Critical Condition: Penny Dreadful

Top US critics say fans of Penny Dreadful will get their money’s worth when season two premieres (SoHo, 8.30 Tuesday).

“The sly second season of Penny Dreadful finds its drama in characters trying to shake shameful pasts that won’t stop haunting them, and finds rich menace in cunning folk and shape-shifting spirits who make thralls and puppets out of our heroes, robbing them of authenticity and self-determination … This year’s Big Bad, the Satan-worshipping spiritualist Evelyn (Helen McCrory), comes on like hellfire and gives Penny Dreadful the strong antagonist it lacked last year.”

“Awash in gothic atmosphere and tasty performances, Penny Dreadful puts a face on evil in its second season, and feels considerably richer for it. That countenance would belong to Helen McCrory, who plays the head of a Lucifer-worshipping coven, eager to hand over the psychic Vanessa (Eva Green) to the Prince of Darkness. John Logan’s creation still feels haphazard at times in the way it throws together macabre figures — a bit like the Universal monster mashes of the ’40s — but viewers who spend less time dwelling on details and go with Penny’s crimson-streaked flow will more than get their money’s worth.”

“Much like Season 1, your opinion on the non-action scenes may define your interest in the show. Logan’s dialogue is rich, artful and arresting if you’ve got the ear to hear it, but many horror fans may be turned off by the lack of frights. Jolts do come your way — a carriage and subway ride go awry and menace hides in every dark corner — but most of Penny Dreadful is more mentally unnerving than truly terrifying. There’s a scene to end Episode 2 that, if described, would sound particularly gruesome. It is, but it’s also so tastefully done it feels right at home with the period fare around it — rather than as the ‘holy shit’ moment modern horror would turn it into.”

“The achievement of Penny Dreadful is that within its highly stylised, delightfully elaborate and occasionally batsh*t world, it has created complex, fascinating characters — or rather, it has begun to. It somehow manages to be an escapist pleasure full of Dickensian interiors and lush paeans to pleasure and gore, and also a deliberately calibrated character drama, as well. It can be loud, it can be cheeky, it has fun with what it is, but underneath all the velvet and fringe, there is a beating heart — sometimes where you least expect it.”

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