Let’s talk about both the gayest and the most un-gay show on TV this summer. Both descriptions are accurate because Penny Dreadful is, indeed, both things. It is gay in the men getting naked with men and women getting naked with women sense. And it is un-gay in the there is absolutely nothing lighthearted about this story sense. See what I did there, eh? Right, moving on.
For those unfamiliar with the new Showtime series, Penny Dreadful is a gothic mystery featuring some of the most-recognizable icons in horror history. Dr. Frankenstein? Yep. His monster? Yep. Dorian Gray? Yep. Van Helsing? Yep. Vampires? Yep. Big-ass spiders? Yep and AHHHH!
The story centers around a very loosely assembled team on a mission to save the daughter of its wealthy benefactor, African explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (a bearded Timothy Dalton). Helping him is riddle-wrapped-in-an-enigma Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and Dr. Frankenstein himself (Harry Treadaway). They’re all on a sort-of quest to find Sir Malcolm’s missing daughter, Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn).
While Penny Dreadful isn’t a laugh-riot, it is deeply riveting, unabashedly creepy and delightfully gay (in the LGBT way). Sadly there has been limited lesbian or bisexual portrayal so far (mostly just an orgy and hints of subtext), still the show has had no problem both gay male sexuality or nudity. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen if not more at least an equal number of dude butts (and other bits) so far this season. Granted, this may not sell it to gay ladies, but at least it’s a win for equality.
So far the biggest gay twist has been the hook up between Hartnett’s Ethan and none other than omnisexual Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). Last week’s episode, which focused exclusively on Green’s mysterious character Miss Ives, had whiffs of lesbian subtext in the closer-than-sisters relationship between her and Mina growing up. But, for now, Vanessa remains stalwartly heterosexual. (We reached out to Showtime, but have not heard back yet on any potential lesbian or bisexual female storylines in the future.) A gal can dream.
Much of the show’s stealth-gay appeal and level of comfort with sexual fluidity can probably be attributed to its creator and showrunner, John Logan. This is the out gay executive producer’s first TV series. He previously wrote the screenplays for The Aviator, Gladiator and Hugo among others.
While Penny Dreadful can be scary and intense and sometimes intentionally confusing (also, Jesus, the SPIDERS), the series is well worth a look. It’s stylish and brooding, with a particularly fine performance from Green. Those with lingering feelings for her after her portrayal of Miss G in Cracks will not be disappointed. The extreme architecture of her face has only gotten more exquisite with time. The series also features Billie Piper as a seemingly doomed prostitute suffering from Consumption. Hey, I told you this show wasn’t gay in the “happy” sense.
Penny Dreadful has already been renewed for a second, longer season. The eight-episode first season (which airs its sixth episode this Sunday), will be expanded to a 10 episodes next year. The show debuted better than the series premieres of both Homeland and Masters of Sex.
So, have you been tuning in? Are you pleasantly surprised by the gay content so far? Also, if you’re watching from behind a pillow it’s OK. This is a safe place.