I’m a sucker for Victorian era costume dramas. You throw in vampires and Frankenstein’s creature and I’m in heaven. I was very much looking forward to Showtime’s Penny Dreadful and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, one episode in and I’m hooked. Let’s begin, shall we? Penny Dreadful’s setting is Victorian London. I have no idea how authentic the sets are but they fill the screen with exactly the right kind of atmosphere for a horror show. Claustrophobic alleyways covered in filth, cramped streets where everyone looks like they want to stab you, the gaslights that seem to produce more shadows than luminescence. A sense of dread fills the compositional space and it’s perfect. Whatever else this series accomplishes, it can rest assured that its first scream hit just the right note. In opposition to the dreary city is the Wild West Show in which we meet our supposed hero, Ethan Chandler, played by Josh Hartnett. I must admit that I’ve never been a big fan of Hartnett, but then, I haven’t really been his target audience. He’s a handsome man and his roles have all been handsome men. The show seems to be aware of his status as a heartthrob and introduces us to a showman, smeared in stage make-up, shouting bravado at the audience while blasting everything around him with a pistol. Freud would have loved it. I did, too. Throughout the episode, Hartnett is reacting to the strange things around him with strength that hides his fear. I’m going to keep an open mind. So far, so good. Vanessa Ives, portrayed by that strangely beautiful Eva Green, recruits Chandler for some possible wetwork that night, no questions asked. Eva is the star of the show and Showtime knows it. You know what? I have no problem with that. She is beguiling. Eva was, by far, the best thing about Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (Editor’s Note: And Showtime’s earlier Camelot) and her character in Penny Dreadful is smokey, powerful, and mysterious. Her character is meant to be a cipher and the way Eva speaks with that knowing half-smile is enough to make me curious about her origins. After night has fallen, Ives and Chandler meet and get on with their mysterious business in an opium den. Again, the set dressing looks perfect as they wind their way through the room filled with long pipes, paper lanterns, and fainting couches. Inside we meet the other big star of the series (Editor’s Note: And perhaps the most handsome man on Earth?), Sir Malcolm Murray, played by Timothy Dalton. I’ve been a fan of his since Flash Gordon. Sir Malcolm warns Chandler not to be horrified by what he sees and we’re into our first action sequence of the show. Vampires. The way we like them. No sparkles. No tender longing coupled with bursts of regretful violence. They are fast, powerful, and bending one in half doesn’t seem to bother them. Thank God. The action is fast-paced and delivers the excitement. After defeating the initial wave, our heroes enter a room filled with piles of corpses. I mean, serious piles of corpses. From within comes a vampire. Turns out the ones we just met were thralls or lesser beasts of some kind. This vampire is tall, lean, bestial and more “Nosferatu” than “Lestat.” Again, thank the Maker. After stabbing this creature through the heart, he dies. This is comforting because that dude was scary. Seeking answers, the trio takes the vampire’s body to this episode’s last major player. Victor Frankenstein. Harry Treadaway plays Frankenstein, predictably, as a disaffected scholar who cares about nothing but his own work, until he sees the body. Treadaway comes alive at this point and he portrays Victor’s single mindedness with relish as he cuts away the vampire’s flesh to reveal a secondary skin. A hidden exoskeleton covered in hieroglyphics. Yeah, that got me; I’m interested. Bits of drama happen and we finish this series opener in Victor’s lab. Laid out naked before us, without much fanfare, is the Creature (Alex Price). He is in repose, reminding me of Mantegna’s famous painting, “Lamentation of Christ.” Like Christ, the creature rises unseen and we are treated to the show’s best moment; the Creature, in an aura of lamplight, facing the wall like confused child. He turns and walks toward his creator. This creature is no terrifying grotesque like Karloff portrayed. He is not the hideously scarred and fumbling DeNiro. This Creature is a wide-eyed and vulnerable man reaching for his creator for comfort, for answers that he lacks the language to express. Bravo, Penny Dreadful! This Creature completely won me over. In a show filled with characters so overdone in modern media that they have surpassed parody, Penny Dreadful has given us the unexpected. I thank them for that. Penny Dreadful 1.01 “Night Work”4.5Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.