Shows You Should Be Watching: Penny Dreadful

Here’s a third edition of Colleen’s “Shows You Should Be Watching” series. Can you tell I’m the resident TV addict here at the Three Basic Bees?

This time I’m talking about the show Penny Dreadful. A warning: This show can get pretty gory and there’s the occasional nudity and sex scene, so if that’s something you’re against, maybe don’t watch it. if you don’t care… Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I first heard about this TV show before a movie. Kelly and I were meeting some friends at a movie theater to go see Divergent. However, the CTA was being kind of stupid and we had to detour in the opposite direction we wanted to go because of construction. Long story short, we wanted to see an 8:10 showing (where the people we were meeting had gone into the theater), but after the train drama and us getting lost trying to find the movie theater, we walked into the theater at 8:30 and they told us they couldn’t sell us tickets to the 8:10 show, but there was one at 9:15. So now super early, we went into the theater to see the movie. They were playing those “first look” pre-trailer things and one for Penny Dreadful popped up. It first caught my interest because the way the promo was set up it looked like it was about the Salem Witch Trials. If you need to know one thing about me, it’s that I’m fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials (seriously, The Crucible is my fave play ever, I cry every time. I cried in the middle of English class junior year when we were watching the movie. Seriously I LOVE The Crucible).

Turns out it was actually about Victorian London with a bunch of literary characters. So not the witch trials, but still pretty cool. I bookmarked it in my head as something I should look into in the future and then promptly forgot about it.

That was in March, flash-forward to June and a tumblr post about the show pops up and I remembered my interest in it. Also I had just finished marathoning Criminal Minds and needed something to fill the void. This was a fantastic choice. Tragically there are only 8 episodes in the first season (which is the only season for now, but judging by my twitter feed, season 2 has started filming, Yay!) so I watched it all in about 3 days.

This show is so good ya’ll.

Unlike a lot of other supernatural themed shows, this one is more character driven than plot driven. It slowly builds throughout the season, but with action interspersed, but really you care less about the action and the monsters than you do about the characters. It’s the story of the people that makes this fascinating. Much like the tone of the gothic stories it is based upon.

The main stories this show focuses on are Frankenstein,  The Picture of Dorian Gray and  Dracula. To be honest I’ve only actually read one of those works (Frankenstein). But after marathoning this show, my friend and I were hitting up some used book stores in my town and I found a super cool copy of the Picture of Dorian Gray that’s now sitting on my bookshelf and I plan to read it eventually. I read like one chapter and it was pretty good, but then I got busy with life and packing and school and the usual. Maybe I’ll read it one day. It’s a pretty cool looking book though so there’s that.

Back to the show. I did not know what to expect going into this show, except for monsters. I knew to expect monsters. I was not disappointed. However, I was surprised how rich, nuanced and continuous the plot was. A lot of supernatural shows fall into the trap of “monster of the week” theme, prioritizing action over story. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a thing, a thing that this show does not do.

It’s a slow building show. I mean yeah, there is a lot of action right off the bat, but it’s not solely based in the action. It’s a rich story that develops in fascinating ways and keeps you guessing.

The main plot of this show is the search for the adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray’s (Timothy Dalton) daughter Mina (Olivia Lewellyn) who has been taken by vampires (though the show never uses that term). Sub-plots include: Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in general, Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his monster (Rory Kinnear), Dorian Gray’s (Reeve Carney) lifestyle, and Ethan Chandler’s (Josh Hartnett) relationship with the dying Brona Croft (Billie Piper). Eventually most of these plot lines intertwine in some way or another, and were wrapped up at the end of the season, but in an open-ended way (if that makes any sense????).

This show would not be half as good without the character detail and the amazing talent behind the characters. Seriously, the acting on this show is absolutely amazing, I can’t really think of a weak performance. But aside from the characters and the acting on the show (which I’ll dissect more later), this show is visually stunning. It’s filmed gorgeously with great costumes, sets, and cinematography. Also the score is amazing and enhances the scenes rather than distracting.

So character talk, my fave.

Like I said, this show is a character driven show, not plot so the characters are important. I feel like I’ve learned so much about the characters and watched them develop, but there’s also so much the viewers don’t know. A crowning example of this is Vanessa Ives. I’m not the first to say it and I won’t be the last, but Eva Green is incredible on this show. Seriously, her range of acting is stunning. At first I didn’t think much about Vanessa as a character, until the second episode, when I was fully drawn in. We know some depth to what’s wrong with her character, but there is still so much to learn and I can’t wait for season 2, when it will hopefully be explored more in depth.

Another intriguing character is Dorian Gray. Like I said, I’ve never read the original Oscar Wilde story, but I know the gist of it. Dorian himself hasn’t really been  explored as a character yet, he’s just kind of been there furthering the motivation of the other characters, but I anticipate him becoming a more major player in the coming season. Reeve Carney brings something special to the character. I can’t really explain what it is, but it’s exactly what I would expect for Dorian Gray. It’s mystery and passion wrapped into a character. In a way, Dorian is symbolic of the entire show.

I love Frankenstein and his monster. Both Treadaway and Kinnear do a great job balanceing the trumptuos relationship between creator and “monster.” There are layers to Frankenstein that Treadaway portrays fantastically. We see Frankenstein be passionate about his work, caring to those who show him love, and vengeful and angry about those who don’t support him or antagoanize him. He is far from a one-dimensional character. The show keeps with the classic literary character, but also breaks free of the mold that one would expect. In other words, it keeps it recognizable while also reinevnting the classic story.

Ethan Chandler is also a great character. At first glance he seems to the be the classic tough guy, and the muscles of the team. But quickly he proves that he’s a lot more than that. His relationship with Brona brings him layers, as does his growing relationship with Vanessa. Hartnett has fantastic chemistry with everyone, which makes his character likable, though he might have done some dark things in the past.

Finally, Sir Malcom is an interesting character. He’s the driving force behind the show. Blinded for his love for his daughter and his quest to find her, he brings everyone into the spiritual world (The Demimonde as it’s refered to in the show). He is willing to let everyone else die, as long as he is reunited with his daughter. But his character develops slowly over the course of the season, until it climaxes in the last episode, changing the course of the show in what I anticipate to be a major way.

Bottom line: this show is pretty fantastic, and everyone should go watch it. It airs on Showtime network.

Happy Watching!

Colleen

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