The past few years have been a good time for horror fans who also love television. I cannot think of a time when so many horror-based shows are readily available for consumption on both network television as well as cable. From shows such as The Walking Dead to the very strong Hannibal the medium is giving us some of the best horror entertainment out there. And now the US cable station Showtime has seen fit to bring us another. The question going in of course, is whether or not the show would be enjoyable (a la Hannibal) or a complete mess (such as True Blood).
The show takes place circa 1891 in Victorian England. We first meet a lovely woman by the name of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) who attends a spectacle focused on gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). Ives soon after meets with Chandler to hire him in assisting her later that evening. He reluctantly accepts, and when meeting her we get our first meeting with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and find out that they are engaged in a battle with vampires. The remainder of the episode focuses on getting to know these characters and setting the stage for the rest of the season. The only other main character we become acquainted with is a nameless young doctor (Harry Treadaway) who any knowledgeable horror fan will immediately pinpoint his true identity. To go into further plot details at this point would be reaching into spoiler territory, so we shall leave it at that.
There are two things that any good horror show needs to aim for. Those are being scary, and being entertaining. A show can survive without one if it has the other, but with neither is a doomed failure. Is Penny Dreadful scary? It may be to a child of a younger age, but for the most part it is not. What it is however, is entertaining thankfully.
While the plot seems very reminiscent of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, so much that many have been led to believe that it is based on it, it is its own creature. Well, as close as a show using famous and historical literary characters can be. Every character has their purpose, which is much more likely to come to the forefront in future episodes, and one can very easily look forward to seeing the group expand on their strengths.
The cast all seem very suited for their roles as well. My initial fear going in was seeing Josh Hartnett on the cast list. While I respect that he has been in many films of the genre, he has never been a standout actor in any way. But it appears that the break from acting he apparently took over the last few years has helped ease him into the role, as he comes across very natural. Eva Green also slides into her role rather seamlessly, giving us a good level of comfort and entertainment with (at least for now) appears to be our main characters. Timothy Dalton is absolutely incredible as Sir Malcolm Murray. Of all the characters in the episode, his is the one who has to show the widest range of emotions, and he nails it. The only actor who doesn’t seem to do as well is Harry Treadaway as the young doctor. Although, given that they were trying (and failing miserably) to keep his identity secret for the episode ending big reveal, could have played a part in this. Hopefully he is able to settle into the role in future episodes.
Based on the cast listings, these are not the only characters from classic literature to make an appearance in the show. Once again, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, we will simply cover those characters as they make their first appearances in the show.
Overall, Penny Dreadful seems to have gotten off on the right foot and built a decent amount of momentum going forward. Whether the show can keep that up or not remains to be seen, but if you have the opportunity, definitely give the show a chance. There are much worse shows out there that you could waste an hour on.