Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels (TV series DVD review)

I knew from the start that ‘Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels’ wasn’t going to have much in common with the original series. Its set in America from the start. Actor Rory Kinnear is playing a totally different character and as the opening 67 minute episode goes will throw a shocker. You might want to watch the first extra before the first episode but hold off the second until after the third episode and realise who’ve you been seeing in different guises. It’s probably not that much of a secret since this series came out 3 years ago but its an extreme skill of the make-up and Natalie Dorma’s acting talent that I didn’t recognise her in all of her guises.

Los Angeles, 1938, two detectives, Lewis Michener (actor Nathan Lewis) and new recruit, Mexican Tiago Vega (actor Daniel Zovatto) are brought in on their day off to look at the death of two adults and two teens in LA’s dry flood channel with their faces decorated in the Mexican Day of the Dead look and their hearts torn out. Into this, we also see other things going on with various corruptions and a freeway is going to go through the Mexican community of LA causing anger and fighting. Things don’t go well. There’s a lot more going on and this is a busy intense opening episode. As a 10-part story, don’t expect it all to be covered in the opener.

There does seem to be a jump between the second and third episode, especially even within this episode, events but I suspect that its relying on the viewer to work our what is happening between scenes. What does become very apparent is how the late 1938 Los Angeles is captured here and is a character all to itself.

How much to say is always going to be tough with a show like this. Various plot threads cross each other so there are a lot of under-currents and agendas which dimensionalise and raise the stakes. It is actually less of a monster show in some respects, unless you consider that humans are the real monsters here. There is also a lot of frightening stuff that you shouldn’t show young sprogs.

Without going too spoiler, although the 10-part series has a viable ending, it does look like it was only to be an opening season as it has a lot of loose ends that are not tidied up. Presumably lack of viewing figures killed it, although if you do take an interest in this series, maybe the powers-that-be might change their minds.

The final three extras cover a lot in their combined 15 minutes and you should watch them at the end and let your jaw drop. Most of it was never filmed in Los Angeles but in built sets and no CGI. The dance hall scenes had 6 months rehearsal time to ensure all the dancers and cast got it right. I tend to agree, they really do look incredible. The attention to set detail is also on par and easy to overlook when all the drama is going on.

I did google over why the series was cancelled and there is no clear reason. What I do hope is that this isn’t the end of ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ as a concept. Of course it costs more as a gothic period drama than modern day but its so effective that it shouldn’t be dismissed and is likely to become more a cult following as the years pass and the more people watch it. Don’t forget, humans are as much monsters as monsters are.

GF Willmetts

May 2023

(pub: Showtime International, 2020. 4 DVDs 569 minutes 10 episodes with extras. Price: around £14.99 (UK). ASIN: 8322377)

cast: Daniel Zovatto, Nathan Lewis, Natalie Dorma, Adriana Barrazo, Rory Kinnear and many others

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