It’s on Showtime. One of its stars, Eva Green, first came to our attention after spending large portions of The Dreamers with no clothes on. The title itself calls to mind cheap, lurid thrills. And the characters in the show include Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein and his monster, Mina Harker and an unnamed vampire … even Van Helsing. All that seemed to matter was if Penny Dreadful would deliver on all of this promise.
It did that, and more. You can get away with a lot when you use penny dreadfuls as your inspiration, so all of those famous fictional characters didn’t feel like a case of piling it on, or rather, it seemed fair enough to perform the piling. There were so many characters that some were more detailed over the eight episodes than others. Some of them, like Dorian Gray and Billie Piper’s prostitute Brona ended up feeling either irrelevant (Gray) or simply there to set up material for Season Two (Piper). And Josh Hartnett? Well, I suppose at some point I should quit blaming him for being in Pearl Harbor.
The core of the series, though, came with the two leads, Timothy Dalton and Eva Green. (Ironically, given all of the famous fictional characters in the series, both of them had James Bond connections … Dalton played Bond in two underrated films, and Green was a memorable Bond Girl in Casino Royale.) Dalton and Green used liberal offerings of thespian ham, but contrasted this with subtle work that added depth. Green’s job was the hardest … she was asked to do a lot of dreadful things … and she was more than up to the challenge. There was enough good acting that Green didn’t exactly stand out, but without her, the show would have suffered.
Not everything made sense, and the influence of Showtime lurked behind every curtain, promising sex and gore galore. I’m describing a guilty pleasure, of course, if you believe in such things. If it matters, Penny Dreadful is strong, even elegant, in its presentation. The subject matter may come from cheap pulps, but they didn’t skimp on production values. Late 19th-century London was accurate (like I’d know if it wasn’t) … it was dirty, is what I’m trying to say.
For the lurid elements, for the joyful way it dragged us through the world of penny dreadfuls, for Eva Green, for vampires, for these reasons and more, I looked forward to each episode, and now anticipate Season Two. Grade for Season One: A-.