Hey TV.com, Should I Watch Showtime's Penny Dreadful?

By Price Peterson

May 09, 2014

Apparently somebody at Showtime looked at some TV listings, noticed that every single other cable network has a hit supernatural horror serial, and decided it was time to get in on that highly rated action. Where movies have started to drop the ball when it comes to decent scares, television has not only brought us bigger and better variations on old tropes (The Walking Dead's zombies; Teen Wolf's werewolves; The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' chupacabras), it's done so while pulling in massive ratings. Will Penny Dreadful, Showtime's Victorian-era riff on The Monster Squad, continue that tradition or be relegated to the elephant graveyard of expensive failures? Let's talk it out!


Victorian-era literary characters teaming up? THAT sounds familiar.

Okay, sure, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen exists in both graphic novel form AND atrocious movie adaptation form, but Penny Dreadful sets itself apart from that premise right away. Less a dream team of literary superheroes and more a supernatural mystery dotted with recognizable names, Penny Dreadful is much more interested in scaring you than in being a clever, whiz-bang romp. Centered on an American gunslinger named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) who gets hired to help find a wealthy explorer's missing daughter, this is a London where bad things happen to good people, unthinkable monsters lurk in the shadows, and a thriving "demimonde" (the space between "what we know and what we fear") threatens to overtake the real world at any moment. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is a mysterious, cursed clairvoyant who enlists Ethan, and a certain Promethean doctor (Harry Treadaway) provides much-needed biological expertise when Ethan and Vanessa bring him the corpse of a newly murdered vampire. Because oh yeah, there are vampires, and these vampires are disgusting. But with a Jack the Ripper copycat on the loose and the threat of demonic possession plaguing Vanessa in at every turn, it's clear that the heroes and anti-heroes of Penny Dreadful will be having their hands full for the foreseeable future.



Who's lurking behind the scenes?

Showtime really busted out its wallet (and refined tastes) for this one: Penny Dreadful is executive-produced by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall), written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall), and directed by J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible). Those are all major gets for a network like Showtime, and the cast (and production values) are just as impressive.


When will Penny Dreadful jump-scare us?

Penny Dreadful premieres Sunday, May 11 at 10pm on Showtime.


Who should willingly to subject themselves to these terrors?

Horror fans, Penny Dreadful has your number. From the pilot's terrifying cold open to its frequently disturbing imagery (oh, the gore!), this is the kind of show best watched alone in the dark. But despite its lurid appeals, Penny Dreadful also boasts a relaxed pace that's perfectly suited for those seeking slow-burn, higher-echelon horror. Literary references should keep brainier viewers engaged, and the show-don't-tell visuals are very respectful to viewers who are tired of being spoon-fed exposition. Plus, you know, since it's premium cable: #butts.


What works well about Penny Dreadful?

Penny Dreadful is a really nice mix of patient, drawn-out suspense and shocking horror that GOES THERE. Like, guys, there is a dead baby in the pilot. At one point a hundred spiders burst out of an upside-down crucifix. And have I mentioned that the vampires featured on this show are possibly the most terrifying ones I've ever seen on television? What's more, the cast is uniformly engaging and the characters are compelling and clearly defined. If any of these things sounds appealing to you, there's a good chance you'll be hooked.


What's dreadful about Penny Dreadful?

Not much, but I will say this: Unfortunately Penny Dreadful is the kind of serial that may not work well in individual installments and should rather be viewed in a binge-watch. The pilot, "Night Work," doesn't seem to have a conclusion, it simply smash-cuts to credits after an hour's worth of set-up. And while the series is admirably restrained in its lack of exposition, sometimes confusion sets in a little too often. At some points, the obfuscated explanations are part of the game ("Oh, THAT's why we weren't told the young doctor's name right away"), but compounded with certain characters' impenetrable accents, I had to re-watch more than a few exchanges. Oh, and this thing is dark, just visually. Maybe I had a low-quality screener, but I had to adjust the brightness on my TV just to be able to see an important murder.


So, should I watch it?

Yes, particularly if you love horror, gothic literature, or Josh Hartnett's #butt. (And just a tip: Episode 2 is even better than the pilot. Skeptics should consider giving this a 2-episode test, at the very least.)


Let's take a look at a trailer!

Actually, you can watch the full pilot if you're so inclined! But here's a sample, in case you're in a hurry:



Penny Dreadful premieres Sunday, May 11 at 10pm on Showtime.


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  • JessicavanS May 11, 2014

    Pretty cool, and good cast. Definitly want to see more of this show!

  • Magiteknight May 11, 2014

    Monsters, vampires, general creepiness, Victorian clothes, and some weird gathering of classic monster/horror characters- yes please. I like what I've seen so far, can't wait for more. Thanks for letting us know about the show Price =)

  • sroberts461 May 10, 2014

    I was'nt overly impressed with the pilot so I'll give it the 4-episode test.

  • Sam20 May 10, 2014

    I liked it a lot. Sure there were some cliché moments, but it's still gorgeous in style, and it's helped by great performances. Even Josh Hartnett isn't annoying me. Hopefully, this will end up being much better than that AHS garbage.

  • indy2011 May 10, 2014

    That is by no means a horror it's more like who ever created it was having flash backs from there days doing drugs. If I were to watch it by episode 2-3 I would be asking myself why?
    So I will be giving this a BIG MISS

  • digital_dice May 09, 2014

    I watched the pilot as well. I would describe it as slow, very dark and quite graphic. The production values are noticeably high and the stylized tone is creepy.
    Horror is not really my genre, although there is something appealing about horror stories that take place in the Victorian era. I will watch a few more episodes at least.

  • Marburg66 May 09, 2014

    Oh. Hey...I just wanted to mention to those on Dish Network that don't know already:
    If you don't have Showtime & haven't already watched the pilot online, They flipped on all the Showtime channels today for a free weekend

  • Marburg66 May 09, 2014

    actually, come to find out, it's free for pretty much everyone across the states, regardless of who your provider is

  • Talesin23 May 09, 2014

    I watched the pilot and i've gotto say it was really good.
    And i would say the main reason being that instead of being a modern horror/supernatural story where the monsters isn't actually that monstrous,
    it stays more true to the classic horror stories where the monsters truly was dark, scary and creepy.

    And lets not forget about that cast.
    Timothy Dalton (James Bond)
    Eva Green
    Josh Hartnett
    Billie Piper (Dr. Who)
    ++++

    Can't wait to see more of this show.

  • dodge_hickey May 09, 2014

    Pilot was good! (I am not much into horror)

    Also, checked it for Eva Green *wolf wistle*

  • tusharkishore May 09, 2014

    Will Price review this? Well then definitely yes. On side note I have already watched the pilot and it was right up in my alley. SO yes can''t wait for it.

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