Penny Dreadful: Season One - Online Review

On set of the Father Ted remake, the extra who had asked Mrs Doyle for coffee was about to get more than he had bargained for.

As Season Two of Penny Dreadful approaches, like the threat of something toothless emerging from the night to stare once more into the middle distance, I am struggling to work up the enthusiasm to give John Logan's series another chance. Despite plenty of elements that fall into or around my wheelhouse, the first outing for Penny Dreadful did little for me from beginning to end, merging into a mess of sub-standard sub-plots that gave undue focus to side characters and a main plot apparently more interested in wistfulness than tension, Horror or narrative drive.

Like True Detective before it, Logan has created a show in a recognisable genre, more interested in character than it is in that genre. This is a sound strategy, as Nic Pizzolatto's series proved. The difference between the two is that True Detective fulfilled its remit with a decent murder investigation and then filled the character time with good writing and interesting moments. Penny Dreadful, on the other hand, focuses on psycho-sexual babble and interminable side characters to fill time a traditional telling of these tales would spend on blood and gore. I'm interested in new takes but, frankly, given what's on offer here, I'd rather take the blood and gore, horror and thrills.

In the centre, often ignored, is Eva Green's Vanessa Ives (an immense creation, despite the plot's efforts otherwise), Josh Hartnett's Ethan Chandler and Timothy Dalton's Sir Malcolm Murray. At the start, Penny Dreadful is pitched as those three loose allies searching for Murray's daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), in a plot very close to the source of the Murray characters: Dracula. As the narrative widens, Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) is drafted in, as is Reeve Carney's hopelessly Backstreet Boy-esque Dorian Gray.

When immersed in the core story, or focused on Ives, Penny Dreadful is passable, if rarely compelling. Episode 5, Closer Than Sisters, is by far the series' best; a complete departure from the present plot to give Vanessa the narration and focus on her past story with Sir Malcolm and his daughter. It's sterling, emotive and occasionally quite shocking stuff and it works on several levels.

For the other seven episodes though, Logan deems it wise to give time to either a supporting cast who he then drops again just as quickly and/or to frivolous side tracks which never influence the plot. In Resurrection (E3), it looks like Ethan is going to get time to shine, brushing shoulders with some vampires, but the only follow-up to this is for the character to go to the theatre and then have a lad's night in with Dorian. There is an apparently 'significant event' at the finale, but the event is so meaningless to the plot that it doesn't even feature in the recap before Episode Four. By the end of the season, it has never been referred to again (have Dorian and Ethan even met again?), rendering the entire second half of that episode pointless. Similar things occur with Frankenstein. Treadway is a fringe screen presence at best, but his character is granted star billing on occasion, only to be dropped immediately afterwards.

There is something here, perhaps something quite intellectually exciting even, but it is delivered in such a disinteresting way that it is difficult to even stay with it to discover what it offers. As it turns out: it offers little. The finale boasts about ten minutes of tension (the best in the series), which is then immediately swallowed up by some middle-distance staring, a reveal that has been teased all season (to what end?) and some setup for Victor and Ethan in Season Two. It's endemic of the wider problems. Scrap the sophomore effort and turn this into Vanessa Ives: The Series and there would be something here that is much more worthwhile.

Penny Dreadful was playing from Sky Go. Season Two starts in the US on April 26th and in the UK on April 28th.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

No comments:

Post a Comment