tue 04/08/2020

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Sky Atlantic review - the good, the bad and the unspeakable | reviews, news & interviews

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Sky Atlantic review - the good, the bad and the unspeakable

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Sky Atlantic review - the good, the bad and the unspeakable

Shape-shifting Natalie Dormer wreaks havoc in a combustible 1930s Los Angeles

Murder most grotesque: Daniel Zovatto and Nathan Lane on the case

American history of the 1930s and ‘40s suddenly seems to be all the rage on TV, cropping up in the reborn Perry Mason, Das Boot and now this new incarnation of Penny Dreadful (Sky Atlantic). The original was a blowsy Gothic mash-up of Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde and anything vaguely related that could be made to fit.

But this new one, again created and written by John Logan, leaps forward to Los Angeles in 1938. The city looks alluring under beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine, but there is unease in the air. Rumours of the coming European war are percolating, California’s Mexican population are scorned as second-class citizens, and politicians and businessmen are hustling for money, power and influence. It’s classic, and perhaps over-familiar, noir-esque territory, but Logan has given it a left-field spin with the introduction of a supernatural and spiritual dimension.

How this will pan out cross the 10-part series is yet to be seen, though some fans of the original Penny Dreadful are spluttering with indignation over Logan’s latest brainchild. His main agent of chaos is the shape-shifting demon Magda (pictured below), played in at least three incarnations by Natalie Dormer. She delivered a helpful mission statement at the start of this opening episode, explaining how she aims to bring about a time “when nation will battle nation, when race will devour race… when brother will kill brother until not a soul is left.”It seems all that that stands between California (or perhaps the entire world) and annihilation is a rival mystical presence, that of Santa Muerte, the Angel of Holy Death, a Mexican folk deity associated with the Day of the Dead. She pops up intermittently in a strange spiky headdress, trying to ameliorate horrid Magda's most heinous excesses. She couldn't stop Magda sweeping a trail of hellfire through a field of fruit-pickers, though.

Cutting to the chase, the drama pivots on the Chicano Vega family, former field-workers trying to make their way in the city. Tiago (Daniel Zovatto) has delighted his old mum Maria (Adriana Barraza) by winning his detective’s badge with the LAPD, where he’s partnered with crusty veteran cop Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane). But his very first case involves the ritualistic murder of a wealthy Beverly Hills family, found laid out and mutilated in the storm drains of the LA river. They’d all been dressed up in eerie Day of the Dead costumes and make-up.

We don’t have many of the pieces yet, but there all kinds of ways in which the city might explode. There’s an unpleasant Nazi faction in town, with Rory Kinnear playing Dresden-born doctor Peter Craft with a farcically bogus Cherman accent. He marches around with his buddies from the German-American Bund in a Hitler-boy scout outfit, urging Americans to keep their country out of European affairs. The smirking Nazis are also winkling their way into local politics, and trying to suborn the greasy and eminently corruptible councilman Townsend (Michael Gladis) into helping them to bend planning regulations. One of Magda’s identities is Townsend’s assistant, prodding him into the arms of the Germans.

But in full flow in her Magda incarnation, clad somewhat preposterously in a sweeping full-length black PVC dress, Dormer has already triggered a violent clash between the cops and Mexicans protesting about having their homes bulldozed for a new motorway. Disastrously, Tiago found himself forced to shoot his own brother Raoul (Adam CSI:Miami Rodriguez), after malignant Magda hypnotised him into shooting a bunch of officers. It’s barely begun, and things are already getting really bad.

The Nazis are winkling their way into local politics, trying to suborn the eminently corruptible councilman Townsend

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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