Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

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A glorious, gothic feast that ended far too soon. John Logan’s Penny Dreadful, immediately caught my attention when it first came out in 2014. Drawing inspiration from the 19th century cheap fiction called penny dreadfuls which were about sensational and lurid stories. Of course, it also bears a close resemblance to the 1999 comic series, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill which incorporated many fictional characters such as Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, the Invisible Man and other in the same world. Penny Dreadful accomplishes the same act by placing  characters from 19th-century British and Irish fiction, including Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray; Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Renfield, and Count Dracula from Bram Stoker‘s Dracula; Victor Frankenstein and his monster from Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein; and Dr. Henry Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the same narrative universe. However, Penny Dreadful, propelled by masterful writing and an amazing cast, succeeds in presenting a forbidding world where the supernatural infects the “real” world and throws its characters into tackling not only the danger brought by such creatures but also battling with their own inner demons.

It is a wonder that this show was even brought to life, for which I am extremely appreciative, but it was clear from the initial season that the show was not an easy sell and is likely to appeal only to a small percentage of the tv-watching public. Although the second season was, I presume, was more to the liking of many with its bucketful of blood and gore that should satisfy the macabre-inclined, its existential bent and a rather despondent tone was not going to make the show a ratings monster. The third and final season although providing a satisfactory conclusion to Vanessa Ives’s story (a role that appears tailor-made for Eva Green) left many of the other characters’ fates hanging. It is apparent that the low viewership and the cost of its lavish productions that the show could no longer continue. And yet despite the abrupt ending and lose ends, it is still one of the few shows that deserves to be remembered for years to come and is a testament to the writers and directors who insist that TV shows need not be mindless and superficial time wasters.

 

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