Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting more Penny Dreadful. Back when I started this TV episode every weekday thing, my original Tuesday show was Penny Dreadful, a gothic horror series set in the foggy streets of Victorian England (mostly), and featuring classic monsters like vampires, wolf-men, and witches to say nothing of some of the great literary characters of the era that fit the setting. It was spooky, tragic, and I loved it.
So, yeah, getting more of that would be fun, but Showtime canceled it after one season. Showtime never cancels anything, so what happened? I mean, it’s the same show, right?
This time around, rather than foggy, late nineteenth century London, we have a story set in Depression-era, bright and sunny Los Angeles. This one is a hell of a lot brighter. Even the nighttime scenes seem rather bright and colorful. And, quite frankly, given the setting and the tone, it reminded me quite a bit of one of my all-time favorite movies, Chinatown.
The result is a completely different tone and a completely different problem. Dracula and the like were much too large for the characters of the original series to deal with, but at least they seemed like something the characters could deal with since it was in the physical world in ways that, well, the threat this time around does not.
This time, we have demons. Well, we have a demon and a deity of some kind. The deity is Santa Muerte. The demon is her, well, maybe sister Magda. Magda is played by the great Natalie Dormer, and I appreciate her more and more as an actress every time I see her. Magda thinks humans are corrupt and evil. Santa Muerte protects the recently deceased, but she also touched the series’s protagonist Tiago Vega on the shoulder when a fire Magda started in a field killed the boy’s father. He then grew up to become the first Mexican-American detective in the LAPD with Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) as his partner and maybe the only guy on the force who isn’t overtly racist to his partner. Those two start off by looking into the ritual sacrifice of what looks like a family of four, something Vega’s mother Maria, as a worshiper of Santa Muerte, might know something about.
But then there’s Magda in her many forms. She’s a secretary to a city councilman with a thing for fascism, and she encourages him to meet some Nazis. She’s a mother and son to encourage a German-born pediatrician to go do some stuff with the Nazi-affiliated Bund, and she’s an invisible presence whispering in people’s ears to cause violence at a protest that ends with Tiago shooting his own brother after said brother had already killed multiple cops and was getting ready to gun down Michener. That Magda was the one who more or less got the violence started is beside the point.
But, how do you fight something that seems to work off the worst instincts of what already looks like a lot of bad people? I mean, we have some Nazis and Nazi-adjacent people here. The core problem here is not so much demons as racism and other, very human problems. This show is already a far cry from the original Penny Dreadful.
That’s isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s just different. So, I might as well find out how good that is from here.