‘Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels’ Is Not Dreadful, But Tough To Watch

Courtesy: CBS DVD/Paramount/Showtime/Sky

Showtime and Sky’s Penny Dreadful spin-off City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise.  The 10-episode series, which ran for approximately two months this year from April 26 to June 28, is an interesting presentation.  While it only ran for one season, it is a presentation that will find its specific audiences.  That is due in part to the story featured in the program.  This element will be discussed shortly.  While the story does give audiences reason to watch, the general content that accompanies the story unarguably detracts from the show’s presentation to a point.  This will be addressed a little later.  The work of the series’ cast puts the finishing touch to the show’s program.  Together with the story, those two elements are enough to make up for the show’s somewhat overly gritty content and make it worth watching at least once.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to Showtime and Sky’s original Penny Dreadful franchise, which originally launched in 2014 and ran for three seasons. It is a presentation that fans of hard boiled crime dramas will find at least somewhat appealing.  That is proven in part through its expansive story line, which spans the show’s 10-episode run.  Unlike the original series, which is based on a series of Victorian-era monsters and their experiences, City of Angels is centered more on the real world.  The gritty, hard-boiled crime drama takes place in pre-World War II Los Angeles, California.  It follows the murder of a well-to-do white family in Los Angeles.  The murder is initially blamed on members of the city’s Hispanic community, but of course the truth is eventually revealed at the series’ end, not to give away too much.  This frame-up highlights the racial tensions that did in fact exist between the white members of the city’s citizenry and its immigrant population, especially in the interactions between the city’s all-white police force and the members of the city’s Hispanic population.  Adding to the mix is the impact of the Nazi party in the region at the time.  As if that is not enough, Magda, in all of her various forms, keeps the tension high throughout each of the story lines that interweave throughout the series, adding even more intrigue to the story.  Her actions add to the never-ending discussion on whether human behavior and thoughts are innate or are influenced by external factors (I.E. the sociological discussion of nature versus nurture).  This is discussed in the bonus content that accompanies the series’ home release.  That overarching aspect makes for so much interest in this series.  Of course it cannot be denied that through it all, there are moments when all of the story lines do cause the series to get bogged down in itself.  Each of the story lines do ultimately tie together, but because there is so much going on, it was clearly easy for the writers to get lost in their project.  As a result, audiences end up getting a little lost, too.  Luckily that is not enough to completely ruin the series’ presentation, but it also cannot be ignored.  The fact that the story occasionally gets bogged down in itself is just one of the problems from which this series suffers.  Its general content creates its own problem for the its presentation.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was intentionally presented as a gritty, hard boiled crime drama.  There is no denying that.  This brand of crime story is nothing new to audiences.  It has been around since at least the early to mid 1920s and 30s.  The thing is that this series takes the general elements of hard boiled crime to a new and somewhat controversial level.  The gruesome fate of the family that was killed is explicit to say the least.  It is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s look of the Joker in The Dark Knight only far more extreme, complete with blood and gore, oh and nudity.  This is just one over-the-top element of the show’s content.  The overt displays of homosexual (and bi-sexual) intercourse are completely unnecessary, and another way in which the show’s content goes way too far over the top.  As if that is not enough, a moment, such as that in which a police officer’s neck is slashed with a razor and his body left naked and covered in blood (yes, this really is shown) is far too explicit, too.  Between these moments and all of the unnecessary foul language that is used throughout, the general content featured in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels proves to be anything but angelic.  Maybe that is because the show’s heads could get away with it, being on Showtime after all.  Regardless, the noted content (and more) does a great deal to detract from what could have otherwise been a great classic crime hard boiled style crime drama.

For all that the content displayed in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels does to detract from the series’ presentation, it is not enough to make the series completely unwatchable.  The work of the series’ cast on camera works with the story to help save it at least somewhat.  Most notable of the cast is star Nathan Lane.  The veteran actor, Lane serves as a supporting cast member here.  Even as a supporting cast member, he still shines both by himself and alongside fellow cast member Daniel Zovatto (It Follows, Lady Bird, Don’t Breathe).  Lane is known typically as a comedic actor, but his dramatic turn here is so powerful.  When he’s by himself, he stands out so much because he takes the full chance to let Michener’s personality develop.  His years of experience on stage and screen comes through fully and fully entertaining.  When he is working alongside Zovatto, who shines in his own right as Tiago, he never tries to outdo the younger actor.  Rather, the duo works so well together, sort of building their characters’ personalities together.  Natalie Dormer meanwhile shines in her own way as Magda as she takes on her various roles.  Among the best of her moments comes as she portrays Alex, clerk to Councilman Townsend.  The way in which she basically plays him is classic clerk to an evil business.  At the same time, she makes her evil intentions just barely noticeable enough really balance things out and make her character so wonderfully despicable.  Going back to Zovatto, the way he presents Tiago’s personal identity struggles as he works with the police and tries to balance that with his identity as a Latino is moving in its own right.  There are moments when he hams it up a little too much, but for the most part, he takes on his portrayal quite well.  In the same vein, the way in which Tiago’s police counterparts take on their roles is fully believable, too.  There is no way that doing and saying what they did could have possibly been easy, but sadly there is a lot of reality about those racial tensions even in that era.  To that point, the actors made it easy to have a strong dislike for their characters and their awful behavior.  That means that they did a good job of showing the vile nature of how horribly they treated minorities even back then, so they are to be commended for that, as difficult as it must have been, morally.  Taking in the performances noted here, that of Lane’s fellow veteran actor Brent Spiner (who does well in a rare non-Star Trek role), and those of all others involved, it can be said easily that the work of the series’ cast plays well into the overall presentation of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.  Together with the story, they do just enough to counter the questionable content featured within the story, and make the series worth watching at least once.

Showtime and Sky Network’s short-lived series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise, which started six years ago as a fantasy type series.  Its overall story, which incorporates multiple story lines does relatively well to engage audiences.  Given those story lines do bog the series down at times, but not enough to make the series a failure.  The content that is displayed throughout the series does quite a bit to make it difficult to watch, as has been noted here.  It goes way above and beyond the content presented in classic hard boiled detective novels and movies, basically throwing it all out the window just for the sake of having something shocking.  It really is the series’ biggest detractor and makes the series difficult to watch more than once.  The work of the series’ cast works with the story to make up for the problems created by the content at least somewhat.  Those two elements are positives, and do make up for the problems posed through the content to a point.  Taking everything noted here collectively, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is a powerful addition to Showtime and Sky Network’s franchise that crime drama fans will find worth watching at least once.  Hopefully if another addition to the franchise comes along, it will not be as explicit as this series and worth far more.  If not, then the franchise has closed out on a difficult note.  It is available now.

More information on this and other programs from Showtime is available online at:

Website: http://www.sho.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/showtime

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Showtime


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