“Penny Dreadful” is often praised as a scary and literary horror/mystery mashup, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to watching. I assume most Express readers haven’t either. Last season, the weekly audience was around 600,000.
Season 3 has just begun (10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime) and the premium cable channel was nice enough to stream the premiere free online. So I figured, maybe it’s time to take a look. And it appears that things in 1892, when the show takes place, were even worse than in 2016.
At the center of the show is Vanessa Ives, played by the hauntingly beautiful Eva Green. Her London mansion mirrors her mopey mental state. Dirty dishes and cigarette butts are everywhere! Her Egyptologist friend Ferdinand Lyle, whose hairdo is a cross between Bob’s Big Boy and Donald Trump, urges her to see a “mental doctor” to deal with her demons — literally, since Satanic forces are haunting her.
That’s just one of many suspenseful plotlines in a show populated with original characters as well as the biggest names in horror. In the premiere episode, Dr. Jekyll visits his homoerotic homie Dr. Frankenstein, who’s turned to drugs because his reanimation experiments with his intended bride of Frankenstein aren’t going well. And the nosy secretary Renfield is captured by a gang of bloodsuckers whose leader introduces himself as … Dracula!
Like the cheap “Penny Dreadful” serial novels of the 1800s, the show is highly addictive. But there’s nothing low-rent about it. The dialogue is highbrow (when was the last time you heard the word “capaciously” on TV?). The cast is stellar, including Josh Hartnett as werewolfy Ethan Chandler and Patti LuPone as the tough-love “mental doc.” And the scenery is stunning, from moody London to the sun-drenched American Southwest. Plus there’s lots of dry wit: One snooty character says of the U.S. desertscape: “I’ve never seen so much nothing.”
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