Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season (Blu-ray Review)

Penny Dreadful Season 1Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season is a title that I’m very excited to have received this week to review on Blu-ray.  I was able to check out the first episode of Penny Dreadful utilizing Showtime On Demand this summer, but due to my hectic lifestyle and work schedule I was never able to follow up on the rest of the series even though I really wanted to.  Life’s not always rainbows and puppies, but I digress.  I’m just overjoyed that I finally now have the chance to watch and hopefully enjoy all eight episodes in glorious 1080p on my favorite format.  It’s a series that NPR calls “scary, seductive, surprising and smart” and Variety claims that Penny Dreadful is “solidly entertaining, well casted and oozing with atmosphere.” Although I did not need them to make my mind up for me those two critiques alone are encouraging enough to make me want to watch this, but if you need more reasons, try this one on for size.  The series stars the wildly popular Eva Green, famous for her sexy wardrobe or lack of in most recent roles such as 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

Penny Dreadful Season 1


Right off the bat, the unique thing to me here is that Penny Dreadful is a drama that brilliantly weaves together classic horror origin stories and twists them into something so frighteningly good as it reinvents literature’s most famous characters.  If you haven’t seen the show yet, then I’m sure you’re wondering what famous characters I must be referring to.  How about you at least try these two on for size?  Think about the implications of mixing Victor Frankenstein and even Van Helsing with original characters in the eery, dark world of Penny Dreadful.  That’s pretty cool, huh?  That knowledge alone, not the critical acclaim or prospect of another wild romp with Eva Green, painted me with curiosity and is ultimately responsible for me wanting to check out this Showtime series.

Penny Dreadful was both conceived and written by three-time Oscar nominee John Logan (SkyfallHugo, Gladiator) with producing support from Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall).  The show undoubtedly stars the mischievous Eva Green  as well as Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down), who recently returned from taking a break from acting, and Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights).  The series also stars Reeve Carney (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), Rory Kinnear (Skyfall), Billie Piper (Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl), Danny Sapani (The Bill) and Harry Treadaway (The Lone Ranger).

The show’s title refers to Penny Dreadfuls, which were a British fiction publication in the late 1800s with sensational and horror subject matter.  It’s in fact from one of these tales which references a vampire that Bram Stoker got the idea to write Dracula (also mentioned in the Extras section below).   I already mentioned the series draws on tales involving Van Helsing and Victor Frankenstein, but I chose to leave out until now Frankenstein’s monster, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker and even vampires themselves from this conversation.  Yes, Penny Dreadful the television series mishmashes them all into the proverbial blender here in the storyline we’re about to quickly discuss.

While there’s many different stories and subplots going on in the first season here I guess you could say the heart of the story revolves around Sir Malcolm’s (Dalton) plight to do anything and everything possible to find the whereabouts of his kidnapped daughter, Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), with the assistance of her childhood friend, Vanessa Ives (Green), and a few others.  Oh, alright, I’ll spill the beans.  Those few others just happen to be professional marksman Ethan Chandler (Hartnett), Victor Frankenstein (Treadaway) and sometimes Sembene (Danny Sapani).  I guess the only thing else I conveniently forgot to mention is that Sir Malcolm believes his daughter was kidnapped and taken by a vampire.  Gasp!  And that, ladies and gentleman, is only the main story or the cusp I should say.  You also have Hartnett’s character battling his own demons, dealing with the ailing health of his lover and on the run for God knows what.  Then you have Victor Frankenstein and the abomination of mistakes he made with his creation(s).  There’s a need for an exorcism more than a handful of times in the eight episodes.  There’s also the weirdness and promiscuity of literary figure Dorian Gray (Carney) to tackle for he seems to pitch for both teams, if you know what I mean.  I could go on and on about everything you’ll find in here, but I think you get the proverbial cornucopia of the idea here.

So all of that mentioned up above is right up my alley.  In addition to the horror subjects just discussed there’s plenty of nudity, violence and some fun to be had here with Penny Dreadful if you will it.  The episodes, much like Skyfall, are slowly paced so sometimes it’s hard, at least for me, to make it through each episode without nodding off a bit.  That part sucks!  But when the show’s good, it’s really intriguing and cool.  I’ll give Penny Dreadful this, they know how to do cliffhanger episodes well.  There’s one involving Victor Frankenstein and his monster and all I can say is the following one word exclamation about it.  Wow!  The boring parts for me were the ones that involved demonic takeover and the drastic need for an exorcism to happen.  I found myself screaming at the television repeatedly “just do it already!”  After The Conjuring last year I’m just so bored with the subject of demonic possession.  However, to Eva Green’s credit, her performance throughout is incredible.  There are so many moments of lunacy that I don’t know how Eva was able to deliver some of these lines without cracking a smile.  Where’s the gag reel in the Extras when you truly need one?

