Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful”

Posted on May 28, 2014

Penny-Dreadful-Review-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLOThe cast of Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” 


We caught a preview of this series and wound up tossing off a bitchy one-line review in a red carpet post featuring one of the show’s stars. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t fair of us. Anyone who’s read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels by Alan Moore (as proudly nerdy Tom has) is going to come into this show with a serious chip on their shoulder. Tom found it annoyingly derivative  – and he doesn’t even like the League books all that much (Too rape-y). Even so, a period cable drama diving head first into the stories of Dracula, Frankenstein, and even Dorian Gray and blending them all together, with additional dollops of werewolves and mummies? An Abbott & Costello-stye monster mash played straight? That sounded like a horrible idea to us right from the get-go.

We came into it with prejudices, is what we’re saying.

But we both realized this week that, even though we claimed to be grumpy about the very concept of the show, we were faithfully watching it each week, without question – and not in a “Well … I guess so…” kind of way. It’s better than we originally assumed. A huge reason to watch the show, in our opinion, is the first-rate cast, anchored by two too-charismatic-for-TV performances by Eva Green and Timothy Dalton, who both bring a level of scenery-chewing intensity that’ll sometimes take your breath away. If this was a competition, we’d be giving the higher scores to Green, who served up several of the most jaw-dropping minutes of television all year in the seance scene from episode 2. Part of what makes her such an engrossing presence is that she’s a beautifully striking actress who has absolutely no problem contorting herself into the ugliest possible shapes and expressions. She’s literally repulsive at times – and it’s all done through acting. Dalton isn’t being asked to do the kind of heavy lifting she is, but he’s still about ten thousand pounds of gravitas in every scene he does. It’s almost like you can feel the weight of Dalton and Green when they’re in a scene with any of the other actors. Which isn’t to say the other ones aren’t working over time. This is the most interesting Josh Hartnett turn we’ve ever seen. We’ve always found him bland beyond measure, but apparently he was born to play the “soulful gunslinger with a secret” type. Harry Treadaway is like a Tasmanian Devil of scenery chewing as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, which we suppose is appropriate. He’s wonderful in all his scenes, but the character is quite the drama queen – and apparently can’t make offspring who don’t suffer from the same affliction. We liked Proteus way more than his flamboyantly bitchy older brother. We find the Frankenstein subplot to be the least interesting, but we have to admit, we’re dying to see what kind of lady monster he’s going to make.

But we digress. The point is, even if it’s not the freshest concept for a show, the acting is knocking our socks off and the production design alone is beautiful enough to tune in. We don’t know if they can really pull off making these tired old characters seem fresh, but they’re gonna look good trying and they’ve at least got the kind of cast capable of pulling that kind of stunt off. Going forward, it’s all resting on the ability of the show’s creators to tell an unexpected story using characters long grown stale. We’re interested enough to keep tuning in just to see if they can pull it off.


[Photo Credit: Showtime]

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  • Anna Vasquez

    I’m mad Proteus is dead because I was kind of hoping he & Victor would make out at some point.

    • mickeymammoth

      Liking the show, but I’m not sure why Frankenstein rejected his first monster so utterly. It just seems like weird writing. This is a guy elbows deep in blood and guts, and his first monster is “too ugly??” Whatevs!

      • Melissa

        I think it was meant to be a comment on Victor not being able to handle the messier aspects of creation. Wanting everything to be as serene and beautiful as poetry. When you think about it, it’s probably an issue that many parents face. Wanting a sweet and innocent baby and instead receiving a screaming, needy creature.

        • ShaoLinKitten

          I agree. I think he was having the Frankenstein version of post-partum depression. Having a child that’s covered in blood, who does nothing but scream, can’t speak, and is completely irrational? That makes you nuts and you want to run away. If you do, your offspring resents you. I was sad when Proteus died because he was such a sweet creature.

      • It’s been a long time since I read the book, but that is pretty much how I remember it going.

        • SewingSiren

          Exactly so.

      • SewingSiren

        This is the reaction that Victor Frankenstein has to his creation in the book. The creature is utterly rejected and Victor takes to his bed for some months with remorse and illness. The monster in the meantime is left to his own devises and learns to speak (French) and read by observation. At first he (the creature) an innocent , but becomes corrupt with vengeance from personal experience and also after reading the diary of Frankenstein.

