2014, 2015, 2016, TV

Penny Dreadful (2014)

This is a slightly campy (but somehow very serious) British horror fantasy show with the rather old, but somehow not tired conceit of a bunch of characters from famous 19th century history novels exist in the same universe. (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen of horror, basically.) It’s a show that sometimes works well for what it is, but too often falls apart in its later seasons. But it looks good.

The first season is pretty enjoyable. My biggest issue with it is how, one episode, after a flashback episode, Vanessa and Malcolm somehow don’t get along any more. But, I mostly enjoyed it as a diversion. There was the odd thing in the season that made me feel like I didn’t want to continue but I don’t remember what it was any more. (Oh, one thing I didn’t like is a spoiler)

But there was some worthwhile stuff, playing with traditional narrative conventions: reversing who is saved, seemingly having different types of arcs, with some seemingly transgressive relationships. It’s an extremely horny show, which doesn’t do anything for me, but I understand why people like that.

I would say my biggest issue through the first season was that the show wanted to be more unconventional and transgressive than it actually was.

The second season is a lot more of a mess. There are some things that just don’t pass the smell test and the villains are not conventional witches so it’s hard to understand what they can and can’t do. The longer the show runs the more plot holes there are, as well. And the mythology is a more than a little confused.

But the worst of it all is the final episode, where the climax happens, and it’s kind of blah (and very brief), and then there is just constant scene setting for the final season.

That being said, the show still mostly delivered on what it promised – moodiness, monster-fighting, mild gore, too many sex scenes, and the like. It’s oddly serious for how silly it is, but I can understand the appeal even with my quibbles about plot holes and the like.

But then we get to the third season.

The first episode of the third season is an absolute mess, with numerous new characters introduced. (The regular speaking roles in the show feel like they double in one episode.)

The biggest issue in this first episode is the timeframes – for some characters it seems like months or even a year or more has passed and for others it could be like 3 days. There is no attempt to either explain this or show that this is some fun way of playing with time conventions. (This happens again later in the season when people travel the other way across the Atlantic when one group travel over a course of weeks and another group appear to have been in a room the whole time. The show just glides on as if nothing is the matter.)

And things get progressively worse throughout the season, with some really messy handling of the show’s too many threads. Jenn said the main story could have just been a movie and she’s absolutely right. Honestly, it’s a course in how not to expand a show’s universe.

The show has a little more guts in its finale than I would have imagined. We spent the dog walk the night before guessing what would happen and we were quite wrong and that’s to the show’s credit. It has a little courage in that final episode.

But getting there was an absolute slog and there are characters and entire storylines in this third season that are utterly superfluous. This season is such a catastrophe that I dropped my rating down a couple of points because, as I said before, this third season is a course on how not to expand your TV show universe.

5/10

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