I tried to watch Penny Dreadful season one (library DVD), because I'd heard Rory Kinnear was in it. It turned out Billie Piper is in it as well (doing an absolutely wretched Irish accent, which is made more wretched by the fact that her character's being Irish adds just about nothing to her story as far as I can see, except that she can be named "Brona," which apparently means "sadness"), and guest actors I love kept turning up - Alex Price, Simon Russell Beale (!), Helen McCrory. And yet, I could only make it partway through episode 3; I realized that I wasn't actually enjoying anything about the show.
The Gothic is definitely not my aesthetic, and I'm not interested in vampires (the Timothy Dalton character says - or intones; nobody just "says" anything on this show - "My daughter was taken," and I snarked "by the fairies," and then thought, disappointed, "…oh. I would so much rather have that show").1 And I really hate the character of Frankenstein, just in general (despite the number of times the National Theatre has screened the Miller/Cumberbatch Frankenstein - including once more this year, for Halloween - I have not been able to muster up enough enthusiasm to try to go). Like, how did you not think this through, idiot? You brought what is basically a corpse puzzle to life, and then thought, "oh no, this is terrible, run away"? And then were not at all concerned that your animated corpse puzzle wasn't there when you went back? Like, "dum de dum, glad that's over, it's probably not out terrorizing people with its very existence or anything, on with the rest of my life!" Victor Frankenstein, you are the worst. And then the whole "Romantic bros locked in primal combat" thing is also not that interesting to me. But I think I never recovered from the fact that it looked like the creators of Penny Dreadful were going to take the Frankenstein story in a different direction (and also make Frankenstein less terrible) - and then, nope, right back in that soup. Without spoilers…I feel like the decision they made, which was to end the one part of the narrative that looked like it might have been about that rare commodity, joy, in as abrupt and bloody a way as possible, essentially summed up the show for me. Humor and joy and happiness - even the hard-won sort - don't exist in these kinds of worlds (so what are we fighting for, exactly?), and it's foolish of you, viewer, to look for it or invest in it if it seems to be there for a few scenes. Well, I learned my lesson, and that's a big part of why I stopped watching. That might be to someone else's taste, but it is emphatically not to mine.
(And then Frankenstein's creature tells this backstory about how he fell in with a bunch of theater people and became a stagehand, and that sounded so much more interesting to me than the whole "I hate my
dad creator, but I will hound him to the death to force him to make me a mate" thing, which sort of only works if the creature hasn't…just made friends who still live around the corner? And also just basically looks like Rory Kinnear with some scars and a partially shaved head? The theater guy he meets actually says to him when they meet, "Oh, was it an industrial accident?" not, you know, "Vile thing, avaunt and quit my sight!" So it feels really dumb, this whole "I can never join the humans" line that they've taken with him. I…guess the creature is immortal? But it feels like he hasn't been around long enough to have a) figured this out; and b) have exhausted the possibilities of connecting to other humans, since he meets theater guy on his very first night alone in London, and has been working at the theater just long enough to have tracked Victor down? I don't know; time is mushy on this show. Anyway, the point is, the creature learning to be human from a bunch of actors and through art was suddenly so much more interesting to me than this "Time to make the donuts lurk in alleys and stalk my creator" narrative that I was pretty much over it before it had even begun. Also, he had this terribly clunky line about how Victor likes Keats and Wordsworth, but poetry is Over because of the Industrial Age or something - "did you think we would find eternity in a daffodil? Who's the child now, Victor Frankenstein?" and it just bounced off my head entirely and made me giggle for several minutes, because daffodils are still a thing, you can have flowers and steam engines, it's not like they cancel each other out; and also it's just so "You so don't get it, dad!" that I couldn't take it seriously.) (Also, it's weird that Victor, fictional character created by the wife of a Romantic poet, can read Keats and Wordsworth…but not Shelley, I guess? - Wait, no, the creature totally mentions Adonais, what the hell.)
Also, Dorian Gray is…there? For…reasons? Maybe he gets something to do other than random uncomfortable Sexytimes at some point, but I won't be finding out.
In sum: If you are going to throw all the 19th-century monster tales into a blender, you should actually do something more interesting than the usual "everything is grim, there were no colors in Victorian London / look there are opium dens so it's not your grandma's period drama / let's go hunt the creatures of the night / guess we'll enlist some shady dudes without giving them enough information to properly protect themselves on a bloody vampire hunt, that's totally responsible of us and not at all done just so we can seem Mysterious / ha ha, coherent mythology, that's not a thing, silly" world that they've set up.
1Seriously, where are my fairy shows??? Even aside from the fact that I love that mythology and never get to see it onscreen except for Pan's Labyrinth a billion years ago, at least it would be different. Penny Dreadful basically exists in the same murky, blood-drenched, scabrous, consumptive world of Copper and Ripper Street and The Crimson Petal and the White, and you can't throw a vial of holy water without hitting vampires and werewolves and End Times and Creatures of the Night Set to Blot Out the Sun and Destroy the Age of Man, and bleh. I can't even think of a supernatural show that has had much to do with fairies; I guess they don't mix especially well with the Apocalypse?