I think I know why I am finding City of Angels so…frustrating as a viewer.
So, I was thinking how, basically, the title of the show says what the show should more or less be. A “Penny Dreadful” is a cheap book of some kind telling what is probably a tawdry story of horror or something along those lines. The original series went the horror route, focusing on Victorian England and using fictional characters associated with that world and setting, mostly British literary ones but with a handful of American movie characters tossed in for good measure. It was a moody, well-done piece of pathos and scares.
However, here with City of Angels, we have a setting that would be highly appropriate for a noir story…and that’s not quite what it’s going for. Apparently, we still need the supernatural elements, hence Magda and Santa Muerte. But do we really need them for this story to work? Couldn’t this story work just as well without the supernatural elements? Or, at least, keeping Magda as a fully human character of some kind. We have Nazis in this story. You can’t get much worse than Nazis when it comes to shorthand for evil.
And then we have an episode here that is mostly Tiago and Michener interrogating a young man named Diego for the murder of the mustachioed cop even though Tiago is very aware it was (probably) his brother Matteo who done the deed. Likewise, there’s still that ritual murder, and as the two cops constantly try to break Diego down into confessing to at least one of those cases, often going off to discuss things either one-on-one with Diego or by themselves. Michiner only later learns about Matteo, and he decides to help Tiago cover up Matteo’s involvement because, well, they need to close the ritual murder case and Diego is gonna go to jail (at best given the other cops in the station house) regardless of what he says.
Now, having the majority of the episode be devoted to these two guys interrogating a suspect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it doesn’t seem to really fit into the universe of Penny Dreadful. If the show wanted to tell a noir story, well, it would be off-brand for Penny Dreadful given the horror of the previous show, but I think it could have been done. But here we are at the halfway point and I still am not really sure what the overall goal for the season is. And since the show was not renewed, I probably never will know.
And what I am left with is a show that is a wee bit…confused. There’s a great scene in this one where Councilman Townsend tells his lover why he loves Los Angeles. The lover has his own story that is a little less nice (dude’s an American-born Nazi after all), but Townsend’s speech is a nice one that somewhat humanizes the guy. But even if Townsend is not a Nazi, he’s working with them and had some fascist tendencies even before he was introduced to the Nazis. So, why should I care for this guy?
That just strikes me as a sure sign of why this show just isn’t working. Is it supernatural? Should it be? It’s not like the original show didn’t demonstrate the problems of racism given how the series opted to portray Dr. Jekyll. Quite frankly, given the season is over half done, if the show isn’t going in a certain direction by now, it probably won’t because its probably too late.