PENNY DREADFUL [Series Premiere Review]: Quite the ‘Bond’ing Experience!
Although Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery don’t have roles in Showtime’s new scare-series Penny Dreadful (however rad that would be!), there’s quite a band of Bond vets that take precedent here…
Former 007 himself, Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, License to Kill), plays the progressively anguished Sir Malcom Murray, only to be outdone by former Bondgirl-turned-unstably stable spiritualist, Eva Green. One part recruiter, other part explorer, Dalton chews up much of the London scenery; erstwhile the fact Green’s Vanessa Ives chooses to walk through demons instead of shoot through, only proves her more fruitful insanity. To top it off, Penny D is written (John Logan) and executive produced (Sam Mendes) by the brains behind Bond’s last successful conquest: Skyfall. Logan snikts up a haunting script that channels as much of his Last Samurai as it does with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
If only Connery could now trade.
While the story of Episode I: “Night Work” will surely remind you of Alan Moore’s fine graphic novel, Dreadful more so sinks its teeth into the heart of these discovered undead. Of course, there’s your usual smorgasbord of Showtime sex and gore to be had, in addition to an apparently tighter focus on the occult. To further separate itself from The League, Penny opts for Fantasy baseball… (Oh, that other League?!??) Excuse me, Penny plants plenty o’ crepuscular imagery that hints more towards the know-how and science over Moore’s vast exploration and banter. And that’s where Ethan Chandler comes in.
Chandler, played by a seemingly revitalized Josh Hartnett (30 Days of Night) doing his best cool, calm and collectively cool and calm Brad Pitt, is the guy who’s the guy because he’s the guy. That makes him, at least thus far, the least interesting of the triumvirate, but nonetheless plays to the eyes of the audience — and some would say easy on the eyes. He’s a real American gunslinger posing as a promising showbiz cat caught up in all this Victorian garbage, so he’s somewhat relatable with a performance from Josh just as palpable. Of course geeks are going to watch Penny Dreadful for classic horror monsters (none of which I want to spoil, if you missed Sunday night’s premiere), but Chandler could very well end up a fan favorite when all’s said and done.
While Murray’s goal is to bring his daughter back to safety, the end goal for Logan and Mendes series is this: How do we bring back classic 19th century folklore and make it look so-so 21st century contemporary? We’ve had our share of Vikings, Coven witches, True vampires, and Throne-seeking kings who accomplished that goal, so why not witness the same for these so-called Legion of Monsters? Well– besides the obvious expensive budget (gorgeous is not enough to describe Penny‘s set design and cinematography) — keeping the audience invested in cool varied characters, inching every shadowy mystery with sexy subtlety and chilling imagery, and simply taking its damn time to expose Logan’s pop culture laundry list is what will flip this Penny towards a higher fortune, over something otherwise less or or more PDful.
And, hey, who knows. If not, then “I must be dreaming.”
Penny Dreadful will air every Sunday night at 10pm ET/PT on Showtime.