My favorite part of Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season revolved around the storylines involving Victor Frankenstein and his “monster.”  However, my only beef with this character and that of Dorian Gray also was that the actors who portrayed each of them were casted way too young in my opinion.  Despite their appeal and lore because of their rich backstories their young appearance bothered me.  I did not find them believable at all in their interactions with Eva Green’s character.  She looked twenty years older than them and I don’t mean to downplay Eva’s looks at all.  I’m just comparing and contrasting her to the inferior leading men she shared scenes with.  That’s just my opinion though.  I think Josh Hartnett did an incredible job throughout so I was happy to have him back onscreen, even if it is just premium television.

The most incredible aspect of Penny Dreadful, as I talk about in so much more detail down below in the Extras section, is the level of richness, intricacy and authenticity in the props, the backgrounds and the wardrobe that inhibits the world of the show.  It’s impeccably and at the same time painstakingly amazing.  While the show itself may have its issues with pacing, flashbacks and boring subplots at times, there’s no denying how incredibly gorgeous things look throughout in the universe that Penny Dreadful exists in.  The 1890s never looked so good and that’s all I’ll say before moving on.

I know I keep alluding to the fact that there’s eight episodes in this season of Penny Dreadful so I thought before we move onto the meat and potatoes of this Blu-ray set’s vitals I that it would be extremely nice of me to tell you how everything is laid out and what episodes you can find on what discs.  Does that sound like good idea to you?  Of course it does!  My ideas are always insanely brilliant!  So let’s get this over with so we can talk presentation!  The total running time is approximately 7 hours and 15 minutes and the Blu-ray disc episodic breakdown is as follows:

  • Disc One:
    • Night Work
    • Séance
    • Resurrection
  • Disc Two:
    • Demimonde
    • Closer Than Sisters
    • What Death Can Join Together
    • Possession
  • Disc Three:
    • Grand Guignol

Penny Dreadful Season 1


Showtime’s Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season arrives on the Blu-ray format with a rather impressive presentation that tonally matches the dark moments and times that haunt the series.  What do I mean by that?  Read on and I’ll tell you!

  • Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Clarity/Detail: While it’s not the clearest presentation to be found on the Blu-ray format, it’s quite rich in detail from every single artifact in the background to the textures employed in the foreground.   You can see every lace and texture in the elegant and intricate wardrobe utilized for this time period piece as well as every loose strand of hair, stubble, mole on the skin, crack on Eva’s dry lips, etc.  However, the cranium drilling scene was clear enough for me.  LOL.  The level of intricacy here is insane.
  • Depth: This is actually my favorite category here in the video section with regards to this Blu-ray presentation.  The depth of field here is simply amazing.  The characters pop from the deep backgrounds that despite the depth are still quite rich.  I hope that makes sense to y’all.  The depth perception is just amazing to me here, but it’s not like the deep backgrounds are blurry either.  I don’t know.  You just have to see it to believe it.
  • Black Levels:  Blacks are deep throughout, but not as decadent as they could be.  The majority of this show is shrouded in darkness and while there’s nothing wrong with the way things look here, I just wish it could be deeper and inkier.  I hope that makes sense to y’all.
  • Color Reproduction: As I already mention to up above in this section the colors are rather muted and tame throughout.  This is no doubt of artistic intent to seemingly match the grim and sometimes horrific subject matter onscreen.   The crimson blood reds and fiery oranges do pop, but not as much as you would expect or have come to known from other recent Blu-ray presentations.  If you want something to compare it to, think the blandness of a 24 presentation.  Things do change up depending upon the scenery, such as vegetative greens in the greenhouse during the bright of day, and also depend upon the character and their unique location they inhabit.
  • Flesh Tones:  Despite the muted color palette, the skin tones are all natural and authentic looking throughout.
  • Noise/Artifacts:  Nothing at all jumps out to me in this presentation from a negative point of view.  The presentation is blemish and noise free.

Penny Dreadful Season 1


Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season arrives on the Blu-ray format with a near reference surround sound presentation for a television series on the Blu-ray format, but of course the critic in me found a few places to nitpick and complain about.  Read all about it down below.

  • Audio Format(s): English TrueHD 5.1, Spanish 2.0 Stereo
  • Subtitles: English, English SDH
  • Dynamics:  This one is audibly all over the place.  First and foremost, Penny Dreadful is a drama, albeit a horror one.  And there’s also action moments.  So what that means for you is that there are many quiet and serene moments to be found here, but the loud action sequences will have you looking for your remote very quickly to adjust the volume.  So as you can read, it’s night and day here from lows to highs.  Proceed with caution.  I will say this though.  The score here is just infectiously awesome.  I can listen to the show’s introduction on repeat with no qualms.  It interjects into your veins and just infects your body with harmony.
  • Low Frequency Extension:  Gunshots ring loud and the action sequences boom, but other than that the LFE channel lends its talents nicely adding in the appropriate lows here and there to fill out the creepy atmospheric elements that comprise the world of Penny Dreadful.
  • Surround Sound Presentation:  The surround sound is quite engaging here for a television series.  Not only does that infectious score swim around you, but moments like gunshots zinging, bodies falling and rain storming engulf and trap you in the middle of the show.  I love it!
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  For the most part dialogue is loud and clear, but at times it does get hectic with certain onscreen events happening, loud music in the background and the accents, admittedly so for me, are sometimes difficult to decipher.

