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'Penny Dreadful' series premiere review: 'Night Work'

Penny Dreadful premiere


There's so many great shows on premium cable (and so many that air on Sunday, what's up with that), that a prospect of watching another new show can be daunting. And now into the fray comes the new Showtime drama 'Penny Dreadful.'

The cast of 'Penny Dreadful' in series premiere 'Night Work'
'Penny Dreadful' production still

And for those who feel their TV dance card has become too full, I have some bad news; if the rest of the series is as good as the pilot, you're going to need to make time for this stylish, dark thriller.

Unlike the gross-out unevenness of AMC's 'The Walking Dead', and the campy goofiness of HBO's 'True Blood', 'Dreadful' is a nod to the classier origins of horror. It takes place in the Victorian era; the literary birthplace of iconic creatures like Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and more. And under series creator and writer John Logan ('Gladiator'), and producer Sam Mendes ('Skyfall'), they've created a alternate reality, where all these nocturnal figures live under the same roof. Or as one character notes; "a half world between what we know and what we fear."

But the pilot episode, 'Night Work' is more concerned with setting up the framework, and introducing original characters who act as our tour guides into all that is unsettling and arcane in Victorian London.

Timothy Dalton plays Dr. Malcolm Murray, a world explorer obsessed with finding his missing daughter, who appears to have been abducted by vampires. To aid in his quest he's accompanied by spiritualist Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and new recruit hired American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). Murray helps set the tone when he informs Chandler of his first mission; "Do not be amazed at anything you see." This leads into a battle with vampires, and locating their next member; the infamous Doctor Frankenstein.

Like 'Game Of Thrones' and 'Boardwalk Empire', 'Penny Dreadful' has absolutely gorgeous production values to help sell it's Victorian era, with decaying narrow alleyways and opulent manors. The shows sets just enough bait to hook the viewer into learning what other evil delights await them next. While recruiting Dr. Frankenstein, Murray explains how far he'll go to recover his lost daughter; "To find her I'd murder the world...with me you'll behold terrible wonders." This proposal seems to extend not just to the doctor but to the audience as well, and with 'Night Work', this new series should have no problem recruiting horror lovers anxious to see what 'terrible wonders' come next.

'Penny Dreadful' airs Sundays at 9:00pm central on Showtime. You can also view the pilot episode online by clicking here.

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