Showtime's new period piece, Penny Dreadful, is a Gothic yarn that gleefully drops names like Frankenstein, Mina Harker, and Dorian Gray. Unfortunately even with the abundance of eerie elegance, it remains unsatisfying obscure. The Victorian sets are dark and dank. The costumes are exquisitely ruffled with wicked detail. And the gore is visceral, steamy and chunky. But the story is less than compelling from what I can decipher, which isn't much. The second episode sets up what could have been a frightening seance – a writhing Eva Green climbs the table and lurches precariously backward – but the whole scenes sort of falls flat since it makes no sense. What the hell is going on in this show?
This series aims for a more scholarly audience who has a working knowledge of the classic literature being referenced and has no intentions of being readily accessible. I admire the verve, but in all its seriousness and portent the fun is completely lost. Perhaps it's the unlikable and uncharismatic characters (although the cast is terrific). Horror requires that the audience identify with someone or something that's in peril and we tag along for the ride. There's nothing here to hold onto, root for, or cheer. For a second there was a glimmer of hope in episode 3 but suddenly the character is inexplicably torn apart. Obviously, something greater is afoot. I'm optimistic that this series will start coming together but with only 8 episodes this season, it better do so quickly.