Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Penny Dreadful Pilot Review

Penny Dreadful Pilot Review

Oh Showtime…

First, I would like to forward an apology to everybody who loves this sort of shock-effect genre of horror – I am indeed including my own biases in this review and it will color it greatly. Just because I don’t wholly enjoy something doesn’t mean another person should feel bad for liking it. I’m just seeing so many shows like this of late become super popular and it’s irritating me.

Spoiler Warnings ahead, be warned if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens.


Penny Dreadful popped up on my Hulu account the other day and I was honestly super interested. I love the name ‘Penny Dreadful’ and was expecting something from the Victorian era, something witty, something well put together and humorous and full of action and suspense.

Well, I was partially right.

Instead I got…vampires. FUCKING VAMPIRES. AGAIN. Can we please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, put away the vampire genre for a good decade or so?

We begin with the confusing beginning of Random Victorian Chick who crawls out of bed and finds the outhouse only to be attacked by…something. The little girl who was sleeping next to her goes to find ‘mom’ (is this a historically accurate use of the word? I kind of don’t think so) and we last see her screaming as something swoops in to take her.

Better assemble the team.

We have Ms. Stoic who is a like a woman shaped carving made out of granite but filled with 90% snark.

The Cowboy who fucks random women because it’s Showtime and we need at least one uncomfortable sex scene. At least we have more peens than boob shots this time around. Equality on the rise, folks. Also more than slightly historically inaccurate; random proper Victorian women who sit in Wild West shows who appreciated your gun skills WOULD NOT hike up their skirts in the woods and be fucked against a wooden wagon. SO MUCH NOPE.

And we have Lord Kicks Ass and Takes Names whose daughter was the one taken, I guess. That plot point was a little murky because later it sounds like ‘Mina’ was a nearly grown woman, not the child from the beginning?

The three find a vampire den looking for said girl and stumble across a slaughter house. Seriously graphic, seriously disturbing, just plain GROSS. They fight a …vampire lord? Which goes down in a hail of bullets (I thought vampires wouldn’t be affected by bullets) but no girl.

Also in the slaughter house is Dr. Frankenstein, thereby hitting all the tropes of Monsterdom. We touch a little bit on where the vampires are coming from (also – hilarious kooky Egyptologist who says, ‘come back next week and I’ll tell you’) and a little bit on their backgrounds, Cowboy is wavering on whether or not to join the League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Ms. Stoic remains mysterious and snarky and Lord Kicks Ass is grizzled and troubled. We end the episode with IT’S ALLIIIVVEEE – Frankenstein brings the dead back to life.

The Good

For those who love gothic horror – fabulous! This is for you! We have dreary dark shots of Victorian London, slums, Opium dens and one grotesquely graphic fight with a pile of corpses – including that of mutilated children! Joy!

Ms. Stoic communes with spiders (I honestly expected her to either eat it or have it give tiny voiced commands for her to burn things)

For those of you who love vampires and can’t get enough of them, wonderful! We have a vampire show with a new twist – they can apparently be killed by bullets. There are some wonderful costume designs and strange and wonderful characters.

Dr. Frankenstein is hell bent on crossing the line between life and death, at any cost. The Cowboy has a mysterious past, Ms. Stoic is hard as stone and snarky and I have to admit – I love this Egyptologist guy.

The Bad

Did this show mean to rip off a bunch of other ideas? Was it on purpose for this to be like a prelude to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Because really: Precocious Victorian Woman, Mad Scientist, Grizzled Old Man Leader, Sharpshooter Cowboy – uh, I’ve already watched the movie and it was better than this show.

Not to mention VAMPIRES!!!!!?? Vampires – DONE TO DEATH (pun intended).

I was SO looking forward to something fresh that it just adds to my extreme disappointment in this show. There is nothing new here; there is a PLETHORA of shows just like this. Off the top of my head, The Tudors, Game of Thrones, Dracula, Carnival. – I mean, COME ON.

I could have watched The Mummy and Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lincoln, Vampire Hunter back to back and have spent my time better. The story was a poorly rehashed version of everything I’ve named.

The Problem With Modern Horror

I am seeing a recurring pattern with modern story telling that is becoming to be a bad habit and Penny Dreadful falls under it.

It’s called Sledgehammer Horror.

There is no subtlety to this show, there is no delicate, delicious psychological horror that makes horror so fascinating without actually showing graphic details (The Monkeys Paw, The Tell Tale Heart, The Bell Witch – classics that remain classics for a reason), once upon a time those genius horror writers knew that if you only nudged the mind in that direction the imagination could do a far better job at terrifying you than any description of bloody bodies could.

This show, like many of the others I’ve named previously, go above and beyond to grind your face in absolute shock-value grossness. LOOOK, DEAD BABY!!!! DIDN’T LIKE THAT – LOOOOK, MUTILATED GIRL CHILD!!!! LOOOOK HORROR, HORROR!!!

Seriously, it’s almost degrading, almost insulting that the writers feel as though it’s not enough to guide the audience to horror; they have to spoon feed you absolute revulsion just so you REALLY, REALLY GET IT.

Even the glimpse of a bloodied child’s hand in a dark corner, barely discernible would have been better than the *SMACK* DEEEAAAD BAAABIIIIEESS *SMACK* LOOOOOKK, IT’S HORRIBLE!!! schtick they got going on in Penny Dreadful.

I will not be watching any more of this show. I will not be subscribing to Showtime because that subtle SUSCRIBE TO SHOWTIME TODAY!! Flashing at the bottom of my screen did not fill my heart with a warm desire for cable boobies and gore.

There, I’ve watched it, reviewed it, so you don’t have to. Sound like something you would be interested in? Go at em’

However, I, for one, kind of wish I could get those fifty minutes of my life back.


  1. And yet you keep watching The 100!

    Guess I missed the splatter-er episodes of Carnivale-- I liked the parts of that show that I watched. Admittedly I never got around to seeing the whole thing in order.

  2. Are you kidding? I'll take the 100 over Dreadful any day. At least there is SOME redeeming qualities to the 100. Penny Dreadful was just...uuuggh. Too gross, too little plot, just lots of vampire/shock effects.