It’s been awhile since I’ve done a TV review on here. I suppose it’s reflective of my workload of late that I haven’t managed to put the time aside to go to the cinema and get bombarded with CGI for several hours, so I’ve decided instead to write about a much more traditional method of sleep deprivation: pure unadulterated unpleasantness.
Penny Dreadful takes its name rather cleverly from a form of Victorian Gothic pulp fiction, and as such contains many similar subject matters, including vampires, demonic possession, seances and all other such gruesome affairs. On paper this sounds simply like an Imperialist re-tread of True Blood, but Penny Dreadful breaks free of such stereotypes through excellent presentation. Instead of a line-up longer than your average prison roster, this show focuses on a core group of 8-9 characters, all of whom are delightfully varied, from Timothy Dalton’s grizzled empire-expander Sir Malcolm Murray to the terrifyingly enigmatic Vanessa Ives (portrayed with truly bed-wetting finesse by Eva Green). Of course, this is a Victorian supernatural setting, so two of the core characters are Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein respectively, although both of which are interesting enough to be compelling without resorting to lip service.
I thought myself well prepared for this show on account of my being used to shows such as The Walking Dead and the occasional Neil Marshall joint, so it really did come as a shock to me how revolting this show can be at times. Not gory per se, because there’s only so much as can be done with that. There’s a deep depravity and unpleasantness to many of the characters which will make you shudder, and this is in just the dialogue scenes. Throw a whole episode on the subject of exorcism and that’s a painful execution for any chance of getting a good night’s sleep. Yet the show remains compelling, it’s characters complex and twisted, and this is more than enough to make you keep watching.
It can be a touch ambiguous at times, with regard to some of the more supernatural elements. The threat posed by the vampires is vague at best, and whilst this does add mystery to their levels of danger, it makes conflict an issue when you don’t really seem to know whether the characters are under threat or not. But this is far from a dealbreak, and as such I will recommend Penny Dreadful to anybody with a strong stomach and a penchant for very sick looking people getting covered in blood. It’s effectively a combination between Supernatural and Ripper Street, but without the snarky American attempts at wit of the former or the ‘safe haven for off-season Game Of Thrones actors’ of the latter. Make of that comparison what you will.