Josh Hartnett and Eva Green star in "Penny Dreadful," airing Sundays on Showtime at 10 p.m. / Credit: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME
Not many television series credit the poetry of William Wordsworth as a creative starting point. But Showtime's new psychosexual horror drama "Penny Dreadful" is unlike most other TV shows.
Created by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan ("Gladiator," "The Aviator"), "Penny Dreadful" weaves together the lives of literature's iconic horror characters while reimagining their origin stories in Victorian-era London. Logan says he got caught up in reading romantic poetry about 10 years ago when Wordsworth led him to Mary Shelley and a re-reading of "Frankenstein."
"I was just very provoked by it," he says. "And I started thinking about the themes and why almost 200 years after it was written are we still reading 'Frankenstein.' I think it's because the monsters break my heart. And personally speaking, growing up as a gay man before it was as socially acceptable as it is now, I knew what it was to feel different, to feel alienated. But the very same thing that made me monstrous to some people also empowered me and made me who I was."
Logan, a self-proclaimed "monster geek," took inspiration from Universal's classic horror films of the 1940s to create his own monster mashup. "Penny Dreadful" brings the likes of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) into the world of new characters Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a mysterious woman in touch with the supernatural, and Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), an American hired gun running away from a checkered past.
Logan chose to bring these characters together in London circa 1891 for reasons beyond the cool costumes and ominous streets. "There's something about the Victorian era that reminds me of right now, because they were on the cusp of a modern world," Logan says. "The agrarian economy has been replaced by industrial economy. They're looking across the ocean and saying their navies are bigger than ours and they were grappling with the very elemental question of what it is to be human. And I sit down today and I feel exactly the same way. I don't understand any of the new world that's zooming toward us. It's frightening and there's dissonance and there's excitement to unchartered waters." And for both us and these characters, Logan says, "that's what makes good drama."
Meet Vanessa and Ethan Vanessa (Eva Green) is a medium whose gifts bring together the characters around her. "She's a beautiful heroine," says Green. "She's kind of a rebel. It's such a repressed time…and she's very hungry for life. All her five senses are very much alive, tingling all the time. But it's Victorian times, so it's always the conflict inside her."
Ethan (Josh Hartnett) is a sharpshooting American whose skills may prove useful to his new companions. "Ethan has been working in a Wild West show. It's not necessarily the top Wild West show. It's kind of a second-tier Wild West show," Hartnett says. "He finds himself in London in the middle of this intriguing situation, and he decides to stick around and see what happens. We don't know why really, and that's why you have to watch the show."