Penny Dreadful Season 1


Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season on Blu-ray boasts extensive special features that delve deeper into the gripping thriller.  Although I do have to admit that it’s a weird, mixed bag of supplements you are getting here.  First off, you’ll be able to enjoy the first two episodes from the first season of Ray Donovan.  I guess that show needs all the promotional help it can get.  Sadly, the remainder of informative extras here are very brief and seem to be taken from what are called video blogs that if I were a betting man, I would put my money down on the fact that these were probably once aired before on Showtime and/or maybe housed on their website.  I don’t know.  I did not spend any additional time researching their origins and/or whereabouts.  Unfortunately, there’s no Digital Copies of the show like HBO graciously includes in their expansive sets.  While these extras are brief they are also very rich and informative at the same time and gave me a greater appreciation of the show after I watched them.  I honestly wish they could have been longer in length.  I guess I should also point out that every one of these extras below are housed on the third Blu-ray disc in this set.  So let’s stop stalling and cover everything in detail that you’ll find here in the Extras department.

  • Ray Donovan: Season One, Episodes 1 & 2 (HD, 1:51:15) – Yep.  You read it right.  There are two free episodes here of Ray Donovan to be enjoyed in glorious 1080p.
  • What is a Penny Dreadful? (HD, 1:59) – This one kinds of gives you a background as to what the fictional Penny Dreadfuls were to the people of London back in the days.  This also takes you to the studio where Penny Dreadful is filmed.  Did you know that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was based on one of these Penny Dreadfuls?
  • Literary Roots (HD, 2:14) – This one examines the ten year span in which many infamous characters and monsters from the horror genre were written.  John Logan talks about how he read Frankenstein and Dracula ten years ago and was fascinated by them.  He also states that he took the inspiration from three classic books to create Penny Dreadful and mixed them together to creative an exciting narrative.
  • Coming Together (HD, 2:06) – This video blog entry covers the three months of pre-production (rehearsing stunts, design sets, building them, etc.) that transpired before any actual filming took place.  They also discuss the location scout who drove all around Ireland trying to find the perfect spots.  I must admit.  It’s nice to see the levels of intricacy and authenticity they put into the set designs and props within this show.
  • The Artisans Pt. 1 Set Decorations & Props (HD, 2:33) – This chronicles the amazing group of artists who recreated 1890s London.  In my opinion, the designers did an incredible job here.  Most movies don’t even look this good.  It’s all about the small details.
  • The Artisans Pt. 2 Production Design (HD, 2:13) – This one incorporates the requirements of all the sets needed according to the script.  It’s interesting to see how the 3D models are handed off to the carpenters and they reconstruct everything full scale.  It really is amazing.  Their goal was to make the world around Penny Dreadful as real as possible.  I completely applaud their efforts.
  • The Grand Guignol (HD, 2:23) – This one examines the theater in Penny Dreadful and the importance of them to the people in 1890 London.  They all read Penny Dreadfuls and attended theater.  Once again, I’m blown away by the construction of this theater.  It’s simply amazing!  They also examine the blood plays as showcased in the series.
  • Prostitution and Sex in Victorian Times (HD, 3:40) – Ironically one of the longer extras here revolves around prostitution and pornography.  Actor Reeve Carney (Dorian Gray) evens joins in the fun here talking about the sexual world of Victorian pornography in the 1890s.
  • British Exploration & The Search for the Nile (HD, 2:21) – This one talks about the British explorers back in the day that wanted to be the first among Europeans to solve the great mystery of where the Niles springs from.
  • The Science of Medicine (HD, 2:50) – Writer Matthew Sweet explores the science and the medicine of Penny Dreadful.  He hosts this video blog entry from a pathology museum.  This one spends a lot of time talking about Victor Frankenstein too and his construction of body parts to create his monster.  I really wish this one could have been at least a hour long.  That would have been awesome.

Penny Dreadful Season 1


Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season is an interesting first entry into a franchise I am looking forward to seeing more of to see not only if it improves, but also to see where it goes from here.  I call it interesting because of the way they mix mash various literary characters and infamous monsters into an original narrative so to speak.  So long story short, sign me up for a second season.  However, be warned that I want more.  I want more carnage, more violence and more scares.  This first season was good, but it’s extremely slow paced.  Now that the characters and world have been introduced to us all I would love to see things just get even crazier and bring in as many legendary monsters and killers into the loop as possible.  Until the next ten episodes air in 2015 at least the fans of Penny Dreadful have this three-disc Blu-ray set to enjoy over and over.  So while we all wait to see what happens next you know what to do.  Hit up that pre-order link down below and bring home Penny Dreadful on Blu-ray as soon as possible!  Thanks for reading my 192nd professional Blu-ray review.

 Bring Home

Penny Dreadful The Complete First Season

on Blu-ray October 7th!


Penny Dreadful Blu-ray


Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

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