‘Penny Dreadful’ Series Premiere Review

Published 11 months ago by

Eva Green Penny Dreadful Episode 1 ‘Penny Dreadful’ Series Premiere Review

[This is a review of the Penny Dreadful premiere episode. There will be SPOILERS.]


While waiting for the next round of American Horror Story, many hoped that Penny Dreadful would fill that void by flooding the small screen with terror and gore. And while the series premiere of the John Logan-created, Sam Mendes-produced series does do that to a degree, it’s not in the manner one might expect.

And that’ll likely be the case no matter what draws you to this new series. Whether you’re in it for the horror, the supernatural Victorian spin or perhaps just Eva Green, you’ll get what you want, but perhaps while embracing other qualities you didn’t realize you needed.

There’s an abundance of highly successful components to go around, but for those eager to see Green, you’re the biggest winners because she absolutely steals ‘Night Work.’ Vanessa Ives isn’t “normal” in the least – her ability to conjure spiders in her introductory scene proves it – but even with her out-of-this-world abilities, somewhat detached temperament and mysterious quality, Green still manages to emit just the slightest degree of heart and warmth to make her a strong anchor for the show. However, it seems likely that that duty was intended for Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler.

Josh Hartnett Penny Dreadful ‘Penny Dreadful’ Series Premiere Review

Ethan’s an actor. He travels around with Colonel Brewster’s Wild West Show gunslinging to give the audience a quick thrill, but Vanessa has other plans for his talent; she wants Ethan to join her and legendary explorer, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), on their mission to rescue Sir Malcolm’s daughter (Mina Harker, of Dracula fame). Ethan’s the outsider getting his first glimpse in and that makes him the key to introducing viewers to this world, but when it come to what you take away from it, it’s Green who makes the lasting impression, not Hartnett.

Harry Treadaway doesn’t get all that much screen time in episode 1, but he certainly makes good use of every single bit of it. Whereas one should be focused on the body parts Dr. Victor Frankenstein is busy dissecting, Treadaway’s intense dedication to the character’s principles and quirks turns Frankenstein into a multidimensional main player in minutes, and that allows the viewer to feel the weight of his mid-scene discoveries.

Treadaway also shines during a particularly powerful back and forth with Dalton during which he delivers a hypnotic speech regarding the ultimate goal of his work, but his most impressive achievement in episode 1 is the finale.

Harry Treadaway Penny Dreadful ‘Penny Dreadful’ Series Premiere Review

We’ve seen Frankenstein’s monster come to life time and time again. The success of this scene is almost entirely dependent on Treadaway’s performance – and he pulls it off stunningly.

Even though we’ve got zero information on Treadaway’s version of Dr. Frankenstein prior to the events of this episode, it’s impossible not to both understand and feel what this feat means to him through merely his unadorned yet wildly expressive reaction shots. No matter how you’re feeling about Penny Dreadful up to that point, Treadaway declaring, “My name is Victor Frankenstein,” and then the screen cutting to black is moving enough to leave most people eager for more.

And that’s what ultimately makes this premiere episode a winner. The performances are fantastic, the visuals are striking and the carnage and creature work is particularly well done, but Penny Dreadful doesn’t conjure that must-see feeling until the end of the episode.

Perhaps that’s really all that matters for the first episode of a new series because I do genuinely want to keep watching, but a little more momentum and energy during certain portions of ‘Night Work’ couldn’t have hurt. Right now, I’m in, and between the rich setting, curious mythology and enchanting characters, Penny Dreadful seems to have all the potential in the world.

Penny Dreadful continues next Sunday with ‘Séance’ at @10pm on Showtime.

Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.

Follow Perri Nemiroff on Twitter @PNemiroff
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  1. the opening scene with the mother and daughter totally made me jump, and i’m a hardcore horror fan and was expecting something to happen. Glad the premiere episode caught my attention and made me want to see the next episode. And i jumped in excitement when they said Sir Malcolm’s last name was Murray. I think at some point in the season we’ll see Penny Dreadful’s version of Dracula, which hopefully will be unlike any interpretation we’ve seen recently. Also, super curious as to what role Vanessa plays and what she “invited” into her and the Murray family’s lives. Something tells me that out of the entire “team” she might be the most dangerous.

    • Yeah his daughter’s name was Mina too. I think we’ll definitely see Dracula at some point.

