Showtime, back in May, offered up a free preview—the first episode—of a new series featuring Josh Harnett, Eva Green, and Timothy Dalton. The show was advertised as gothic horror; but amidst the breathtaking fashions, the epic sets, and its beautiful design, steampunk makes its presence known. This is the new horror series, Penny Dreadful.
Exactly what is Penny Dreadful, apart from its actual historic connotation of episodic tales of darkness and horror? With all the atmosphere of a classic Hammer Horror creature feature, Penny Dreadful opens in the late 19th Century with a side-show performer Ethan Chandler (Josh Harnett), a talented six-shooter offered a job not for show but for a serious application of his sharpshooting skills. Joining his new patrons, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Chandler descends into the sewers of London. There, the American discovers a brood of vampires. His job quickly becomes clear: Kill as many as his six-shooters allow. When the vampires stop moving, Sir Malcolm and Miss Ives begin checking the (no-longer-un)dead vampires. Sir Malcolm is looking for his daughter, Mina.
Yes, that Mina.
Before the end of the preview episode, these three vampire hunters turn to the scientific know-how of a forensic scientist unafraid of asking questions and challenging what is accepted as “known” in the world. At the end of the episode, we find out this maverick scientist’s name: Victor Frankenstein.
All within the premiere episode.
We are currently up on Episode 4 and this series does not show any signs of disappointing. Just when you think you have an aspect of the show figured out, a twist that threatens whiplash happens. The writing is as lush and as stunning as the visuals of this show, and with all production elements at the highest of levels, the actors bring the final element and make this world alive and terrifyingly real. Dalton, Green, and Harnett are listed as the “leads” but they are joined by Billie Piper, Danny Sapani, Harry Treadway, and Rory Kinnear, all of whom are top notch at what they do. The remaining cast stand alongside the three “principals” and, in truth, create an acting machine where not a gear or cog slips out of sync.
Already renewed for a second season, I cannot stress just how good Penny Dreadful is. This could be a potential ground-breaker in steampunk as the first in the genre to gain both critical and popular success. We’ve had some close hits (the critical success of Hugo) and properties that got a few of the elements right but fell short of expectations (The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne), but Penny Dreadful is the series that gets everything right on all levels. Between the gothic horror storytelling, the lavish production elements, and the signature steampunk flourish in both Frankenstein’s thread and the investigation techniques of Sir Malcolm, Penny Dreadful is a fantastic hour of television. It should come as no surprise as the show creator, John Logan, was on the writing staff of Hugo and Skyfall; and the show’s executive producer is Sam Mendes, director of the afore mentioned Skyfall and American Beauty. Logan and Mendes know how to tell compelling stories about mysterious or flawed individuals, and that shines in Penny Dreadful.
Even with the steampunk element set aside, this is a series alongside other great horror offerings like Hannibal and American Horror Story that only succeeds with the support of the fans. Do not torrent this show. Invest that extra ten dollars a month for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. This production not only speaks to the steampunk community, but to those who enjoy a creepy, dark tale that raises the goose flesh and makes you wonder if you’ve locked all the doors. After all, if you’re the only one in the house and the cat’s asleep at the foot of the bed, what did just go “bump” in the night?