What Is Showtime's 'Penny Dreadful' About? More Than Josh Hartnett & Fictional Monsters, That's For Sure

Showtime’s latest original series Penny Dreadful will premiere this Sunday, May 11. Josh Hartnett, Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, and Eve Green star in the series, which will take place in London in 1891, and delve into the lives of some of literature’s most known monsters. The title itself stems from the 19th century fictional British publications which would feature scandalous and often, violent tales. But is Penny Dreadful is just a mash-up of history’s most memorable fictional villains? Nope. There is more to this new series than meets the eye.

The show, which was inspired by romantic poet William Wordsworth, looks like a series created to connect with viewers’ recent obsession with antiheroes like Walter White and Hannibal Lecter and the gothic elements of The Following, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story and Bates Motel. But Showtime is doing more than hopping on the bandwagon. Rather than going for cheap scares, Penny Dreadful aims to be a psychological thriller that sustains its suspense far past its initial eight-episode order.

It’s Very Much a Human Story

The first seasons will revolve around Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and his relentless pursuit of his kidnapped daughter Mina, and the various things he uncovers along the way. With so many villains to pick from, supernatural and otherwise, it would be easy for the show to take on a completely other-worldly feel that could alienate people. But during a recent interview, Dalton told USA Today that it is the human aspect that will really hook fans:

It is a story about people and they've got real concerns with real conflicts. But at the same time, everything that makes up a human being — the turbulence, the guilt, the good sides, the bad sides — they're all roiling around in everybody. Everybody's on some journey to try and gain some kind of redemption or create a family or create a life.

It Blends Reality With Fiction

Sir Malcolm Murray's plot will certainly feel, though it's fictional, but Penny Dreadful will investigate actual historical events as well. The murders of Jack the Ripper will be explored in the series. The Ripper alone could fill an entire show, but he will be mixed in with the vampires, zombies (Frankenstein’s creation fits that mold), and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The closest comparison is ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but to be clear, Penny Dreadful is far too graphic for network television. It is very much an adult show, and not for the faint of heart. It does however offer the opportunity for theorizing and conspiracy theories galore. If you're into that sort of thing, then welcome to your new obsession.

Nothing Is As It Seems

At first glance, the series may appear to be a whodunit with goblins looped in for excitement, but the real story appears to focus on the similarities between humans and monsters. Even the evil ones have their matches. Could those that seem normal mirror the traits often associated with monsters, perhaps even more so than those outwardly appearing to be monsters? In a promo for the show, the actors all ponder one thought: “No matter what secrets you possess, no matter what fears you hold, no matter what darkness you hide, no matter how monstrous your dreams, no matter what hungers you feel, there are others just like you.”

Trust nothing you see, and word on the street is that you should wait until the second episode before you decide if you’ll keep watching the show.

Images: Showtime (2)