The Quarantine Stream: 'Penny Dreadful' is the Beautiful, Lurid Gothic Horror Show of Your Dreams

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Show: Penny Dreadful

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Gothic horrors from classic literature collide in Victorian England.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Gory, sexy, and scary, Penny Dreadful is a show that deserved better. While the terrible American Horror Story gets to stretch on into infinity, this better-made, better-written, better-acted series was mostly ignored by a wider audience and only lasted three seasons (although it did get a recent reboot, which I haven’t seen). But those craving all sorts of gothic goodness – tales of vampires, werewolves, immortals, and more – will find plenty to love here. It’s the ultimate Halloween season show.

Pulling from FrankensteinDracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Picture of Dorian Gray, and more, Penny Dreadful is a loving tribute to gothic horror. Set in foggy, filthy Victorian England, the show follows a team of rag-tag loners and misfits who come together to fight evil forces. At the center of the show is Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, a heroine with a dark past. Green’s work on the show is phenomenal, and part of the reason I’ve never bothered to check out Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is that I can’t imagine watching any form of the series without her.

Then there’s Reeve Carney as the immortal Dorian Gray; Timothy Dalton as noble hunter Malcolm Murray; Rory Kinnear as the Frankenstein Monster; Billie Piper as a kind of Bride of Frankenstein (she dies of consumption and then gets brought back to life); Harry Treadaway as Dr. Frankenstein; and Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, the lone American in the group who also happens to be a werewolf.

The “dark characters from classic Brit lit who team up” idea isn’t new – Alan Moore made it famous with his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic, after all. But what Penny Dreadful lacks in originality it makes up for in style. It’s a show full of crumbling castles, dark alleys, and haunted houses. Seances go terrible wrong; blood rains down on waltzers during a party; fog wafts through every street; and vampires, witches, and other creatures of the night lurk around every corner.

There’s a romance that blooms between Vanessa and Ethan, and it’s sweet, and tender, and, of course, doomed. All of these characters are doomed. But that doesn’t make the series any less entertaining. Best of all, writer and creator John Logan and company play with expectations. Yes, the characters in this show are from stories that everyone knows by heart by now. But Penny Dreadful doesn’t stick to the source material. Things we expect to happen don’t, leading to big, wicked surprises.

Logan was made aware that the series was going to be canceled, and as a result, Penny Dreadful doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It wraps its story up in season 3, although the way it goes about wrapping things up left several fans very upset (I’m somewhere in the middle; I don’t love the ending, but I think it mostly works, too).

If you crave things that go bump in the night, and you also want most of those things that go bump in the night to be kind of sexy, you can’t go wrong with Penny Dreadful.

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