By Paula Hendrickson
It seems April showers are bringing more than May flowers this spring: zombies and monsters. May 8, BBC America’s very different spin on the zombie genre, In the Flesh, returns for a second season. (Its first season was just three episodes, and season two won’t be much longer.)
On In the Flesh, zombie-ism is a treatable condition called Partially Deceased Syndrome, or PDS for short. Patients are medicated and monitored to ensure they don’t return to their (un)natural flesh-eating zombie state. They’re also given special contacts and skin bronzer to help them blend in with the fully alive majority. PDS sufferers are often shunned, giving In the Flesh an interesting take on topics like racism and the discrimination against people living with AIDS and other diseases.
While some PDS sufferers, like Kieran Walker (Luke Newberry) try to stick to the protocol, others see conformity as oppression and refuse to mask their undead appearances. A Pro-Living Party emerges, as do terrorist groups, adding political fuel to the fire. In The Flesh has its share of slightly gory moments, but balances those well with lighter situational humor. It’s my kind of show.
I thought the same thing upon hearing a description of Showtime’s new series, Penny Dreadful, which is set in 1891 London — an era that spawned many of classic literature’s scariest characters like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau and Dorian Gray. It’s kind of like what you’d imagine Victorian England’s precursor to The X-Files or Fringe might be, minus the governmental oversight and bureaucracy.
The title refers to numerous one-penny publications popular in England during the Victorian era, a time when literacy rates were on the rise. The penny dreadful format brought affordable serialized literature to a populace hungry for entertainment. Some of that entertainment included horror or supernatural stories similar to those in the series. It was a forerunner of pulp fiction.
On the series Penny Dreadful, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a renowned explorer trying to find his missing daughter. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) plays a mysterious spiritualist — and possible clairvoyant — helping the explorer navigate the dark underworld where they fear his daughter has been taken. They recruit an American sharpshooter (Josh Harnett) named Ethan Chandler to help defend themselves against any monsters they might encounter. And that intellectual young physician who lends a hand? Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), of course. Kind of like a more mature, Victorian version of Buffy the Vampire’s Scooby Gang.
Penny Dreadful is dark, creepy and sometimes even funny, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Especially not for kids. Perhaps because it’s on a premium channel, but some scenes are especially gruesome. If you’re the least bit squeamish, you might want to cover your eyes.
In The Flesh returns Saturday, May 10, at 9 p.m. Central on BBC America.
Penny Dreadful premieres Sunday, May 11, at 9 p.m. Central on Showtime.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the May 7-13, 2014, issue