Horror has always been one of the cornerstones of the thrilling world of cinematic storytelling. Sneaking down into the den late at night to catch the latest monster movie to grace the family’s little 19” television screen became a staple for kids of my time. The next day at school we’d share our favorite scenes fromwhatever flick we’d seen the night before and what nightmares it’d given us afterward.
In 2015, that staple is still going strong with Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, gothic fright fest that recently started its second season just a few weeks ago. Drawing upon a bevy of characters from 19th-century Irish and British fiction, Penny Dreadful graced the screens of 2014 with its first season and became an almost hit classic of our generation winning a number of accolades including Best TV Actress of 2014 for Eva Green and the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Most Exciting New Series.
So what’s the show about? At its very core, Penny Dreadful is about exploring what it means to be human. The showrunner, John Logan (Hugo, Skyfall, Gladiator) weaves together the classic origin stories of these famed monsters while exploring tones that people grapple with on a daily basis. “I started thinking about themes and why almost 200 years after [Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein] was written, we’re still reading Frankenstein,” Logan said. “I think it’s because the monsters break my heart. Growing up as a gay man before it was socially acceptable, I knew what it was to feel different, alienated and not like everyone else.” Logan noted that he drew inspiration from those old monster mash flicks of the 1940s that mixed and matched characters such as the Wolfman and Frankenstein. “I wondered if there was a way to do that now and take these characters seriously,” he said of the show’s genesis.
The show is set in 1891, Logan says, not simply because of the dark visual appeal of the gothic horror setting, but because the Victorian era is very much like our modern times. The world was on the cusp of becoming modern with the show’s characters asking themselves the very genuine question of what it means to be human despite having all these monstrous qualities and inner demons. But what makes the show stand out is the storytelling approach wherein people deliver entire conversations full of compelling foreshadowing and then move right along as if it was nothing more than barroom banter. It really adds depth to this world of gothic horror. Then you have the ensemble which plays host to familiar names like Frankenstein (Rory Kinnear) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) alongside original characters such as Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). Because of this exceptional ensemble, every scene of the show hums with chemistry so perfect that it’d make even Walter White envious.
If you’ve been keeping up with the show and it keeps to the 10-episode format of its first season, you can look forward to crossing the halfway point of the second season tonight. If you are new to the series, I promise that it brings all the dread, suspense, and mystery we’ve been lacking for quite some time. Penny Dreadful is a disturbing little walk on the dark side and if you’ve been looking for something to rekindle those nightmares you had as a child and pique your paranoia, this show is a guaranteed must-watch. Just do it with the lights on.