July 1, 2015 Log No. 277

Penny Dreadful(s)

Penny Dreadful promo poster

Eva Green as the mysterious Ms. Ives

I’ve been fairly faithfully following the new Showtime series (well somewhat new, now into its second season) Penny Dreadful. And it has a really spectacular cast of actors–Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, and even the relatively less known names have done very well–and great production value and set direction…but somehow it just seems to lack the magic stuff.

But a bit of background: the show is named Penny Dreadful after really cheap, mass-produced fictional serials of the 1800s, often written about extraordinary subject matter intended to elicit illicit (ha) thrills. Wiki summarizes them as such:

A pejorative term used to refer to cheap popular serial literature produced during the nineteenth century. The term is roughly interchangeable with penny horrible, penny awful,[1] and penny blood[2] The term typically referred to a story published in weekly parts, each costing one (old) penny. The subject matter of these stories was typically sensational, focusing on the exploits of detectives, criminals, or supernatural entities.

So you can imagine. By definition it’s supposed to be pretty heart-pounding stuff, but also a serial, so kinda drags on for a bit. Well the show definitely is faithful in that regard: it drags on. It just never seems to pick up the momentum you would think a high-production-value series like this would need–it operates in fits and starts. You’ll get a great, high tension scene mixed in with a lot of angsty soliloquies and waxing poetic. Eventually you stop caring about the characters because they always are lamenting their (rather static) fates and not actually doing anything about it.

And on the characters, it’s not just their inaction that bothers me, but their one-dimensionality so far. It’s like a perfect cast of imperiously imperious women and chivalrously chivalrous white knights. Even with the highly skilled actors portraying them, it just falls flat–as if they’re really cardboard cutouts of people, not real. Only a few roles on the show come across as multi-layered and three dimensional (Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray maybe after the last episode, finally), but a handful of fleshed out characters can’t carry an ensemble cast. How has a show managed to make me dislike Eva Green?!

But yes, the production value is amazing; the environments and costumes at least continue to be top-notch. And the season finale is this week so I may as well stick it through to the end of season 2. It just…is unfortunate that this great premise has such glaring flaws. Maybe I’ll find myself corrected on Sunday.

…But probably not.

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