guesses. The trailer looks trippy, bloody, and slightly unnerving, giving us the first good reason in a while to break out our program guide and figure out where the hell Cinemax is on the television dial. Premieres Summer 2014.
Why you should watch: Those still feeling burned by some of Lost's unanswered mysteries might want to steer clear. Damon Lindelof's latest mind-melter of a series tells the tale of the people left behind when a rapture-esque event causes two percent of the world's population to dissapear. The rapture narrative isn't exactly new ground in fiction, but the trailer sure makes a convincing case for watching. the series looks to be full of beguiling mysteries, and interestingly flawed characters. Premieres June 29.
Why you should watch: Sam Mendes and John Logan of Skyfall fame have teamed up for this new drama that takes your 11th grade literature class and throws it in the middle of a Victorian S&M Dungeon. Penny Dreadful perverts classic characters like Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein, and Dracula into something else altogether. It looks like a kinkier, and more lurid version of League of Extaordinary Gentleman. The trailer has plenty of uneasy gothic thrills and poncy camp, so this show might very well be the summer's guily pleasure. Plus, Josh Hartnett's mustache is funny. Premieres May 11.
Why you should watch: To be fair, this remake of the seminal horror film looks pretty terrible, but it looks like the kind of terrible that can quickly turn into something fun with enough wine and a wicked sense of humor. For the uninitiated, the story follows Rosemary, a woman who may or may not be giving birth to the antichrist. Premieres May 11.
Why you should watch: If you have a hankering for pirates this summer, this is probably your best bet. The series features the legendary pirate Blackbeard played by the similarly legendary John Malkovich. We’re not likely going to pass up a chance to watch John Malkovich sit on a pile of treasures and ham it up as the campiest pirate on the seven seas. Premieres May 30.
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Great cast, great concept, all the bona fides: producers from Downtown Abbey, directors from The Tudors, and the head writer from the HBO sleeper Carnivàle. Add Victorian England into the mix, and all eyes are on NBC Friday Oct. 25 for the premier of their new series, Dracula. If you happen to be a period fusspot you might be shifting in your seat a little. It is network primetime television, after all. But popcorn and a Pomegranate Martini should take the edge off that.
Meanwhile, Closer to Forks
Take copious notes during Dracula if you live in Portland OR. Jonathan Rhys Meyers' portrayal of Mr. Big will no doubt be the topic at The Portland Vampire Meetup on Sun. Oct 27 at 6:00 PM. So far only ten people are going — which is a fairly good turnout on the Lord's Day —but after Friday night there may be a spike in attendance.
Bon Dent Rouler
If you're chomping at the bit for the New Orleans Vampire Ball at the end of the month, you can soothe your nerves at the International Vampyre White Court on Friday Oct. 25. There will be music, libations, vendors and fangsmithing: which appears to be something like dentistry.