        • mickeymammoth

          That makes sense then. But I thought his reaction to his new monster was soooo different, it wasn’t consistent. Even though the new monster ended up being kind of sweet, he was also somewhat creepy in the same ways as the old monster. IMO.

          • SewingSiren

            I took it that he was making amends for his previous wrong. I (and probably most 20th and 21st century readers) always wondered what would have happened to the literary monster if Frankenstein would have embraced him from the beginning , although I do not think that was the authors intent.

  • JauntyJohn

    I saw the Premier on Hulu Plus (or maybe Netflix — they all run together) and anything that gives me Josh Hartnett’s butt in the first 20 minutes earns some latitude. (I can aspire to depth and lollygag in shallow sometimes, can’t I?)
    It’s not enough to get me to subscribe to Showtime but I liked it — especially for Eva Green, who was absolutely mesmerizing. Serious charisma.

    I’m with you on the “derivative” issues — but since Sean Connery kind of ruined “League” in the movie I think the concept deserves a second pass.
    At least it’s not another show about cops, lawyers or doctors.
    I am very much looking forward to your continued commentary on it.

  • Imasewsure

    Have a huge Dalton crush since he appeared in Hot Fuzz (no reason really… I just loved Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so everyone in both movies gets points). Have to check this one out … I’m bored with all TV after Ru so this might help

    • MoHub

      I’ve had a thing for Dalton since The Lion in Winter.

      • Yoshio

        Mine started with his Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

        • H2olovngrl

          Flash Gordon, for me!

          • kassy

            Prince Baron sigh!!!! I thought he was so much hotter than Flash.

        • Rochester. I’ll double your sigh and raise it a JANE!!!!

      • DeTrop

        Me too. Handsome does not describe his looks in TLIW. Been a fan ever since. Shallow I know, but beauty is an aphrodisiac.

  • majorbedhead

    I watched the first episode last night and spent much of the time hiding behind my fingers because it’s fucking scary, but I really enjoyed it. I will definitely continue to watch it.

  • Vanessa Reyes

    I really enjoyed the premier. I caught it on Hulu as well but I don’t have Showtime and I’m not about to add more money to my cable bill just to watch it. I’m hoping for Hulu to maybe start showing it and for $8 a month I can swing that.

  • krelnick

    I honestly thought Dr. Frankenstein was related to Theon from GoT. I have a feeling that Rose from Doctor Who is going to wind up as Mrs. Caliban. Yeesh. I love all ot it–sets, costumes, acting, writing.

  • SewingSiren

    I watched the first episode because Showtime offered it for free on line. I pretty much loved it. Now I has a sad because I can’t watch anymore:(. I have just recently re-read, Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Grey, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide so I’m dying to find out whats going to happen. PS when they showed the monsters penis in the first show i ’bout died. So immature (i know).

  • Ashley Ellen Wilson

    IS THAT BILLIE PIPER?! Reason enough to watch 🙂
    Also, I love it when you guys give television recommendations–I always end up watching (and enjoying) them so much (see: Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black). Definitely going to give this one a watch.

    • kimmeister

      Yes it is! I had to look it up after I said to myself, “Hey! Is that Rose Tyler?”

    • FibonacciSequins

      Now I’m wishing I had Showtime. Sorry, Billie!

    • FeminineLipstique

      She’s great on the show, but sometimes her accent bothers me. Even if it’s accurate (I don’t know, I’m American), I find it grating somehow.

      • MoHub

        The IMDb feedback on Piper’s accent from those who know is that it’s very authentic Northern Irish.

      • Whever

        Same with me- I think it’s because her cadence is so very different from her usual, which is what I’m used to. It throws me every time she speaks, and I just want to revel in the Billie-back-on-my-screen.

    • ShaoLinKitten

      Have you seen her in Secret Diary of a Call Girl? I loved that show.

  • Tracey Magyar

    I love shows that mix cheese, detective drama, mystery and monsters…so even though the reviews were subpar, I still watched. And, I do like the show. I thought the first episode was slow, but I still didn’t move from the couch for an hour.

  • kimmeister

    I don’t have Showtime and haven’t seen any ads for this show, so I had no idea what it was about. Based on the show’s title, I never would have guessed. But hey, looks like Eva Green CAN take a decent picture.

  • Lattis

    Hells bells. I don’t need another thing to love on tv. Time! people, Time! But, if you guys like it – I have to watch it at least once. : )

    • formerlyAnon

      I’ll be watching it later, on Netflix or Hulu or something. It’s probably a bit too creepy/scary for me, even if it approaches tongue-in-cheek at the same time. But there are very pretty people in period costume and a concept extrapolated from standard, familiar literature – I expect to be sucked in when I do watch.

