DVD Review: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Season One)

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Penny Dreadful was about a batch of famous literary monsters mashing it up in Victorian England. There was Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, the Wolfman, Henry Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster. They fought against vampires and other creatures that go bump in the night. The all-star cast featured Eva Green (Casino Royale), Timothy Dalton (James Bond) and Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down). The show lasted three seasons and ended in 2016. There was a bit of excitement when Showtime announced a new Penny Dreadful series, but creator John Logan was going to set the show in 1930’s Los Angeles. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels changed things up considerably from the original series besides a swap in time and location. None of the original stars were returning and it wouldn’t feature any of the previous monsters. In a nutshell Penny Dreadful: City of Angels – Season One was a whole new series and not a spin-off.

Instead of a batch of fictional characters from literature, the supernatural characters involve two spirits: one good and one bad. Santa Muerte (Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood‘s Lorenza Izzo) is the good spirit that protects her followers. Who does she protect them from? Her big foe is the demonic Magda (Game of Thrones‘ Natalie Dormer). Magda is out to cause chaos and violence in the greater Los Angeles area which in 1938 is a pretty volatile place. The city council is the process of installing the freeway system that is planned to bulldoze a majority of minority neighborhoods. Magda takes the form of sweet little woman who advises a city council member that’s the key vote to the new roads. Magda is also Rio, a tough woman who doesn’t want her fellow Chicanos to give into the freeway system. She uses these two roles to amp up the violence between both sides. But there’s even more violence and chaos for her when she also becomes a German housewife who tempts a German doctor to no merely return to his roots, but become a part of a Nazi group that also wants to stake their claim to Los Angeles. In the midst of all these explosive situations stands two men. Detectives Lewis Michener (The Producers‘ Nathan Lane) and Tiago Vega (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) are caught between all the angles in Los Angeles. Vega is more stuck in the middle since he’s the first Mexican-American LAPD detective and he has to enforce the neighborhood destruction for the freeway. He also has connections to the people that Magda is tempting in her Rio form. Will Los Angeles survive this battle fought with asphalt?

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels – Season One is really the complete series since Showtime canceled the series. The ten episodes do capture a sense of history in Los Angeles especially the impact of the freeway into the how the city has developed over the decades. Bringing the supernatural element into this development adds to the devious nature and chaos that emerged. This is one of my favorite Nathan Lane performances. He’s just right in the cop role. Likewise seeing Brad Garrett as the mobster is rather odd since you’d imagine Lane and Garrett would be yucking it up on screen instead of being in rather brutal scenes. Natalie Dormer is seamless going between Magda’s various persona. She is chilling in the role especially the scene where she absorbs her son. Daniel Zovatto steps up as a leading man as the cop who is torn between his job and his family. He wants to see progress, but fears it’s all an illusion. Which is part of what we sense during the show. What was the true nature of the Los Angeles freeway system? Penny Dreadful: City of Angels might lack the literary monsters of the original series, but we’re given plenty of human monsters.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the detail of the parts of Los Angeles destroyed for the sake of getting to Pasadena faster. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. You’ll hear Magda swish around was she burns out the lettuce field. The episodes are subtitled.

The Dance of the Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (5:50) talks about recreating the district that was bulldozed for the Freeway. They dip into the massive dance number from episode one. The preproduction and dance rehearsals were months in advance which is astounding in the world of episodic TV.

The Devil Is In the Details: Part 1 (4:28) has John Logan talk about the historical elements of the show when it comes to the Freeway build and the Mexican community it crushed. They show off the massive sets built for the show.

The Devil Is In the Details: Part 2 (4:31) goes into how they did the various special effects. John Logan mentions how they had fog and darkness in the original series. This time they have to pull off effects under the California sun.

CBS DVD present Penny Dreadful: City of Angels – Season One. Created by: John Logan. Starring: Natalie Dormer, Daniel Zovatto, Kerry Bishé, Adriana Barraza, Jessica Garza, Michael Gladis, Johnathan Nieves, Rory Kinnear and Nathan Lane. Boxset Contents: 10 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: September 29, 2020.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.