There’s a reason Television is doing so much better than films in terms of storytelling, characters, invention and daring. Television has to. Films come and go in a matter of hours. You go in never knowing what to expect, you pay ghastly prices on an unknown quantity and some banker checks you off his list, laughing at your naivety. Television on the other hand needs to entice you back every week. For at least six weeks. Penny Dreadful is asking for eight.
Penny Dreadful is a Showtime program. If I need to explain why this puts the weight of expectation on the show, you need to catch up on a decades worth of some of the best television this century. Dexter, Weeds, (the first series of) Homeland; but Penny Dreadful’s closest relative is the HBO show True Blood.
It certainly starts off like a HBO show, within the first five minutes someone dies horribly and some nameless girl is bent over a haystack getting ploughed like a potato field. But it takes more than shagging and slaughter for a series to make me want to tune in next week. It does now at least.
Penny Dreadful does not make a promising start. The mysterious, unexplained flashback has been done before and better. The program doesn’t even think much of its own mystery, so obvious does it make its answer. The standard sex scene in “adult” programming is by now getting as tiresome as it is compulsory. It shows its hand way too quickly with an unconvincing version of a clichéd monster. Worst of all though is our protagonist and cipher, a grizzled, blank slate of a beardy with – urghhh – daddy issues. The prospect of him playing around with Eva Green as they flirtatiously talk in riddles, prolonging pointless mysteries we already know the answers to, seems like an exercise in utter tedium. Also does the main character in a predominantly British series have to be American. Can’t we all save ourselves from evil without having to hold their hands?
Yet, it won me over. Once the first forty-five minutes went by the program got back to what TV does best. Fantastic dialogue, memorable characters, compelling conversation, gripping plot twists and masterful pacing. They were all here, we just needed to get the exposition out of the way.
I expect a cleaner start next time.