      • “Too creepy” is what is holding me back. I’ll give it a go though!

      • OK – I jumped a couple of times but I did enjoy it. Worth it for the set and costume design – there are also a number of attractive ectomorphs, although so far they are redshirts.

        • formerlyAnon

          Ohh, good to know. Now I can look forward to it properly. I do find Reeve Carney quite pleasant to look at, so between him and a few rotating secondary ectomorphs and the costumes it should be quite satisfactory.

  • Kerry McCombs

    Is that Rose Tyler????

  • jspark

    Wait a minute… you LIKE Eva Green’s husky-talking as acting schtick? I loved her in Casino Royal but ever since then she has been doing the same thing… lowering her jaw, staring hard and talking in a low husky voice. That’s not acting, that’s hosting a halloween party.

  • Melissa

    I’m with you on the Frankenstein plot being less interesting than what’s going on with the rest of the characters (is it just me or does the Caliban look like a cross between Robert Smith and Darth Vader unmasked?), and I am just as enchanted with Eva Green’s performance. She’s mesmerizing, and I find myself focusing on her and her intricately beautiful dresses every time she’s onscreen. Agree as well that Josh Hartnett has never been as good. The show is certainly great at intrigue and atmosphere, we’ll just have to see if it pays off. Happy to see you both reviewing it!

  • Melissa

    Also ‘too rapey’ ought to be on the back cover of 90% of Alan Moore’s work, hahaha.

    • The man’s a genius but he got ISSUES.

      • SewingSiren

        No kidding. Lost Girls.

        • sweetlilvoice

          I’ve just seen a bit of it, but it’s too nasty for me. A really cool idea though,

      • sweetlilvoice

        His name is a dirty word in my house. Husband cannot stand him.

  • MoHub

    Was wondering when you guys would pick up on this! It’s interesting to me how this is constantly compared to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Maybe it’s my age, but what first comes to my mind is Nicholas Meyers’ work: The Seven Per Cent Solution, .The West End Horror, and the movie Time After Time.

  • Man Dala

    I found the pilot engaging and returned for the second episode. The pacing of the second instalment was a bit off for me, but the 7-minute long séance sequence was an acting masterpiece by Eva Green. I was totally mesmerized by her, and had to re-watch that scene several times. The production value and costumes are great but yes, I tend to agree that we’ve seen all this several times before.

  • M_E_S

    God, I love “Watchmen” and I thought “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” would also be great but then it got…really, really fucking weird. I couldn’t understand half of the “Century” plot and I feel like I wasn’t supposed to. And the half I did understand just freaked me out.

    Also, I am HERE for this show. Scenery chewing + Victorian + monsters/demons + literary illusions = my favorite stuff in media.

  • Hermitage

    The whole Frankenstein episode made me very fearful for our consumptive hooker with a heart of gold, Billie Piper. Though her character seems the type to throw a good right hook when Frankenstein’s Monster comes to claim his ‘bride’.

    Can they bring HBC on for a few episodes to play Eva Green’s antagonist? She’s perfect for this type of setting. I might die of happiness, but it would be worth it.

  • ShaoLinKitten

    I love Penny Dreadful in the same way I love a nice big bowl of hot, buttered popcorn. It’s not really sustenance, but boy is it fun. That seance scene– OMG. I watched it four times, I swear. Eva Green did an amazing job with it.

    I also find myself liking Josh Harnett. He is perfect for this role, and he has grown into his face.

    Like other BKs, I am foreseeing Brona as Bride of Frankenstein. Can’t WAIT to meet Dracula.

  • e jerry powell


  • CatherineRhodes

    Way too over the top for me. I like my horror a little more grounded in reality, not so dependent on CGI. This show is going to suffer from the True Blood syndrome.

