REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NOW TV
Spin-off shows are always a bit of gamble. Popular series tend to be an unlikely mix of elements, and changing those can be disastrous. The original Penny Dreadful is a Victorian-era supernatural soap opera with an eye-catching cast and beautiful set-pieces, using a gas-lit London to tell old school horror stories in a modern way. It’s strange, whimsical, and brutal.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is the same thing, except its set in LA during the Great Depression and swaps out the old monster show with more obvious supernatural terrors. Gone is the slow build and surprise of the original, and instead we have something closer to Supernatural in approach. Part of the problem is the show’s biggest star. Natalie Dormer is mesmerising in pretty much everything she does and she’s well cast as an ancient and powerful demon. She dominates the narrative throughout and this makes the clichéd and slightly dull elements all the more obvious. Nazis, strange religious practices, and magical outsiders all turn up to bore the viewer. Nothing meshes and the result is a mess.
This is Gothic America, but focusing more on paranoia and violence than the usual steady drip of strange people and even stranger geography. The show has a more LA Noir vibe going on, but this is never fully explored. At the end of each episode, you’re left feeling that they need to ditch the penny dreadful and pick up a blood-spattered Sam Spade novel instead.