×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Penny Dreadful’

With:

Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, Danny Sapani, Harry Treadaway

The late-19th century window around the Jack the Ripper murders has been an inordinately fertile and florid one for drama, which has included creative revisionism drawing on the literature of the day. So add to “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (turned into a less-than-extraordinary film) “Penny Dreadful,” Showtime’s macabre drama that fills London with creepy-crawlies and a colorful assortment of characters working to thwart them. Solidly entertaining, well cast and oozing with atmosphere, it’s a shrewd genre stab for the network, albeit by hewing closer to the sort of pulpy terrain to which Starz has, er, staked a claim.

Teeming with plot threads, the first two episodes are set in motion by famed explorer Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and his mysterious colleague Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). Early on, they recruit an American wild-west sharpshooter, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), for some “night work,” making clear the fewer questions asked, the better.

Said work, however, puts the shell-shocked cowboy face-to-face with supernatural creatures, and it’s only then he discovers Sir Malcolm is hunting for his missing daughter — absconded with by one of them — while probing what Vanessa describes as a realm between the known world and a shadow one.

Frankly, that would probably be enough for the broadcast version of this, but “Penny” is just getting started. The extended posse also includes a young Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) — whose gift for anatomy is seen as an asset by Sir Malcolm — and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), a libertine whose role in the larger story remains a mystery, other than providing an excuse for pay cable nudity.

Set in 1891, just a few years after the Ripper’s spree, the project capitalizes on the lingering fear created by those events, while playing with the audience’s understanding and expectations surrounding its better-known characters.

Created by John Logan and counting his “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes among the producers, “Penny Dreadful” (a not-quite-dreadful title, derived from the serialized publications of the day) doesn’t hurry the action, and some scenes linger surprisingly long, as the narrative flits around seeking to establish a dense mythology that includes Egyptian hieroglyphics and apocalyptic warnings.

If there’s a drawback here, it’s the slightly uneven production values. The monsters feel a trifle generic — more “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” than anything else — which doesn’t blunt the brooding atmosphere or the grisliness of their handiwork.

Simply put, pay TV thrives on cultish devotion — just witness HBO’s bubbling wellspring of it thanks to “Game of Thrones” — rendering sci-fi and/or fantasy a virtual must in any well-diversified portfolio.

By that measure, “Penny Dreadful” seems likely to yield dividends for Showtime. Whether the payoff is good for more than just a horror-seeking core will be determined after the opening two hours, seeing how well things keep going bump in the night.

TV Review: 'Penny Dreadful'

(Series; Showtime, Sun. May 11, 10 p.m.)

Production:

Filmed in Ireland by Desert Wolf Prods. and Neal Street Prods.

Crew:

Executive producers, John Logan, Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris; co-executive producers, Belen Atienza, Karen Richards; supervising producer, Chris King; producers, James Flynn, Morgan O’Sullivan; director, J.A. Bayona; writer, Logan; camera, Xavi Gimenez; production designer, Jonathan McKinstry; editors, Bernat Vilaplana, Jaume Marti; music, Abel Korzeniowski; casting, Karen Lindsay-Stewart, Frank Moiselle, Nuala Moiselle. 60 MIN.

Cast:

Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Billie Piper, Danny Sapani, Harry Treadaway

More TV

  • ITV Studios Strikes International Deals for

    ITV Studios Strikes International Deals for Barcroft Shows (EXCLUSIVE)

    Discovery and Seven Network are among the international buyers for Barcroft Media series after ITV Studios’s sales arm brokered a raft of deals for the shows. Barcroft runs a suite of YouTube and digital channels and has short and mid-form content on platforms including Facebook Watch. It has had success repurposing these shorter shows into [...]

  • HBO Asia and Catchplay Team up

    HBO Asia and Catchplay Team up for ‘The World Between Us’

    Pan-regional pay-TV group HBO Asia and Taiwan-based streaming video company Catchplay are to jointly distribute Taiwanese crime drama “The World Between Us.” The 10-part series will air from March. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Lin Chun-Yang (“The Soul If Bread”) and written by the Lu Shih-Yuan (“Dear Ex”), “World” plunges into the aftermath of a mass [...]

  • BTF Media, Vince Gerardis Pact Sign

    NATPE: BTF Media, Vince Gerardis Pact for Six Projects (EXCLUSIVE)

    MIAMI — BTF Media, producer of breakout series “Hasta Que te Conocí” and “El Secreto de Selena,” is teaming with Vince Gerardis, a co-executive producer with George Martin on “Game of Thrones,” on a six-project co-production alliance. Spearheaded at BTF Media by founder-partner Ricardo Coeto, the agreement takes in the development and co-production of the [...]

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content