Penny Dreadful: season three review

And so endeth Penny Dreadful. Before its time some might say. Despite the fact that creator John Logan said it would always end with (*spoiler!) the death of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), not many of us believed him.

It felt rushed, particularly as most of the characters had been flung across the globe on personal quests of their own. Suddenly they’re hurried back to London at pace, at the bemusement of fans no doubt. Fair enough conflicted Texan werewolf/gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) always had the threat of his father with which to contend, so it made sense he deal with that.

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And why not have a dishevelled Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) along for the ride? Even though he’d half lost his way he was still a better father figure to Ethan than his real dad, Jared Talbot (played with gusto by Brian Cox).

The creature (Rory Kinnear) was off on a quest of his own to discover god-knows-what in the Arctic. He then returned to London after a few episodes to reconnect with his family. It was touching I suppose, but not really the story I wanted to see and his arc felt like a distraction. In some ways it would have been more exciting to see him team up with the gang to fight a common foe.

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And speaking of common foes, this season saw the introduction of Dracula (Christian Camargo), bringing to a head his long pursuit of Vanessa Ives; which more or less started in the first season. And, whilst it was refreshing to see the way in which he pursued her, like most delectable things in life, it was over all too soon. For a baddie that big I wanted more.

Especially because the gang got two new additions, which both proved extremely interesting as characters within the first few episodes, but didn’t get the time they deserved. Namely, Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), a stunningly attractive supernatural expert who was sassy, held her own in a fight and seemed to flirt with every character she encountered – and that was seriously refreshing when the show was in danger of becoming too dour for its own good. We also got the addition of Vanessa Ives’ therapist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), who gave the show a nice bit of weight and gravitas cutting through the melodrama with her no-nonsense approach.

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The trouble with a lot of it – because so much revolved around Vanessa Ives at the end of the day – is that most of the main characters didn’t interact with each to any great degree until almost the last episode. Long-form storytelling is fine if you’ve got maybe five or six seasons, but if you’ve only got three you’re shortchanging everyone, from characters to actors to audiences alike.

So I’m somewhat conflicted. Big fan, but frustrated.

And I’d also add I’ve been a huge fan of Eva Green since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and this show – and her character – perfectly suited her occult and otherworldly qualities. Not that it was all about her, as the rest of the cast were also outstanding. I’d go so far as to say this has been the best work we’ve seen from both Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett in a long time. Rory Kinnear, as ever, is a very fine actor and massively underrated and the others all did a fine job, too.

Perhaps, in some ways, there were too many characters and stories to explore. From Lily Frankenstein’s (Billie Piper) escapades with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to Victor Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) experiments with Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif) it seems like John Logan bit off more than he could chew in the time he had given himself.

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These days it seems like every show wants to be Game of Thrones but tries to leap ahead and run before it can walk. Not that you can really compare the two shows, but the point has some relevance. Whatever caused the show to end before its time there’s one thing that’s clear, it will be missed by some pretty devout fans. Particularly as it was a show of real quality and substance.

And if they resurrect it minus Eva Green, it just won’t be the same. Don’t do it. Let’s just let it rest in peace as a decent thing which ended before its time eh?

Penny Dreadful: season 2 review

The first season of Penny Dreadful focused on Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) hunt for his daughter, who had been captured by some sort of vampire master. It also shared equal screen time exploring Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) story, a battle with a demonic spirit which was attempting to consume her soul.

And we were introduced to troubled doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the monsters he creates – in particular John Clare (Rory Kinnear). Then there was strong and silent American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with a dark past of his own. Plus the mysterious and eternal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) popped up from time to time in a subplot that bubbled along throughout.

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For season two it’s very much a continuation of the first in terms of the main characters and their journeys, albeit with a different antagonist for them to face; a trio of nightcomers/witches who, at the bidding of their master (spoiler: a fallen angel aka the devil) step up their pursuit of Vanessa’s soul.

In general the show is quite slow burn, so if you’re expecting True Blood set in London go elsewhere. It’s dark, moody and there’s some nudity involved, but otherwise it’s a completely different beast. Again there’s a large focus on Vanessa, building up more of her backstory; as she’s such an interesting character it’s a pleasure to spend time in her company. There’s also Ethan Chandler’s past which catches up with him, along with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

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The primary difference in season two is two-fold: first, the main antagonist has more of a human face and development of character; as the witches are led in suitably machiavellian fashion by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).

Secondly, the main group, essentially rookies in season one are more cold, clinical and ruthless this time round. They know the sort of darkness they face, both internal and external. That said, the demons they’ve accumulated keep coming back to haunt them.

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We get more Vanessa Ives backstory in which to sink our teeth and the relationship between her and Ethan develops almost as you might expect. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm takes a bit of a backseat this season, but makes way for more of Victor Frankenstein and his flawed creations, including Lily (Billie Piper), who becomes – in almost a 180 switch of character – a bit of a walking nightmare for Victor. Vanessa aside, she probably has the most compelling character arc.

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The season finishes (without giving too much away) with the characters all pursuing different goals of their own and in different places, geographically. As such it will be interesting to see – should they choose to do so – how John Logan and the show’s writers will pick them all up again come season three.

We’ve had vampires and witches. What’s next for them to face?

My top TV shows of 2014

Golden age indeed. These days, TV is up there with film in terms of quality of story, well written and believable characters and – in some cases – almost cinematic production values. And this year was a mightily good year when it came to a night on the sofa with the latest ‘must watch’ show.

From crime and fantasy dramas and zombies everywhere, to Victorian witches and oversexed vampires, here are the shows that rocked my world and floated my boat this year.

