Penny Dreadful

By Fleur Clarke

Posted on May 28, 2014 in Television with tags Penny Dreadful, Review, Televisino, Television

In Penny Dreadful’s title sequence, blood pours into an overflowing tea cup in slow motion. A fitting symbol for what this series sets out to be: hot on the coat tails of stomach churning yet stylish horror series such as Hannibal and American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful takes familiar horror tropes and characters for a spin in Victorian London with all the pomp and production value that American cable television allows.

The main character is himself a displaced American, a sideshow gunslinger who, after being recruited to gun down some child abducting vampires, finds himself cast into a dark underworld full of stiff upper lips, black lace and opium dens. A cast of Victorian Gothic superstars assemble: Dorian Gray, Mina Harker and Frankenstein all appear in the first three episodes, and Dracula and Van Helsing are sure to follow.

penny dreadful 1

Despite its cast of hell raisers, Penny Dreadful proceeds at a funereal pace, fleshing out its characters’ back stories and setting the scene rather than high-tailing it after vampires. In episode three it departs almost entirely from the main plot to tell us the backstory of little-known scientist Victor Frankenstein. Queue lots of talk about morality, and also some  Wordsworth.

For me, Penny Dreadful is just a little too sombre and high-minded for a horror mash-up. I can’t help but hold it up against American Horror Story which, like Penny Dreadful, piles up the horror tropes but, unlike Penny Dreadful, gleefully uses and abuses them for its own means. American Horror Story is often crass and tasteless, but it’s not afraid to get down and dirty with the genre it’s pastiching, whereas Penny Dreadful seems to set itself above it. At times it descends into awkward melodrama, without any wit to balance it out. The original penny dreadfuls of 19th century Britain were lurid and sleazy, but Penny Dreadful adopts a mannered Britishness that doesn’t really fit.

 

 

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