  • StelledelMare

    When I first saw a trailer for it at the movies, I immediately thought it had an obvious League and also From Hell feel to it (don’t tell Alan Moore). But even still I knew I was going to watch it at least for a while. And I’m not really a horror person at all but the aesthetic and also the acting, as you said, are really keeping me interested. So far I think it’s a really good show and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

  • Emily Roach

    Thanks a lot, TLo. Like I needed a new show to watch. Queuing up episode one…

  • acevedob

    Yes! I’m so happy you guys decided to write about it. Hubby and I are equally addicted to PD. We’re waiting to find out more about each character. What’s the deal with Eva? She is the most mysterious of all. The Frankenstein storyline would have been interesting enough if they kept it between Dr F and Proteus (I thought that was going to be a gay storyline, to be honest). But I do love Rory Kinnear…
    Now that Mad Men is on hold until 2015, can you guys do Penny Dreadful reviews? Pleeease 😛

  • MilaXX

    I waited to read this review until after I had watched. I agree the acting is the thing carrying this so far. The mish mash is a tiny bit too much for me. I was willing to accept Frankenstein and the rest, but I seriously eye rolled when they introduced Dorian. Apparently Dorian Gray was a line too far for me. Right now this is still just okay for me. I’m more likely to continue watching if you guys recap it, but I won’t be upset if you don’t. Also they’ve been doing a really good job with the SFX and CGI, but those wolves were horribly fake looking.

    • formerlyAnon

      For my money, though, Reeve Carney is the prettiest man on the show (I confess, he gets way more points than is really reasonable from me for his floppy over-long bangs). So I can be tolerant of whatever character/plot ridiculousness ensues.

  • FeminineLipstique

    The freakiest thing on the show for me was not one, but two, scenes of women spontaneously hacking up blood in someone’s face. It was shocking and gross both times. I didn’t like the first episode much because it felt all over the place, but the second and third episodes have brought me back in. Even some of the minor characters are played rather flamboyantly and delightfully by great actors, like the egyptologist and the thespian who befriends Caliban.

  • I have a HUGE thing for Timothy Dalton (going way back to The Lion in Winter) so I was really disappointed when you guys panned this show and now I’m really excited again yay.

  • Zombiepeep

    Every time Caliban was on the screen I had to mumble, “Ok, we get it, Bob Smith!” — I miss Proteus with his sad eyes and childlike wonder at the world.

    I’m especially loving the fact that the vampires are monstrous and SCARY. I’m so tired of vampires that are pretty enough to date.

  • Chevalle

    Okay, but, the Renfield (from Dracula) insert in this week’s episode gave me everything. The “don’t you feel him in the dark?” monologue was DELICIOUSLY CREEPY.

  • Annistella

    Finally. Steampunk enters the mainstream.

  • prettybigkitty

    Based on your recommendation, will definitely check it out. I’m intrigued.

  • MoHub

    I am waiting for Sweeney Todd to enter the mix. After all, her really was a character from the penny dreadfuls.

  • marlie

    I watched the first two episodes last night, and I really enjoyed them. It’s not going to be my favorite show ever, but it’s definitely entertaining. And I really like Eva Green and Timothy Dalton’s characters.

  • H2olovngrl

    Interesting what you say about Josh Hartnett. I have always thought there was a Louis L’amour movie out there with his name on it.

  • sweetlilvoice

    Thank you! Now I have something cool to watch post-Mad Men. I was hoping the show wouldn’t be too gory and it’s not! Lots of nice shots of male butts to enjoy….

  • julnyes

    I’ll dig up the first episode and give it a watch.

  • siriuslover

    Both my husband and I saw the previews and wanted to watch the show…then we realized we cancelled Showtime after Dexter ended, so we’ll have to wait until it’s on Hulu Plus or Netflix or something.

  • Prairie

    This is a great series! The writing, so fun. “I fell we are in need of some strong chains.” Josh Hartnett and Mr. Grey, oh my. Will Billie be the Bride???????

    • kassy

      None of my friends watch this, it is actually painful not to have anyone to talk to about this show. So I came here 🙂 Oh my indeed! I did not see the Mr. Grey thing coming but I loved it.

  • sienna elm

    So uncles, after this recommendation I started watching Penny Dreadful. I was cautiously excited with the possibilities after the first episode, but after the second episode and the seance scene I became absolutely engrossed! I was finally able to watch the fourth episode last night and I am just bursting! I want to talk about it with people, but I don’t know anyone else watching it yet. Is there any chance you are planning a multi-episode recap anytime soon? …Please?

  • Mary Dalton

    I hope they bring in Alister Crowley and Madame Blavatsky. Failing that, Dalton and Green could metamorphose into them, bringing thunderclaps everywhere,as Alister was wont to.

  • Averill

    So, I am just coming back to this after the delightful free episode months ago. Just in time for Halloween, right? Amazon. $1.99/episode, and very, very worth it!