'Penny Dreadful' Wraps a Confusing, Boring, Disappointing First Season

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'Penny Dreadful' Wraps a Confusing, Boring, Disappointing First Season

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | June 30, 2014 | Comments ()

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There’s certainly part of me that believes that I’m just dim, and there’s more layers to Penny Dreadful than meets the eye, and I’m just missing them. Typically, I am confident in my abilities to spot subtext, pick out the clues, and very often ascribe profundity where there is none. I’m very good at making mountains out of molehills, but all I can detect in Penny Dreadful are molehills. Tiny, boring, incoherent molehills. Peel back the layers in this show, and I’m afraid all you find is a rotten husk.

The concept, undoubtedly, is interesting: Mix together Dr. Frankenstein (and his monster), Dorian Grey, a werewolf, a Bram Stoker character (and her father), and Eva Green, playing a demon-possessed clairvoyant with some freaky sex tricks. Unfortunately, while the visuals and costumes were gorgeous all season long, the acting was top notch (particularly Eva Green), the increasingly scant action scenes were well executed (Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler was particularly good in them) and Eva Green’s hell-f*cking was fascinating to watch, the substance in Penny Dreadful never materialized. What felt at first like an impenetrable series that would reward viewers with for their patience turned out to a lot of ponderous pretension. The Emperor Eva Green Wears No Clothes.

Last night’s season finale ended almost precisely as anyone who has been watching the series all along might have predicted, save for the Mina Harker subplot. Namely, Dr. Frankenstein decided to use Brona Croft, as expected, as Caliban’s bride (though, the show threw in a last-minute red herring in Maude). And, as everyone has been guessing since the opening episode, a full-moon finally arrived and revealed Ethan Chandler to be a werewolf, although one who is very good with a gun and not so good with the witty retorts. The Dorian Grey subplot, meanwhile, was surprising only for the fact that nothing happened. Beyond the occasional orgy, the series has no idea what to do with that character.

Meanwhile, the main storyline — Sir Malcolm Murray’s search for his daughter in the netherworld — came to an unexpected pseudo-conclusion. After exploiting Vanessa Ives the entire series in order to get to his daughter, Murray abandoned that plan in the end, shot his daughter dead dead, and adopted Ives as his surrogate daughter, supposedly to atone for his ill-treatment of her.


To be fair, I found the events that transpired in the Grand Guignol theater in the end confusing, but that’s mostly because I wanted to read more into the situation than what existed. Malcolm killed what he thought to be the Master, only to discover that the Master was still out there controlling Mina, until Malcolm laid waste to his daughter, the very woman he spent the entire season trying to save.

Basically, instead of giving us resolution, Penny Dreadful simply set up next season for a revenge killing instead of the higher-stakes search and rescue mission. The capper, of course, was weak cliffhanger which wasn’t much of a cliffhanger at all: Vanessa was given an opportunity rid herself of the demon that makes her interesting to the series. Is that the open question that’s supposed to lure us back for season two, because I can already tell you now that she decides against it.

Maybe it’s not that I don’t get Penny Dreadful. Maybe there’s just nothing there to get?

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • shazza

    penny dreadful was the right name for it, it was awful, I didn't even watch the last two episodes, the amount of sex scenes in this show were ridiculous as was billie piper's attempt at a northern irish accent, I've never heard an irish accent like that before and I am irish

  • Missmooni

    I completely agree. There was a lot of potential but it was missing that certain something to pull it all together. I'll still give the second season a chance because I love the concept and the characters, but they're going to have to do better than this.

  • Penny-Dreadful=dreadful

    Worst show i have seen. Typical british directing. I mean they try to over complicate storyline - they think american cinema is too simple - the British hate things being simple and as a result you see it come in their film, they try too hard to make a simple story line into something more complicated

    The end result - much like London without sunshine pretty but boring as fukc

    Sorry started watching but after 5th episode i left - if you need sex and heads spinning like the exorcist to keep viewers + a "uncomplicated" but complicated story line - you aint seeing me again

    I doubt it will last more than 3 seasons - they scrap it half way through season 2 watch and see

  • omgnoway

    The only thing I didn't like was the awful Frankenstein monster story. I skipped it everytime I watched. Other than that, I enjoyed the show. Even Josh Hartnett didn't annoy me as much as I thought he would.

  • amicus124

    "What felt at first like an impenetrable series that would reward viewers with for their patience turned out to a lot of ponderous pretension"--Yes. This same sentence, by the way, exactly describes the massively overrated "True Detective."

  • hapl0

    I zoned out halfway watching this shit.

    This is what Josh Hartnett, the ac-tor, came out of hiding for?

    I did not expect True Blood to be better than this when I started watching.

  • "Vanessa was given an opportunity rid herself of the demon that makes her interesting to the series. Is that the open question that’s supposed to lure us back for season two,
    because I can already tell you now that she decides against it."

    Maybe she'll decide to go into business for herself as a sexorcist.

  • kinoumenthe

    For once, I agree with Dustin.

    I think the series was interesting and good until the last two episode, which were badly handled (especially the second to last), full of WTF shortcuts, characters decision that make literally NO SENSE, predictability, and impossibly long leading to nothing parts (the whole remake of the exorcist in ep 7, seriously ? if Ethan was able to make things right, why didn't he do that from the start ?… and that's just one of the many problems of that useless episode, pfhrr.)
    Could it be that the renewal of the series for a second season is the cause of this apparent loss of direction ? Or was the series entirely shot before that was announced ? Because this feels a lot like "what the hell are we going to do ?!" scripting panic to me.
    I really enjoyed it before these two last episodes though. I hope it's just a passing slump. I even got seriously amused by the "two degrees of shagging Dorian Gray" going on in the series (seriously, don't tell me that's not why he is in there :D).

