DVD Review: PENNY DREADFUL, Season One

penny-dreadful-season-1-dvd-cover-11In a time full of excellent Television programming, it would be quite easy to get engulfed in the flames of Hannibal, True Detective and various other top notch shows, and accidentally fail to catch another show completely filled to the brim with excellent writing, acting and some of the most gorgeous set pieces around. Luckily, thanks to technology, DVD and Bluray allows us, the silly souls who missed out on the greatness that was season one of the John Logan/Sam Mendes Showtime show, Penny Dreadful, the chance to rectify that mistake, and hell yes, missing what was in my opinion one of the impressive debut seasons of a new TV shows, was just that: one large mistake.

Right now, the idea of “reinventing” classic, beloved characters is in somewhat of a boom or craze, and for every well written fresh new take on a character we love (i.e-Hannibal Lecter), one that is reinvented in ways that rival previous interpretations, we get the flip-side, such as Bates Motel‘s Normal Bates being chased by pot farmers and getting laid more than I did at that age (and unlike Norman Bates, I was a cool cat). The idea of taking artistic liberty with previously adored characters is gamble, akin to juggling chainsaws. It might sound like a good idea, but guys…ya might end up severing something once attatched to you: a fanbase. Where Penny Dreadful comes into that silly analogy is simple: it does what those who adore classic characters should hope to do: reinvent them in ways that make them completely fresh, exciting and thoroughly addicting again. Not only does it do THAT, but it does it to multiple characters, taking Victorian-filled literary classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and well..some others, and weaving them into one seamless, very coherent and vibrant TV show that to be quite honest,..brings the romanticism and sexuality back into them in ways that have been lacking in said stories and characters for years now.

Revolving around Sir Malcolm Murray (former James Bond, Timothy Dalton), an exploring hellbent on finding his daughter, who has been taken by some form of a creature that early on in the show, we realize is a vampire and that Malcolm’s daughter is none other than Mina Harker, taken right from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Malcolm is a man possessed by regret and on a quest that he will do anything to follow through with. Joining him on his journey is Vanessa Ives (a game-changing Eva Green, THE DREAMERS), a mysterious woman who was once childhood friends with Mina, and who like Malcolm, is possessed, but in a more literal way. The most devilish and evil spirits reside within Vanessa and when they show their faces, it gets intense to say the least. Wanting to put together a team to go after whatever has control of Mina, Malcolm and Vanessa enlist a team of various characters, including Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), an american marksman who actually doesn’t prefer violence and is enthralled with Irish prostitute (who is dying from consumption) Brona Croft (Doctor Who‘s Billie Piper), and a young doctor named Victor (as in Frankenstein), who acts as a consultant and colleague but is also preoccupied with his own issues.

Also a major player in Penny Dreadful, is Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, the Broadway musical, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK), an overly-confident but completely interesting character who is able to turn the charm on with well,..everyone, despite his own loneliness. The way the group comes together and also into contact with Gray is nothing short of great character development and writing, as every single detail of the show’s plot is careful constructed, with every single action having a big effect later on. Every character has the mission in front of them, and while all doing their best to work together to see it through, are all hiding their own dark secrets and fighting their own demons. Unlike a lot of shows where there might be a couple weak characters in the middle of other great ones, Penny Dreadful‘s cast of characters never fall into that, as every single one of them is so well written and portrayed, that it’s almost impossible to choose which one is your favorite.

The first episode is somewhat of an introduction, but episode two is where the true tone and mood of the series REALLY hits, when Malcolm and Vanessa attend a party thrown by the eccentric Ferdinand Lyle, and in the middle of a seance, Vanessa’s demons possess her, causing her to become somewhat of a monster of a demonically possessed woman, cursing Malcolm and bringing his regrets right in front of him. From that moment in the show on, you as a viewer realize that Penny Dreadful means business. Green’s portrayal of Vanessa is not just great but utterly and completely breathtaking, a frightening portrayal that steps back from the typical “possessed and bending backwards” angle we’re always subjected to these days, no, instead, we’re given a genuinely SCARY character. When she’s possessed, all bets are off, and the things that come out of her mouth, are words of pure hatred and malice. If there IS a standout in the cast (and every single cast member is on top of their game), it’s Green, as she just brings a realness and shock to the role, creeping you out in ways nothing has since the first time you saw THE EXORCIST.

Through the various episodes, we’re shown that Victor IS indeed Victor Frankenstein and has not only created one monster but two, the first of which returns with hatred, insisting that Frankenstein create a mate for him, and making good on the promise that he will destroy Victor’s life until he does so. We’re shown that not only is Penny Dreadful a show about demons and regrets, it’s also a show about not giving up. Every single character has something in front of them, a life challenge of sorts, that they must overcome and see till the end. With Malcolm, it’s finding Mina and destroying the beast that has her captured and coming to terms with his past failures; Vanessa is challenged with such a monumentally epic task of confronting the pure evil that lives inside of her, an evil that gets unleashed when she becomes enamored with the seductive Dorian Gray; With Ethan, it’s not giving up on Brona Croft, whose condition worsens and worsens throughout the season, but his love for her and his dedication to her is unwavering. It’s so very impressive how far Hartnett has come since the messed up hair, bratty HALLOWEEN: H20/THE FACULTY days, as he confidently holds his own, and is SO DAMNED good in the show. There’s a quietness to his character, but that quietness has a ticking bomb feeling to it, and it’s so much fun to see that play out throughout the season.

With every character’s demons and secrets revealed by the season’s finale’, every one of them ends up dealing with said demons, leading up to one impressive ending, one that with so many revelations having happened throughout the season, seems as grand as the Grand Guignol theater it takes place in. How every character deals with and is affected by those revelations in season two is something to look forward to, as Penny Dreadful‘s first season is one to completely in love with, it’s well..wonderful.

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