Penny Dreadful review: A unique but twisted premiere

A show that proposes we all have a dark, secretive side, Penny Dreadful may turn out to be just the dark drama TV needs. Maybe.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t just judge a television show by its pilot. Penny Dreadful didn’t blow me away by any stretch, but I could see the potential within the story. I think it deserves at least another chance, though Episode 2 had better sell me.

There is no doubt Penny Dreadful is bold. It’s strange and unexpected with its dark twist on the ever-so-popular supernatural storyline, especially within television. It’s visually stunning, as we see so commonly on the small screen these days. The aesthetics would easily fit well within a big budget picture. Plus, I love seeing Josh Hartnett on screen again. I almost forgot how charming he is on camera. It’s easy to fall in love with this pilot, if only to want to see more of him.

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The premise of this show is a much more R-rated version of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Slightly cliché, Hartnett’s character Ethan is a used-to-be-rich performer, who’s too good with a gun for his own good. Because of his talent for aiming, he catches the poised and mysterious Vanessa’s (Eva Green) attention. She is helping a gentleman by the name of Sir Malcolm find his daughter. There are a lot of vague references and sly instructions, which hope to create a mystery around the show. But as an educated viewer, we already know what’s coming: They’re not searching for a runaway or kidnappers after ransom. No, Sir Malcolm’s daughter has fallen victim to the supernatural underworld. Hartnett’s character may not know what’s coming, but we do and for that reason a lot of the “let me pull you deeper into my world against your better judgment” stuff feels cliché. Now that we’re past all of that though, and Hartnett is going to join the gang, the story just might liven up. We have hope.

The show tried a little too hard to be gritty and intelligent, though it did ultimately succeed in both departments. Green as Vanessa is the female Sherlock with more of a flair for the supernatural, but a lot of the dialogue went for witty. She does the “I’m sizing up every detail of you so I know exactly who you are even though you think I don’t” thing. Like noticing a cut on Ethan’s hand that she correctly guesses is courtesy of a disgruntled spouse. She also guesses by his fancy watch that he came from wealth.

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I did like the underlying darkness of the show. A big theme seems to be the idea that “we all have our curses, don’t we?” Plus, this pilot definitely made me jump a few times in perfectly-timed terror. And Vanessa and Sir Malcolm still have a lot of secrets to come that keep us intrigued. For example, the way the birds got so freaked out when Vanessa got too close. Also, how light on her feet she is, even to the most keen of ears.

Most importantly, the emotion in that last scene with Dr. Victor Frankenstein made me feel so many conflicting things. It was weirdly beautifully, unnervingly heart wrenching and I almost just want them to base the whole show around that moment, that I’ll watch anything with the hope of something that brilliant emerging again.

So is it worth the watch? I’m going to say yes, while silently hoping the next few episodes don’t prove me wrong. The secrets coming could be interesting enough to pull us into that dark underworld with Vanessa, Ethan, Sir Malcolm and Victor. Penny Dreadful has the makings of something different in the television world as far as story, but let’s hope the characters don’t fall into exaggerated clichés.

What did you think of the Penny Dreadful premiere? Will you be watching Episode 2?


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