Penny Dreadful, episode 1 on 5/11/2014 – reviewed by George

Of course I was tempted; who could not be? Tempted to be snarky and say something like, “It’s not every television show that includes its review in its title.”

But the thing is, while the first episode starts somewhat slowly, it becomes rather wonderful. We begin at a Wild West Show outside Victorian London where Josh Hartnett is Evan Chandler, a sharp-shootin’ crowd pleaser. He is being closely watched by Eva Green, who plays woman-of-mystery Vanessa Ives. She needs a man who is good with a gun and invites him to join her later that night. When he joins Vanessa, she is accompanied by Timothy Dalton as the explorer Sir Malcolm Murray. They travel to an underworld of opium and degradation, where Josh shoots a shirtless snarler with strangely pointed teeth (and some other guys too). Later he learns that Murray’s daughter Mina is missing and that she is what they are looking for in this hidden, sordid piece of the great city.

Other characters include a strange Egyptologist who analyses photographs of tattoos for our three adventurers (“Trust me. Those Egyptians were a bit madcap when it came to specifics. It’s all very metaphoric.”) and an anatomist from Murray’s club who is unhelpful, but after all he has his own work to do, involving revivification by electricity. The first real suspense comes when the doctor’s work is seen. He is trying his process on a body lying on a raised bed, and when a thunderstorm knocks out his electrical source, he moves to the generator, squatting by it with the body behind him. The electricity keeps failing, so several times the camera follows him down to work on the generator and each time as he rises I expected the body to be sitting up in bed. The payoff was the body missing, and I liked it even more because it was unexpected. Next the body approaches its reviver, and a real sense of wonder spreads over both faces as the body touches the other’s face, and the doctor introduces himself to his new friend (or maybe fiend).

The fight with the vampires under the opium den might have been more suspenseful, but in the current style of scary programming there is so little light that following the action becomes very difficult. I usually leave the captioning on in case one of the actors has not learned to enunciate, but here the captions are not “English”, but “English for the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing”. This normally means that you get captions that say things like “ominous music”, or “doorbell rings”. But in this case you get information that the regular audience does not. I saw “blood drips” and “footsteps squelch through entrails”. I bet that makes you want to turn on your captions, huh?

I could tell more, but I don’t like spoilers, so I definitely will not spoil anything for you (I really don’t think I have so far, having said less than most of the publicity pieces). In short, the vampires look great, the Victorian world seems both real and threatening, the writing is actually good, and it is obvious that a lot of imagination went into this show. I will be watching all of this first season.

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