Friday, May 9, 2014

Review: Penny Dreadful's Night Work

Recently, Showtime put their pilot of Penny Dreadful up on YouTube before it's series premiere (Of which, that's the link to the episode right above). I, being a newly re-instated television watcher, was glad to jump aboard a tv show on the Gothic and monsters. This League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque show is front-and-center about its creepy aesthetics, although it has a few problems trying to capitalize on those visuals.

The first half is stronger than the second. The script turns very dry when the show's focus on Ethan turns to Vanessa and Sir Malcolm. What makes Ethan works is that he's new to this world, and I, the viewer, am too. Vanessa and Sir Malcolm know what's going on, so they speak in cryptic sentences and never expound on what's going on. Not soon after, Ethan starts dealing with his deep dark secrets, yet these are hardly expounded upon outside of some short scenes.

The first half is great. We get straight to the underbelly of the city, where ghouls and creatures hide out. Our protagonists have a plan and a method to doing what they're doing, and the ride is fun. Something is always going on and it is either enthralling or grossing out the audience. After the first thirty minutes, things slow down, and fast.

Dark and mysterious glances are tiring without anything of substance propelling the plot forward. The show is atmospheric, yes, but after the first thirty-minutes, nothing really happens. Josh Hartnett broods about his deep dark secret. Vanessa speaks cryptically about deep dark secrets, then bores into your soul with her mysterious glances. Then Sir Malcom casts mysterious glances, and he talks in abstract horror, never telling specifics of what he's doing. Then Dr. Victor Frankenstein gives grandiose monologues on beauty of life and death, and then he says his name as the episode's final stinger. And the intrigue falls flat.

The biggest problem holding the pilot back is the script itself. It's weak, and does too little in 50 minutes, leaving me to pause and wonder how much time is left. While there is a nice reveal at the end of a monster, it is not as exciting as the den of vampires from the beginning. That's what I'm watching this show for, to see a group of people hunt horror icons. Fantastic acting across the board. Sure, there were some awkward lines and over-acting in scenes, yet no one stands out as especially cringeworthy. This is a case where the parts are doing their best to move a machine forward.

Penny Dreadful shows a ton of promise, and I'm a sucker for monsters and eerie sights. Genre shows like this seldom arrive and when they do, they end up being tongue-in-cheek cheese fests. Penny Dreadful takes itself seriously, perhaps a little too seriously, but it stands to bring the work in. I don't feel the need to sing many compliments, as the show has so many great aspects working in its favor on the surface. Dark, creepy, monsters, acting, camera-work. Take one look at the trailer and that should be the one hook that's needed to sit down on a Sunday night.