One of the great things about this new Golden Age of television drama is the advent of cable, which means lots and lots and lots of cool niche programming that doesn’t need network-sized audience numbers to succeed – and that’s willing and eager to take chances, be different.
Enter Penny Dreadful …
This fascinating drama is the brainchild of American writer John Logan, whose credits include Gladiator and Skyfall. It’s co-executive produced by British director/producer Sam Mendes, whose credits include American Beauty, Skyfall and The Hollow Crown Shakespeare cycle. These guys have great pedigrees, they’re working with a great cast and production team, and the result is some seriously great supernatural drama.
Simply put, the writing on Penny Dreadful is delicious. Logan is responsible for all of it, a gamble which in the tv game either pays off or fails terribly. But phew, no burnout here. There’s a continuity of excellence that is deeply pleasing, and a willingness to display a love of language, of wordplay, that makes no apologies and is celebrated by the cast in their wonderful performances.
Penny Dreadful is a mashup. It takes a host of famous literary characters (like Dracula, Dr Frankenstein, his monster, and Dorian Grey) and melds them with an original cast to showcase a dark and seedy Victorian England where the things that go bump in the night aren’t imaginary – and the sins of the past are paid for in the present.
It’s a great cast, with Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear and Josh Brolin doing sterling work, along with some less recognisable faces. Mesmerising. But for me the astonishing standout is Eva Green. She is truly extraordinary, especially in the seance episode. I think I stopped breathing, full stop. And in the possession episode. Wow. Just … wow.
Like much of the really great tv dramas right now, Penny Dreadful is a short but just right 8 episodes in length. Basically it’s a novella on tv, and the format is perfect. Longer does not automatically mean better. (Sleepy Hollow, I’m looking at you!)
If you love great writing and acting, supernatural/horror themes, Victoriana and an engrossing story, Penny Dreadful might well be right down your cobblestoned, gaslight, creepy alley. It’s out now on dvd (with lots of cool extras) so you can do a great binge-watch on a weekend!