‘Penny Dreadful’: digging up a hidden gem

‘Penny Dreadful’ deserves your attention during lockdown

Penny+Dreadful%3A+City+of+Angels+Official+Facebook+Page

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Official Facebook Page

By Matt Martella, Collegian Staff

With seemingly hundreds of streaming services producing thousands of new shows every month, this onslaught of new content, mixed with newfound time to kill during a lockdown with no end in sight, has people at home asking: what should I watch next? Well, instead of turning to what’s new on Netflix, you might find love for a show that fell under most people’s radars during the early 2010’s: “Penny Dreadful.”

“Penny Dreadful” was a Showtime exclusive television show that follows a group of forlorn characters as they battle demonic forces in Victorian London. The show features many iconic characters from Victorian fiction like Doctor Frankenstein, Dracula, Van Helsing and Dorian Gray to name a few. The star of Penny Dreadful, however, is a character original to the show, Vanessa Ives, played magnificently by Eva Green. To put it simply, Eva Green is nothing short of masterful in her role as a London aristocrat who is in constant conflict as she suppresses her mysterious and God-like powers, and it is a shame that she never received the public acclaim for her performance that she rightfully deserved. The character of Vanessa Ives should be recognized among Walter White and Dexter Morgan as the greatest anti-heroes in television, and maybe someday she will be.

This is not to take away from the rest of the cast of “Penny Dreadful,” who are all excellent in their own right. Timothy Dalton plays Sir Malcolm, an older patriarch looking to seek redemption for his numerous sins, Josh Hartnett plays Ethan Chandler, a cowboy who, like Vanessa, keeps his own dark secrets for the safety of those around him and Harry Treadaway plays a young, but no less insane, Dr. Frankenstein. Perhaps the show’s greatest strength is its character work. These characters are incredibly complex and realistically flawed, somehow finding the perfect combination of being larger-than-life and sympathetic at the same time. Some of the best scenes in the show consist of any combination of the main characters sitting in a room and discussing their philosophies, their morally ambiguous actions or even literature.

The mastermind behind “Penny Dreadful” is John Logan, a name you might not recognize until you see his resume. John Logan is the screenwriter for some of the best films in the last two-decades, including Gladiator, The Last Samurai and Skyfall. Despite Penny Dreadful being one of his more obscure works, it’s also one of his best. Logan takes advantage of the bonus script-pages allowed to him in the long-running form that is television by fleshing-out his characters and placing them in conflicting, and sometimes comical, situations. Where a lesser show would feel like it is spinning its wheels when every scene isn’t dedicated to pushing the plot forward, Penny Dreadful excels in the mundane and human interactions, such as a small scene where the reclusive Doctor Frankenstein awkwardly askes Vanessa Ives for help in finding a dress for his “cousin.”

“Penny Dreadful” consists of three solid seasons, each one building and improving upon the last. That being said, Penny Dreadful was cut-short before it could reach its fullest potential. Although John Logan insists that Penny Dreadful was always planned on being three seasons, some evidence would suggest that the show was ended rather unexpectedly. For one, Penny Dreadful was nowhere near as popular as other dark television shows like the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Showtime would want to pull the plug on a show that wasn’t getting the ratings they wanted. Also, fans weren’t informed that season 3 was the final season until only two episodes remained. Coincidentally, the final two episodes feel undeniably rushed and scattered whereas every episode before it maintained the methodical pace that the show was known for.

Although the final two episodes of season 3 were rushed, the ending of the show is still satisfying and maintains the themes of the entire series. While the plot feels hastily pushed to the finish, the impeccable character work maintains its consistency. It is unfortunate that John Logan was not granted one more season with “Penny Dreadful” to craft a truly amazing finale, but it seems that now Showtime is looking for reconciliation.

Thanks to Showtime, “Penny Dreadful” will have an unexpected, but not undeserved, resurrection. “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” will premiere on Sunday April 26th. This series is a spin-off of the original, taking place in Los Angeles during the late 1930s. It appears to have nothing to do with the original series except for the underlying theme of supernatural forces existing in the real-world. This is disappointing because the original series was never seen to its fullest potential, but with John Logan returning to write the spin-off, Penny Dreadful fans should be optimistic. And who knows, just because there are no apparent ties with the original Penny Dreadful does not mean that they will be completely absent.

Quite fortuitously, the pilot of “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” was released for free on YouTube  before the premier, and it’s pretty good! With only one episode in the books, it is difficult to make any definitive statement on the quality show. The best thing that can be said about the pilot is that it sets up a few interesting mysteries and character conflicts. The best plot so far comes from the protagonist Tiago Vega, played by Daniel Zovatto.

Tiago is a young, Hispanic homicide detective caught in a war between the Los Angeles police department and the Hispanic population that the government seeks to remove. Tiago is loyal to his family as they struggle to keep their homes despite meeting overwhelming resistance from the LA government, but he also feels obligated to do his job and side with the police. Tiago makes a critical decision at the end of the pilot that will undoubtedly have consequences on both sides of the war, and I am personally eager to see what those consequences are. Underneath the surface of this race war is a feud between two spirits, one being Santa Muerta, whose rivalry, and how it relates to the war in Los Angeles, is unclear.

As a whole, “Penny Dreadful” is a phenomenal television show that could have been a masterpiece if not for the abrupt, but still worthwhile, ending. Perhaps “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” will provide even more closure for fans of the original show while still creating new and exciting dark tales in a world where the affairs of mortals and immortals are closely entwined. If you have not seen “Penny Dreadful”, now is the time to go on Netflix and fix that mistake.

Matt Martella can be reached at [email protected].