The title of Showtime’s new drama Penny Dreadful has its origins in 19th century Great Britain, when a popular fiction among the masses was offered in serialized form, each new portion costing one cent.  The subject matter of these stories was invariably sensationalized violence and horror.  They were also frequently printed on pulp paper, which explains another more well known title.  Enough with the pop culture history lesson, however.  Penny Dreadful is an engrossing and unique drama, and I’m hoping it sticks with audiences.

Bearing no relationship to the 1996 film of the same name, Penny Dreadful is set in England in 1891, and it grabbed a hold of me right from the outset.  The mesmerizing Eva Green was shown with her head bowed so severely in prayer she appeared to be decapitated.  Then she looks up and watches a nasty looking spider crawl right up her arm.  In terms of imagery style, think Sweeney Todd.

The story centers on Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), an explorer whose daughter was abducted by vampires.  He assembles a team in hopes of finding her that includes the clairvoyant Vanessa Ives (Green), American gunslinger for hire Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and a young medical intern by the name of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).  Combining historical fictional characters with its own unique roster gives Penny Dreadful a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen feel, but with an X-Files creepiness, the gothic horror atmosphere invigorated by a True Blood appetite for graphic sex and violence.

Penny Dreadful, Eva Green

Persuasively scary: Eva Green

There is plenty to appreciate here, especially the original goth-girl performance from the perennially underrated Green, and the story set up promises a good deal of intrigue with nearly limitless possibilities, much the same as the scandalous paperbacks from which the show draws it name.  If you missed the first couple of episodes, get on board now.  This show promises to be a fun ride.

LESS THAN an initial series order, but more than a stand-alone special, The Maya Rudolph Show aired its (so-far) lone episode this week, with NBC advising that a series order might be in the works depending, in part, on how the special was received.  Well here’s hoping it was received well, because I definitely want more.

Maya Rudolph has always been one of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live performers, and when I heard she would be doing a ‘70s style variety show special, I was eagerly anticipating its airing.  True to her word, Rudolph captured the spirit of the great variety shows of the ‘70s like The Carol Burnett Show, Sonny and Cher or, one of my old favorites, The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour (google it).  These shows found a way to blend sketch comedy, song and dance comedy pieces, musical numbers and, of course, plenty of guest stars, all packed into an hour of silliness, glitz and song.  No one is better qualified than Rudolph to turn that format back into a weekly variety hour.

 

The Maya Rudolph Show

Think it’s easy to be glamorous and silly at the same time? Think again.

Although the show pulled decent ratings, the critical response was not overly enthusiastic, with many critics focusing on some of the flaws (as if the fledgling episode of any show could be expected to be without them) and with some critics wondering if the variety show was a format that necessarily needed to be revived.  Of course, the alternative is even more American Idol contest knockoffs or truly repugnant fare like The Bachelor.  I’ll take the variety and comedy hour any day of the week, especially if Maya is at the helm.

 

Quick Takes

The Americans completed an amazing second season this week, and the show remains one which successfully delivers edge of your seat suspense week after week.  Moreover, the set up for Season 3 is particularly intriguing.  This is a show at the top of its game.

Educational TV.  Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Reading your credit card agreement is a violation of your credit card agreement (The Colbert Report); 2) Conan O’Brien is not a dunce, but he does play one on TV (Conan); 3) PacMan has jaundice (After Midnight).

It seems to have become a tradition at Saturday Night Live  to end the season with a flood of guests – most of them former cast members – and this week’s finale was no different.  Andy Samberg was joined by Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Tatiana Maslany, Seth Meyers and a whole bunch more.  It’s fun to watch and nice to welcome back old friends, but it also highlights the fact that, with a few exceptions, the current cast doesn’t resonate the way the former one did.  Any wonder then that the highlight of the episode were the two songs by St. Vincent?

 

Looking Ahead

The Normal Heart airs May 25 on HBO.

The season premiere of American Ninja Warrior airs May 26 on NBC.

Petals On The Wind airs May 26 on Lifetime.

The series debut of The World Wars airs on The History Channel on May 26.

The season premiere of America’s Got Talent airs on NBC on May 27.

The series premiere of The Wil Wheaton Project airs on Syfy on May 27.

The series debut of The Night Shift airs on May 27 on NBC.

The season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance airs on Fox on May 28.

The series premiere of Undateable airs on NBC on May 29.

The series debut of The Sixties airs on May 29 on CNN.

The series premiere of Crossbones airs May 30 on NBC.

 

TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet.  Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on?  Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email:  [email protected]  I welcome your input!

 

[Image Sources 1, 2, 3]