Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Penny Dreadful

Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Sundays at 10:00 PM on Showtime

Penny Dreadful is sort of a new spin on a standard Showtime milieu.  At first glance, the show seems akin to their pulpy period pieces like The Borgias and The Tudors.  That is, until a woman gets pulled through a window by an invisible force in the first five minutes.  As the name implies, the show takes after "penny dreadfuls," sensational books that were made popular in 19th century Britain.  But for being inspired by pulp novels, creator John Logan infuses the show with a kind of seriousness that you don't find in many shows about monsters and various other things that go bump in the night.  The pilot is wonderfully atmospheric, and uses its foggy mood as an obfuscation method, revealing so little about what's actually going on because it's too busy reveling in the scenery.  All of this makes it sound terrible, and it's true that some may find it slow, but at least in this first hour, it lays an interesting enough foundation to keep my attention.

Part of that comes from the people in front of and behind the camera.  The cast is filled with great actors -- Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton -- who infuse life into their characters.  On top of that, the pilot is one of the most technically impressive of the year.  Director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) delivers gorgeous visuals, filming dank castles and chilly exteriors with a hazy lens that adds to the atmosphere.  Shows like this live and die on the makeup and creature effects, and luckily, the monsters that pop up throughout the episode look high quality.  With an intriguing premise (that gets even more interesting in the chilling final scene), great visuals, and strong performances, Penny Dreadful is a surprise success.

Grade: B+


  1. I never got the chance to check this out; still haven't decided if I will, but it intrigues me that this has to deal with monsters, I never would have guessed that from what I saw with the marketing campaign/posters (which, as you stated, reminded me of a show like The Borgias or Tudors).

    1. I'd say wait a little while before you decide whether to watch it. The first season started to feel a little aimless and I'm not exactly sure where the show is going. Season two will be a real make-or-break season. I'll let you know if it's worth giving a shot.

    2. Okay, I have more than enough other shows to watch for now so I'll keep it in the back of my mind.