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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