Horror television is going through something of a golden age right now. Hannibal, Bates Motel, American Horror Story and Salem are all offering up some terror themed stories, and most of them are doing quite well, all things considered. With these shows crowding the cable and network channels, it was only a matter of time before the premium cable channels jumped onboard the train. In comes Penny Dreadful, the newest program in the Showtime cannon. If the first episode is any indication, we may have a damn fine series on our hands.
The basic plot for Penny Dreadful may sound somewhat ludicrous on paper. Combining characters from Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein into a cohesive unit sounds impossible outside of an Abbot and Costello feature, but creator John Logan seems up for the gargantuan task he has set up before him, and lands the pilot with very few hitches.
We join our first main character, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), as she recruits two men to her cause. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), who is seeking his kidnapped daughter, and Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) a charming deadeye marksmen who reminds me of Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai minus the alcoholism, and staggering anger. Even though Chandler is somewhat oblivious to the true mission at first, he quickly has his world turned upside down when he discovers they are hunting vampires. From here, the show goes through the basic notions of a pilot. Setting up future plot lines, introducing major characters and so on. What makes the show worth watching, however, is a combination of well-realized tone, and a perfectly rounded out cast.
I don’t feel the need to get into a lot of specifics this early on in the series. I’d hate to spoil any of the jump scares or reveals, such as the beautifully executed ending scene. What is making this show work past its outlandish premise is that A) it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and B) the direction and overall pacing of the show is on point for the most part. It may have a minor dip here and there but it almost immediately bounces back to something macabre or eerie. Josh Hartnett in particular manages to strike a perfect balance of charming confidence but a sense of awe that comes with gunning down the supernatural.
Eva Green and Timothy Dalton also pull more than their own weight in their respective roles. Keeping an air of mystery but giving us just enough information to keep things on course. In just one hour I found myself at least lightly connected with these characters and their struggles. Of course, we will learn more about them in the coming weeks, but that would mean very little if they were uninteresting now. If the rest of the season manages to keep on a level with “Night Work” I think we will have a great new horror series on our hands. Fingers crossed!
Grade = B+