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And so it begins. The eight-episode series Penny Dreadful premieres its first episode "Night Work" this Sunday (after an online preview release on 4/28). So what does it bring us, and how is it?

The episode starts with a young girl's mother being killed while on the toilet by... something. Then her daughter is killed. Then we're off to the Wild West transposed to Britain as actor/gunfighter Ethan Chandler put on a shooting and tall-telling display for a crowd. Vanessa hires Ethan to accompany her and big-game hunter Sir Malcolm Murray to an opium den to find Malcolm's daughter Mina (Harker or Murray - Dracula alert!). They go up against "familiars" as named in the end credits, and then a Nosferatu-style bald barely-human vampire (although the term "vampire" isn't used). They kill it (Ethan is not a lot of help), haul its corpse off to the mortuary, and end up meeting with an assistant Victor. They discover that the vampire has Egyptian hieroglyphs tattooed on its skin.

The name is Schreck. Max Schreck.

After that... not much happens. Vanessa, a psychic fortuneteller of sorts, has an enigmatic conversation with Ethan. Malcolm hires Victor to help them, since Victor likes cutting open corpses. Victor talks a lot about galvanic response and erasing the tissue between life and death, and needs money. Malcolm and Vanessa confront a quirky Egyptologist, Ferdinand Lyle, who says that the hieroglyphs are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. He seems to know more than he's telling and insists they come to his party. Jack the Ripper seems to be alive and well, and disemboweling a mother and her young daughter.

In an odd scene, Ethan considers taking more work from Vanessa and Malcolm, goes back to Malcolm's house, starts to go in when he sees Vanessa at the window, but then turns and goes when he see Malcolm arrive. Hrrmm? Afterward, Malcolm's daughter Mina pays her father a visit and... does nothing? Reveals she's a vampire and leaves, I guess, followed by hints that Vanessa was someone responsible for Mina's vampirization.


It ends with Victor visiting his secret attic laboratory and meeting up with the nude corpse he's reanimating. It's alive! And very naked. And *ahem* has very low blood pressure, unsurprisingly, since it's dead and all. And Victor introduce himself as... Victor Frankenstein. Dum dum dum!!!


So, that's what it is. How does it do? It's very murky, as to be expected, but that makes things a bit hard to make out. Everyone is suitably competent in their roles. The three principals--Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton--are all good. Simon Russell Beale is amusingly quirky ("Isn't that a delicious word, "papyri"? Sounds like something eaten by little Persian boys, doesn't it?)," and would probably make a good Time Lord in a certain British S.F. series.

When Peter Capaldi leaves Doctor Who, I'm ready!

Other than a couple of action sequences (in the murky cellar) that are a bit hard to follow, it's all set-up and ominous hints of things going on in those types of conversations writers use when characters explain things to each other that they already know, but not quite enough to spoil anything for the viewing audience. And everyone has dark secrets. Vanessa has the dark secrets of her childhood, her attractiveness to spiders (more of them mob-rush her near the end), and how she got Mina turned into a vampire. Ethan has dark secrets: it's why Vanessa offers to hire him full-time. Mr. Lyle has dark secrets. Victor is keeping a dark secret in his spacious attic laboratory. Malcolm's servant Sembene no doubt has a dark secret or two. One suspects even Malcolm's agenda is a bit more than he says.

I'll let you pretend you know my dark secret, if you let me pretend I know your dark secret. Deal?

The writing is very witty (see Quotes), and it looks like series creator John Logan will be writing all eight episodes. It's a bit of a slog after the fight sequences, but first-episode exposition must be paid, and things move along well enough given that. It's not American network programming, so there's one mostly-clothed sex scene and full-frontal nudity from a very dedicated Alex Pryce. Rory Kinnear (the Creature), Reeve Carney (Dorian Gray) and Billie Piper (Brona Croft) are nowhere to be seen, clothed or otherwise.

There's some cute directorial touches. For some reason I found the scene where everyone in the audience is turning their heads tennis-style to watch Ethan shoot targets, while Vanessa never turns her head and focuses on Ethan, kind of amusing.

So if you like horror. Or you like horror in a period piece. Or you like a more adult tone to your TV viewing and a show in the S.F./fantasy genre. Then hey, this one's for you.


The question in many people's minds seems to be, "This doesn't suck as bad as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie, does it?" Alan Moore, author of the original graphic novels, probably doesn't think so (if you can find him behind his beard to ask).
It's a hard question to answer, because a) I kinda like the movie, b) this show doesn't set out to be what the movie is: a summer action-adventure blockbuster, and c) it doesn't take much to beat out LoEG, or LXG, or whatever acronym they came up with for it.

More terrifying than anything in Penny Dreadful so far...

That said, it does have a fair number of similarities. Number one is that instead of a James Bond actor playing a big-game hunter out for revenge, it has... umm, a James Bond actor playing a big-game hunter out for revenge. Still, PD is unlikely to drive Dalton out of the entertainment business the way that LoEG allegedly caused Connery to stop making movies.

Sean Connery learns that Timothy Dalton got to play a legendary African explorer in a good production, and reacts with his usual restraint and aplomb.

Let's see, instead of a loud-mouthed American sharpshooter, we have a... loud-mouthed American sharpshooter. Instead of a dark-haired vampiress with superhuman abilities, we have a dark-haired woman with psychic abilities (foretelling the future, quelling a vampire with a good stare). One suspects Brona Croft may be a werewolf, making up the other half of the character matching up with Mina's violent nature and transformative powers from the movie. (Weren't we promised werewolves?)

The Creature appears to be the superstrong occasionally uncontrollable Hyde, and Victor manages to bring in the science of Nemo, the medical skills of Jekyll, and the general "Hey, I'm a dick" attitude of Skinner. And although we don't see Dorian Gray, presumably he'll be kind of like Dorian Gray in the movie. Hopefully not the Highlander-ish immortal swordsman, but odds are he'll have some kind of supernatural ability relating to Wilde's novel, his portrait, and so on. Otherwise... why use him?

So yes, this all seems a bit too deliberate on John Logan's part to be accidental. Kind of a "Yeah, you don't like the movie? See what I can do with it!" on his part. And it's all much better written then what James Robinson pulled off for the movie. And yes, it's that James Robinson of JSA and Starman comics. How he managed to mess that up, who knows?


Anyhoo, if you hated LoEG, you won't run screaming away from your TV. Given they only have eight episodes to play along with, I would have maybe liked to see them move it along a little faster. It's odd to omit two of your major stars. But we'll see how it plays out.

Penny Dreadful - Episode 1: airing "for real" Sunday, May 11, on Showtime at 10/9 central.
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