Penny Dreadful. More like Penny Awesome. Oh my, that’s clever. It would appear cable television (in this case Showtime) has once again come up with a series that smacks of quality and authenticity. The show takes place in Victorian London and features a cast of characters who meddle in the forces of the unseen, monsters under the bed, and the mysteries of the world that science has not yet been able to explain–vampires and reanimated corpses who are not cartoonish but ugly, fast, and scary. I won’t go into a plot summary, but the show brings together characters steeped in myth and legend, some of whom originate in the foundational monster narratives of the nineteenth century.
What is the selling point, along with an interesting story and competent writing, is the set design, costumes, and casting. Victorian London is a dirty, industrial, dimly lit city that is home to Christians and occultists, and scientific discovery seems always on the cusp of realization. The exteriors of buildings are smudged with smoke and grit, the interiors are dimly lit, wood paneled, and roughly plastered, and look cold and foreboding. Living in one of these structures would likely give me the heebee jeebees morning, noon, and night.
And though the cast may be bordering on the pretty, the show does a credible job of uglying some of them up. Not on the scale of, say, the rebooted Masterpiece Theatre, where, for instance, the senior homicide detective is not a sexy ex-stripper who looks as though she spends hours a day in the gym but rather is someone middle aged, paunchy, with hair that is struggling, skin that is sallow, and clothes that are an afterthought. But I’m willing to overlook Penny Dreadful‘s cast of the nearly pretty and appreciate the effort that has gone into set design and costuming. And all the supporting cast looks as though they smell, bad, which is good.
There were a few moments of genuine creepiness and scary episodes. A scene where the female protagonist is praying fervently to a cross on a bare wall would have been creepy on its own (a pale-skinned, dark-haired woman praying on her knees in a long dress is always creepy, and if you wish to get your fill of this–and who doesn’t?–watch the show The White Queen), but something else happens which is just a little creepier, so this gives me hope that the show may be worth sticking with. But Sunday nights are really getting crammed so I hope that if anything new comes along, the powers that be find a different night to air.