Dead on Arrival (A Spoiler-Free Review of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels)

Netflix’s viewer data famously indicates that it takes an average of three episodes to become hooked on a new series. Having now watched four episodes of Sky/Showtime’s Penny Dreadful: City of Angels I can safely say that, for me, John Logan’s newest series is dead on arrival.

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Penny Dreadful: City of Angels and the ‘opposite’ of Gothic

There’s a new Penny Dreadful series on the horizon! A departure from the original 2014–2016 series in terms of setting and tone (and casting with one or two exceptions), City of Angels will take place in 1930s Los Angeles. Despite our reservations about the ending of Penny Dreadful season 3, many of us working in horror and the gothic have been excited about this new sequel series for months. And last week the first teaser trailer dropped:

The YouTube trailer page describes City of Angels as a ‘spiritual descendant of the original Penny Dreadful story set in Victorian-era London’. And all in all it feels very Penny Dreadful. Strong female protagonist a la Vanessa Ives? Meet Natalie Dormer’s character Magda, this time literally a demon (not just possessed by one). On-the-nose metaphors about humanity’s ‘inner monsters’? Check: in the teaser Magda explains how ‘all mankind needs to become the monster he truly is, is being told he can’. Visually spectacular supernatural period drama? The sets are lush and colourful, despite the weird sepia filter that’s been thrown over the whole show. Magda gets not one, not two, but six fabulous costume changes in the teaser, two with hats that I need immediately. I’m also excited to see a few Penny Dreadful actors back in new roles—in particular Rory Kinnear, whose performances I found some of the most moving in the original series.

More of this please.

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Gothic Remixed Now Available!

I’m thrilled to announce the official publication of Gothic Remixed: Monster Mashups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture!

This book explores the boundaries and connections between contemporary remix and related modes, including adaptation, parody, the Gothic, Romanticism, and postmodernism. In it, I argue that popular remix creations are the ‘monsters’ of our age, lurking at the limits of responsible consumption and acceptable appropriation. Taking a multimedia approach, case studies range from novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, to television programmes such as Penny Dreadful, to popular visual artworks like Kevin J. Weir’s Flux Machine GIFs.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘Perpetual Night’ and ‘The Blessed Dark’ (Season 3 Finale, Episodes 8 and 9)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 8 July 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

In my very first post I rhetorically questioned whether any of the ‘monsters’ in Penny Dreadful would be able to come to terms with their past or their actions. I also asked to what extent the show could be labelled ‘Victorian’ or ‘neo-Victorian’.

When I started writing this week’s post, I had no idea that I would be writing about the end of entire series, as well as the end of the third season. Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to finish it is the way this ending has (unexpectedly) forced me to completely re-evaluate the show, and my expectations of it.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘Ebb Tide’ (Season 3, Episode 7)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 17 June 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

What does it mean to be true to yourself? What does it mean to be a good person? These are questions Penny Dreadful has frequently explored over its three seasons, but I’m not sure they ever felt as pressing or disturbing as they do in ‘Ebb Tide’. More than anything, the episode seems to suggest that the answers to these questions depend entirely on the person asking.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘No Beast So Fierce’ (Season 3, Episode 6)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 10 June 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

This week’s episode of Penny Dreadful is essentially all about submission and dominance. It takes us on a tour of all the key characters and stories this season, and throws in a few more for good measure. In each story, we are given an example of how characters refused to submit, submitted to easily, or were forced into submission, and the episode then explores the effect this relationship to submission has had on them. Ethan’s refusal to confront his problems has taken over his life. Lily is so scarred by being broken into submission that she is determined to break the men who used her in return. She has been given a new life, but refuses to let the old one truly die. ‘I’ve suffered long and hard to be who I am,’ she tells Frankenstein during his failed kidnapping attempt. ‘I want my scars to show’. Vanessa, physically weak and emotionally fragile, is also paradoxically the strongest. She is not afraid to submit to others, or risk her heart again and again.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ’This World Is Our Hell’ (Season 3, Episode 5)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 3 June 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

After last week’s welcome respite from the grand narrative, Penny Dreadful returns to the story of Ethan Talbot, with a secondary plot that follows Jekyll and Frankenstein in their quest to find a permanent cure for social deviance. Ethan and Hecate are still being pursued by various authority figures, and an uncertain welcome awaits them at their destination. Jekyll and Frankenstein are still working on a way to prolong the effects of Jekyll’s serum, and it seems they may finally have succeeded.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘A Blade of Grass’ (Season 3, Episode 4)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 27 May 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

Last week I wished for a quieter episode that focused on one or two characters in a bit more depth. This week, that wish was granted. Seasons one and two both used an early episode to explore a part of Vanessa’s past, and this season does the same. ‘A Blade of Grass’ is a frame narrative that starts and ends as a hypnotherapy session between Vanessa Ives and Dr Seward, and the two women are attempting to discover where Vanessa first met The Master (a.k.a. Dracula).

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘Good and Evil Braided Be’ (Season 3, Episode 3)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 20 May 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

With a third of this season’s nine-episode run now complete, it’s still surprisingly difficult to judge where we should be at this point in Penny Dreadful’s story arc. Season one forced us to slowly stew in dread and suspense until the last few episodes, building up the struggles and motivations of its central characters. Season two jumped straight into supernatural action, then stepped back to let side stories unravel, and plotlines settle into place.

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Frankenfiction: The Book

This blog started in 2014 as a chronicle of my PhD research into Frankenfictions—books, films, television, and fine art that remix classic literature and historical documents in monstrous ways.

Now, four years on, I’m very excited to announce that I’ve just signed a contract with Bloomsbury Academic for my book Gothic Remixed: Monster Mashups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture. It should be out in hardback sometime in 2019, with a projected paperback release in 2021.

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