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Penny Dreadful: season 1
With a cast including Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Harry Treadaway and Josh Hartnett, this show surpassed expectations with a host of intriguing characters and powerhouse performances, particularly from Green. Every time she went into possessed demonic mode the show went up a few notches.

Fargo: season 1
Martin Freeman as a timid insurance salesman from Minnesota up against Billy Bob Thornton’s enigmatic mobster hitman. As an idea for a TV show this was perhaps an odd gamble, yet one that paid off. No doubt down to the superb writing and outstanding performances. Freeman again proving to people just how good he really is.

The Leftovers: season 1
There’s so much beauty in grief and suffering, yet it’s rarely shown in such a captivating manner. Here it was brought to life by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta – with a fine lead performance from Justin Theroux – in a story that charted the lives of a group of people, following the disappearance of 2 per cent of the world’s population.

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Game of Thrones: season 4
As the Starks, Lannisters and all other families grow further apart, each on quests of their own, the story and world of Westeros and beyond expands. This makes it tougher and tougher for the show’s writers and creators, still they deliver, with possibly the most visually stunning and emotionally engaging season so far.

Walking Dead: season 5
As it stands, we’ve only had the first half before the show hit its mid season break. It’s been good though, watching Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes slowly but surely lose his humanity, as he’s faced first with cannibals then just the general dregs of mankind that seem to now inhabit the earth and plague him at every turn.

The Strain: season 1
File this under ‘guilty pleasure’ TV. From the creepy and fantastical minds of Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, this show (which started life as a novel, then a graphic novel) has vampires portrayed as parasites, causing chaos in New York as a small band of average heroes try to stop them, with varying degrees of success.

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Homeland: season 4
With Brody (Damien Lewis) out of the picture Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) took centre stage this season as Chief of Station in an increasingly volatile Pakistan, on the hunt for terrorists. With drones, torture, kidnap and diplomatic backstabbing, this latest outing proved to be a marked return to form.

Forever: season 1
More guilty pleasure TV, this time in the form of a sort of mashup of Highlander meets CSI with Ioan Gruffudd’s immortal medical examiner solving murder cases in New York. Given the morbid subject, it’s an upbeat and easy watch. Thanks in part to the breezy chemistry between Gruffudd and his detective partner, played by Alana de la Garza.

True Blood: season 7
The final hurrah for this show was something of an anticlimax – or a least more of a sombre tone than its predecessors. However you have to give it credit for the seasons that went before, yet it just didn’t have the same verve and bite (ha!) after the show’s creator, Alan Ball, left after the fifth season.

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True Detective: season 1
McConaughey at the height of his powers turned his attention to TV for this deeply intense, brooding miniseries. One where he played the maverick detective to Woody Harrelson’s more straight arrow (albeit, with problems of his own) cop, both tracking down a serial killer over a period of many years.

24: Live Another Day
Despite a concern knawing away at you that this show probably should have ended some time ago, it’s risen from the ashes… so we’ll have to live with it. For the latest season it halved the number of episodes for a leaner, tighter story, with Jack Bauer legging it around London looking for people to beat up.

Penny Dreadful: first episode review

timmyModern TV shows, they have to begin with a bang these days. Well, to be fair, old ones did too, yet new ones tend to come with an A-list cast of actors, as well as an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

Penny Dreadful is no exception. The man who put pen to paper, John Logan, is the wordsmith behind this one – in case you didn’t know, a look back through his impressive filmography shows he’s given us Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall and many more. Quite a talent. And, if we’re mentioning Bond it won’t escape many of you that this show has two alumni: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives – both inspired bits of casting.

Ever since Hot Fuzz in 2007 Dalton appears to have had a new lease of life and looks to be having an immense amount of fun with each project he now takes on (perhaps the most since his Bond days). As well as a wry smile and a wink he also brings a good dollop of gravitas and sincerity to the part.Episode 101 With only the opening episode to go on it’s fair to say he put in a compelling performance as a man on a quest in the darkest parts of London.

And then there’s Eva Green as Vanessa Ives. Green has spent most of her career playing sultry, sensual, seductive parts. She also suits the occult quite well (she’s been a witch twice), so Ives was a natural fit. There’s intrigue there too, why is she beholden to Sir Malcolm? What debt does she owe him? Where do her witchy powers come from? Or are they religious ones? We see her twice in the episode praying to a crucifix. We also have an actor (Josh Hartnett) who, much like his character jaded gunslinger Ethan Chandler, has lost the love for his profession, having been pretty quiet since 30 Days of Night in 2007.josh1 The story is told largely from his character’s point of view, introducing us to the worlds between worlds.

Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein makes up the rest of the team. Young, articulate, creepy and intense. Treadaway’s performance was, for me, unexpected but eminently watchable, often stealing scenes from the likes of Dalton (no mean feat) and then rounding off the episode with a beautifully monstrous yet touchingly tender scene.

Despite having seen umpteen vampire shows in the last few years, this has a different tone and feels fresh, with the focus on the human characters rather than the supernatural ones (bear in mind it’s not just vampires but they feature in the first episode).ustv-penny-dreadful-s01-e01-4 It’s also beautifully shot.

Some credit has to go to Juan Antonia Bayona, director behind The Orphanage and, quite recently, The Impossible for the way he’s portrayed Victorian London. Without knowing the budget for the show he’s given it an expensive look and feel and the sets are thoughtfully designed with nice detail.

So, a promising start. All the pieces are in place and the first episode was sufficiently gripping and well paced. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.