Penny Dreadful the TV series is an 8-part continuous drama made by Showtime set in 19th century London that utilises various fictional characters of the period all together in a single common narrative. It is unashamedly a horror show and strays up to the limits of what can be shown in a TV series. The period London setting allows it is a wide canvas to play with.
The title comes from the Penny Dreadful; this was the name given to the cheap disposable British publications from the 19th century that were continued to be published under various guises until the early half of the 20th century. Inside there would be serialised adaptions of sensational or lurid stories. These journals were aimed at the lower classes (usually adolescent boys) and each would cost a penny or less.
Some notable stories we know today originate from these periodicals; Sweeney Tod being the most well-known but other characters owe their start to the Penny dreadful such as Sexton Blake.
Since a wide variety of stories (particularly of the fantastical and gruesome variety) are synonymous with the name it is quite surprising that it hadn’t been used before.
Now this is going to be spoiler free review. When I watched this I was only peripherally aware of the shows premise which did make for a better experience so I have no wish to spoil it for others.
I had been aware of this series for a while (it was made in Ireland and features a very accomplished UK cast) and every so often a preview image would float past on my news feed so it was with delight that I was able to catch the first episode. The easy route is to say what this show is like the X-Files crossed with’ the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. As a description I think that that is fairly good but with the emphasis being more on the League than the ‘X’ Files.
The first episode manages the feat of getting many principle characters up and in play very quickly with each new addition getting a decent share of the spotlight. In fact they get more than you would think possible within the allotted running time. Various backstory elements are floated to tease the audience and also help to make the characters become more interesting.
Now this isn’t a spoiler but those who have ready Volume 1 and 2 of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will find this show very much to their liking. As I was watching I started to mentally allocate characters to their league equivalent and since the likelihood that there will never be another League film than this is a worthy substitute.
As I write this only the first episode has been aired in the US but hopefully the remaining 7 episodes will maintain the momentum.
Penny Dreadful will begin on Sky Atlantic on the 20th May at 9pm