• Michael Pogach

Pogach Review: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

Or: Where's the Penny Dreadful?


Penny Dreadful was a show on Showtime that was set primarily in Victorian England. It starred Eva Green, Timothy Daulton, and Josh Hartnett. It was dark and macabre, and it offered new twists on familiar characters such as Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, the werewolf, Dracula, and Dorian Gray. It was an excellent show, and I hate that it ended after only three seasons (and if I were reviewing it, I would give it 5 stars).

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is…not that.

Set in 1930s Los Angeles, it eschews literary exploration in favor of a gritty look at racism in America. There are no witches or vampires. Instead, there are racists cops and Nazis and an undeniable commentary on the state of America today. All that’s fine. Though maybe a little heavy-handed at times, the show has a lot to say, and it does so effectively.

However, it’s called Penny Dreadful. So, where’s the macabre and the dark mythology and the exploration of the gothic of its namesake? Unfortunately, there’s little of it. We do get some ghoulish folklore in the form of Santa Muerte, but there’s not much substance to it, almost as if it’s there more for atmosphere than anything else. There is also Natalie Dormer running around as at least four different characters, each of whom are (I think?) parts of a single whole bent on sowing chaos. But she’s less a malevolent force as she is social media influencer, simply pointing directions and causing mischief when the plot needs a jolt. (and I’m just not that big a fan of her)

On its own, City of Angels is a good enough show. Nathan Lane, as a Nazi chasing cop, is excellent, and Adrianna Barraza, as the main character’s mother, does a wonderful job. But I find myself caring more for some of the minor characters and their plights than I do for Tiago, the main character, and Molly, his love interest. The most compelling character for me is the absolutely reprehensible and self-hating Charlton Townsend, played by Michael Gladis. But other than Lane, Barraza, and Gladis, the cast does nothing to inspire my loyalty.

For me, the show is good enough to watch, but I don’t get the Penny Dreadful connection. Worse, I can’t stop looking for it as I watch.

If there’s a second season, I’ll probably watch it, but I won’t lose any sleep if it doesn’t get renewed (which, as of now, it hasn’t been).

3.5 / 5 stars.

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