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Monday, May 12, 2014

Penny Dreadful: Intelligent, Shocking, and Promising

Penny Dreadful, which debuted on Showtime last night, was quite good!

The setting is post-Jack-the-Ripper London - a newspapers headlines which asked "Is Jack Back?" made me want to say yes, in 24: Live Another Day - but this is a good time and place for a tense, exciting, harrowing story.   It's already being mined with the BBC's Ripper Street, which I found a little too talky.  In Penny Dreadful, there's so far plenty of gore and horror and full frontal male nudity to go along with the talk, and the talk is highly and scientifically intelligent.

At its best, we have Dr. Frankenstein (played by Harry Treadaway, first encountered on Showtime in Meadowlands), revealed as such as the end of the episode, explaining to Sir Malcolm why he has such contempt for knowledge pursued for its own sake.  This was a disquisition on behalf of technology, or the application of knowledge, in contrast to pure science, that was worthy of being published in a philosophy of technology journal somewhere.  (More about this issue in my 1988 book, Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age.)

The acting is also outstanding.  Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm is brilliant, and Eva Green as Vanessa was compelling - her eyes stole every scene she was in.   It was also good to see Josh Hartnett on hand as a Buffalo Bill Cody kind of character, quick with the charm and the gun.

The plot looks promising - Malcolm assembling a team to find his daughter, who has apparently been taken by the evil beings in residence in the city.   The timing of the Frankenstein character is somewhat off - Mary Shelley's novel was first published in 1818 - but the character has become so iconic that he transcends the time of his creation.    And the "monster" - the assemblage of parts of dead bodies that Dr. Frankenstein brings to life - may not be such a monster, and in fact even smiles.

The next episode is on Showtime Anytime, and I'll no doubt watch it in the next few days, but I'll save the review for next week.

not quite as shocking, in the present day


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