  • ZombieMrsSmith

    I liked "Penny Dreadful" just fine. I don't think it tried to be anything other than entertaining and I liked that I didn't have to watch and re-watch any eps, just to make sure I didn't miss anything. I wasn't disappointed in the story, gossamer as it was, and the ending tied everything up nicely, just as I expected it to, and that was just fine. (Mr Smith couldn't get past the first episode, which is fine too.)

    As to Dorian Gray, I'm a particular fan of both the Oscar Wilde and Will Self versions of the story so I thought it nice to include the character, as he's totally era appropriate. He was cast well, and made a nice balance to Eva Green's lady hotness.

    Sometimes overhyping a show, or trying to see subtext and plot contrivances kind of ruins the ending, so to speak. "True Detective" is a perfect case in point. I'm pretty sure I would have loved that show much more if I had just watched it for what it was, and not gotten sucked into the suppositions and deep, dark, meaningfulness of every word spoken.

    As far as I'm concerned, it's OK to sometimes just watch a fun TV series and like it. Honestly, that's how most people do it.

  • John W

    I enjoyed it. A horror show that for once tried to be scary and didn't include some kind of love triangle.

  • e jerry powell

    Okay, not love polygon, but certainly several Venn diagrams of Victorian repressed sexual tension.

  • jthomas666

    I enjoyed the season, not so much for "subtext," but because of the pervasive mood--there was such a great underlying feeling of dread throughout. Yeah, a lot of things (the werewolf, Brona's fate) were over telegraphed, but since the performances made me care about the characters, I didn't mind. I even enjoyed the character arc of Caliban.

    The only major misstep for me was the presence of Dorian Gray--it's sad when you have to admit that a character in your monster mashup was so much more interesting in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (movie).

  • cranky_chick

    Yeah, they didn't really give him much to do, except bang nearly every other main character on the show.

    The first season had few ups and many downs, but there were some small moments which were great. That small scene between Caliban (Rory Kinnear) and Vincent (Alun Armstrong) was excellent and served to at least humanize the characters. It doesn't hurt when you've got two Olivier winning actors in the cast.

    I thought the storyline with Mina fizzled out pointlessly. Was Sir Malcolm's 'secret' the fact he was willing to do away with his child to save Vanessa or is it something else? It just felt very perfunctory.

  • psemophile

    the biggest flaw of the show is that whatever they did in eight hours of television could have been just as easily done in two and a half hours of film.

  • e jerry powell

    I'll heartily agree with that.

  • $108368108

    I quite enjoyed this first season. Yes it was a mess but other than the Frankenstein's monster bits I was never bored and all of the performances were great (especially Green who should get some kind of MVP award). Maybe a longer season would help (10 instead of 8) for a better narrative / story arc and character development.

    I'm in for series 2.

  • _Alexander_

    Do you have the slightest idea of how excite I was about Penny Dreadful? Eva Fucking Green, Billie Piper, Timothy Dalton. Mythical creatures. The potential is so amazing. This could have been the new Angel(but better because as much as I like David Boreanez Eva Green stomps him badly)

    Instead they turned it into pathetic soap opera that seems like it should be on goddamn ABC family

  • "Eva Green wears no clothes"


  • Repo

    Had I not actually sat through this dreck, I would have agreed with you. As I did, I can tell you this is a case where the juice is not worth the squeeze.

  • lowercase_ryan

    6 seasons and a movie

  • Honestly, had this been the tag for the show, I think we'd all have seen it.

  • dorquemada

    Totally called the bride of Frankenstein. As did everybody.

  • e jerry powell

    From the first time we saw Mimi Brona, really. The misdirect wasn't even a real misdirect, just a way to justify moving a character into a different location.

  • Repo

    Yeah, agreed. I've seen you get raked over the coals in the comment sections lately with people saying you are missing the great subtext and true narrative of the show. I call bullshit. This was just a poor season of tv. Great premise, garbage writing and poor execution.

  • e jerry powell

    I'm not raking; I like it, he doesn't. I have no love for Veronica Mars.
    There, we're even.

  • Lee

    Yep, the coal rakings surprised me too, coz practically everything happened exactly as predicted. The Mina situation was anti-climactic to say the least, and Sir Malcom's sudden turn around when he had just told Ives half an episode ago that he would sacrifice her to save his daughter.

    The Caliban subplot was boring as shit too.

  • Sean

    There was no subtext. No true narrative. All they had to do was bring the classic movie monsters together, and have fun. Throw in some in some sex. It wasn't that hard. And they still blew it.

  • Michael Murray

    I watched the first episode last night and it felt incredibly familiar, like something designed to sell trading cards, and don't think I'll be watching it again.

  • Sean

    Exactly right. They had no idea what they were doing. And they knew it. But letting Eva Green go WAY over the top crazy was a great idea. She was amazing and fun. Even if they clearly didn't feed her during the entire filming. She was so much fun. The rest of the show was dull, and poorly thought out. Characters and storylines disappearing for 2-3 shows at a time. Then Dorian Gray popping in and out for no reason other than the fact that they had the actor under contract and had to pay him anyway.

  • Irina

    Dorian Gray popping in and out, I see what you did there!
    Oh, but he is so very pretty.

  • e jerry powell

    And American.

  • ERM 275

    It was a British, showtime version of 'American Horror Story.' It started out with promise and then didn't go anywhere, with nudity and London.

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