  2. I also jumped a couple of times during this. I will definitely keep watching this, enjoyed the first episode. I am watching this for the Victorian horror angle, just hope they don’t put alot of sex or kink into it. I’d rather they concentrate on the creepy factor, the drama, mystery, and Gothic/Victorian atmosphere. I emailed Showtime, and they said they would possibly put this series on DVD in about a year, so take note, if such is your wont. This show looked good enough, I subscribed to Showtime just for this on my cable package; hope I am not disappointed.

    • “A penny dreadful was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing one (old) penny.”

      So yeah, it’s not just sex and nudity for the sake of it, the actual books from that time period were full of it too.

      Loved this episode, just couldn’t wait until next Tuesday to watch it in full, glorious HD on Sky Atlantic so I caught it online just now and can’t wait to find out more.

      • I have a number of Penny Dreadful books reprinted from back in “Dayes of Yore”, so to speak. I always kind of liked them, although some could get lengthy, wordy, and monotonous, and others sometimes did not deliver the true supernatural thrills that were implied.
        As for overdoing the sex angle, which many supposed horror shows tend to do, well, let’s just say I don’t want this to turn into “Penility Dreadful”. But so far I like the show.

      • Keep in mind though, Goldilocks, that what was considered “lurid” in Victorian times is tame by today’s standards

  3. Glad to see this nice review about Penny Dreadful !
    Show is totally awesome and rarely seen such quality on TV !
    Hope the Ratings are good so we can get more of it !

    Anybody heard already something of them ?

  4. That opening scene was awww… Looking forward for this now.

  5. I flat-out adored the pilot. Such quality from all departments and parties concerned. Hopefully, the ratings are high enough so that there will be more.

    I can’t help but smile at the Bond connections, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Rory Kinnear, Sam Mendes, and John Logan all involved in one piece? NICE!

  6. Ooooo! Thanks for the heads up. This one was totally under my radar. Have to check it out.

  7. Amazing show-it got me shivers, goose bumps and what not, the kind of show that keeps your eyes wide open, hungry for more!And the fact that it`s Eva Green only makes it wilder! I`m so excited waiting for more, who cares if it`s a story already told- it hasn`t been told this way yet,so bring it on!

  8. Just a heads up, the second episode can already be found on the showtime anytime app. I’m not sure if they’ve aired it anywhere else. I plan on watching it when I get home

  9. I liked it – but not enough to pay for showtime again.

    off to the internet for future episodes

  10. I really dug the first episode. Watched it a week ago. Was excited to see the consensus of uncertainty of where the show was going but excited to see if get there.

    Watched the 2nd Episode on Showtime Anytime today and a few things struck me.

    First I disagree that this show is intending to enter us to this world via Josh Hartnett’s character.

    Second – this show is operating on its own steam and in its own time frame and is not in any hurry to get anywhere else. Which is good. The second episode reinforces that its going to go places you don’t expect.

    Third – there is a seance in the episode that is uber creep fest.

    Fourth – only complaint – they don’t really explain the heiroglyphics extremely well.

    Fifth – Viktor Frankenstein is awesome. I’m absolutely enjoying him. He is riveting.

    THE END – Holy Crap – did not see that coming. I need to watch it again now.

  11. Excellent first episode. Acting, directing, costume, set design, everything. This is the way a show should be done.

    …and that Eva Green. She’s absolutely mesmorizing!

    • …and of course, the writing, too!

  12. The character introductions and setting up of the world came across well. They kept things pretty straight forward and seem to have a good handle on the various Victorian horror mythologies they are drawing from.

  13. The ratings are in: http://www.deadline.com/2014/05/penny-dreadful-debuts-ratings-showtime-hbo-game-of-thrones-down-veep-hits-high/

    Taking into account the grand total across multiple airings Sunday night, and the fact that it was available online for two weeks, I consider this a good start. Hopefully, the network feels the same.

  14. The second ep is on Charter on Demand anyone know wtf happened at the end w/ Victor and Proteus??

  15. Penny Dreadful staring actors who have been in james bond movies!

    I am interested in seeing Harnett get a good role…that hasn’t been in anything lately.

    And who wrote the scene when Eva Green was summing up Harnets character about 9 min in?? A huge Casino royal fan??

  16. I am starting to think that Dr. Frakenstines first creation is Dracula. He said bow to your Master the scene of him in the black trench coat a Dracula Scene if any. Anyone else agree ?