As I have made obvious on multiple occasions, I’m a librarian with a background in English Writing/Literature, which means I’ve read my fair share of “classics” in the past. My wife, on the other hand, has a master’s degree in Victorian Studies, and has read even more of the literature from that time.
It was a no-brainer that once Penny Dreadful was completely released on Netflix, we’d be watching it. Thankfully, the last season came out after we got the living room finished, so we decided to take a few nights off and get to watching it.
Penny Dreadful is your quintessential Victorian-age horror, even down to the name. It takes a number of popular characters from Victorian literature (Dorian Grey, Victon Frankenstein, and Dracula, to name a few) with some new faces and lets them loose in a world populated by creatures of the night.
==What You Get==
You get exactly what is described: you follow a band of people, some more closely knit than others, as they tackle a variety of issues, mostly revolving around their own personal sins and various monsters.
Out of the gate, Penny Dreadful is top notch with cast selection. Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Billy Piper, and Harry Treadaway are some of the primary names people would recognize, and they did an amazing job portraying their characters.
Production quality, overall, was also great. Costumes were accurate (a point my wife frequently pointed out), the technology used was fitting, and the CGI usage was mostly practical and not as easy to spot (but there were some glaringly obvious moments).
One of my favorite parts of this series was based around the frequent nods to pop-culture of the classical horror variety. Obviously, we see a number of names that are pulled from Victorian-era literature (Dorian Grey, Victor Frankenstein, Mina Murray, etc), while others were more like Easter eggs (such as the werewolf being named after the werewolf of the original Wolf Man film; no, I won’t spoil it here).
Another part was the story. It had the nice blend of dark and moody, with the feelings of desperate horror and gothic design that really make the show stand out. Everything had a reason behind it, whether the vampires or the other denizens of the night, and for the most part everything meshed together in some way.
As much as I loved the story elements, there were three major issues.
First, the story had too many loose ends by the time it ended. There was just too much hanging in the balance, as villainous characters just vanished offscreen at set parts and some heroes just left things open in such a way you aren’t sure what will happen.
Second, the story was a bit stilted. In some ways, they tried too hard to tie too many things together. At first, it wasn’t so bad; Dorian was a gateway for multiple characters from different castes and social circles to meet (completely fitting), but then he just became this side character to promote a side storyline that had little to do with the main arc. In fact, about a third of the characters we have show promise early on to promote something (such as Frankenstein’s creations), and then either fade away or have their own side stories that have no influence on the events at hand.
Finally, they were really trying to just throw in too many characters, and didn’t give them enough screentime. For example, in Season 3, we meet a badass Thanatologist and expert swordswoman who offers some advice, vanishes for a few episodes, then comes back for the fight; no backstory, just badassery at the level of Black Widow. We have characters that show up and seem important only to be killed at a set time (which is how most of the characters leave, honestly), and others (like Jekyll) that have all of this promise and no background story worthwhile. This part irked me the most; you have original characters that should have gotten more love, and you have classic characters with plenty of details to work with and modify (like others were changed), yet they were neglected.
The series itself also suffers the issue of paid channels: sex and blood. I’m not saying either of these are inherently bad per se, but when three characters have a “baptismal” by blood and then proceed to have a romp, or when you have gallons of blood poured in a room in which two people were killed (one adult, one kid, quick kills), it’s just not that appealing.
In my personal opinion, it’s tough to rate the entirety of Penny Dreadful. As a whole, it leaves my book with 2.5 buns.
The series starts off solid, and could have technically ended at the end of the first season (albeit with a handful of loose ends), but it began to tank rather quickly afterward. The acting quality remained solid, but by the end, it felt as though they were trying to rush it a close even as they introduced new characters.
I mean, really, Season 2 was just a “We’ll flesh things out and progress the story this way” while Season 3 felt like “Shit, we have another season and we need to end it. What doing? How do story? What r werds?”
Okay, not so much that last part, but you get the picture.It really did detract from our enjoyment, and the ending really killed our desire to add it to our collection.
If you enjoy Victorian period-dramas with supernatural elements, clean action sequences, and don’t mind an overabundance of sex and blood, pick up Penny Dreadful. It may get bad marks in my book, but there’s a number of redeeming qualities there, especially if you enjoyed tabletop RPGs like Deadlands and Rippers.
Penny Dreadful is available via Netflix, Amazon/Showtime, and will have the final season available on Blu-ray on October 4th.
I’m still in the air regarding what I’ll be reviewing next. Currently, I’m working on getting parts of the house rewired so I can get the shop running and be able to hook up my computer so I can properly game in the near future (really hoping to have it done before November 11th for Dishonored 2). I’m also trying to get my online gaming group back together, while also seeking a local gaming group to meet with and really play with the mechanics of 7th Sea.
Stay tuned and keep an eye out for posts. They may not be as on-schedule, but expect some new content from me soon!