Where has all the good sci-fi gone???
Television today is a dismal collection of over-saturated "reality" tv shows (that are so ridiculously scripted, "reality" is no longer real...), day-time talk shows and late night variety talk shows (ever notice how late-night hosts are all dudes???), shows with supernatural teens (translation: 30-year old actors playing 17-year olds...ugh), or, the new focus on female-centric rom-commy storylines, like Jane the Virgin, where almost every woman who "stars" in each show is still connected to a man in some way, or, even better, down on her luck because she isn't. Le sigh.
Last summer, I was salivating for the highly anticipated seventh and final season of True Blood--many of the cast members I know or have worked with during my recent three-year Comic Con tour. I had also corresponded with both Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball for my book, True Blood and Philosophy. So, it was a real pleasure to see my friends have the time of their lives ending what felt like 21st century Shakespeare on crack. A totally unique and all-consuming experience. Delicious storylines, a beautiful cast, magical realism the way it should be, witty political and cultural commentary, and the cherry on top of this Sunday-night HBO-star? A strong, independent woman at the creamy center of every single episode.
But summer 2015 feels like a television let-down before the season's even gotten started. As Jupiter completes it's historic rotation around the Sun this July/August, scheduled to return again in 2026, it feels as though the rest of the world is waning, too. Dare I say it? Things in the Entertainment world have gotten, well, boring.
My one bright spot was the discovery of Showtime's Penny Dreadful, named for the "Penny Dreadfuls" sold on the streets of Victorian England. The pamphlets, purchased for a penny, featured "dreadful" tales like "Varney the Vampire." In this steam-punk monster mash-up, Victor Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Gray, and a host of other Victorian ghouls, all exist in the same time and place, despite the fact that there is nearly 80 years between the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Timothy Dalton (whom I loved in the British parody, Hot Fuzz) plays an Allan Quatermain-type a la Haggard's 1885 novel, King Solomon's Mines, as he leads the main cast of characters, which includes Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, and Broadway's own Spider-Man, Reeve Carney (who I naturally have girl-wood for...at 32, he's right in my wheelhouse). Something about the way Carney pulls off a perfect London accent, or stares intently at Green's character, Vanessa Ives, as if she is the only woman on the planet, or, how he positively nails the unreserved nihilistic joy (and pain) present in Gray, that makes him irresistible as both a man and an iconic legend of human immortality. Eva Green is equal to Carney in her intensity as a psychic medium helping Dalton's character, Sir Malcolm, find the more monstrous vampire common to the second decade of a post-9/11 21st century narrative. Malcolm's beloved daughter was stolen away by the pointy-toothed beast; much of the plot is driven by Malcolm's obsession with hunting down his latest and most complex prey. Josh Hartnett, however, is the surprise amongst them all.
Hartnett plays a Buffalo-Bill-like character named Ethan Chandler. For those who aren't fluent in Hebrew, the word "Ethan," pronounced "eitan," means" fortitude. And Hartnett certainly brings that to the table, and then some. As the #PopCultureProfessor, I've literally seen it all. It is not easy to surprise me. But a few weeks ago, during a weekend in #ATL where I battled mightily against my on-going struggle with depression, I caught up on Season 1 of Penny Dreadful. The intrigue kept me from going into my garage and never coming out again. Because, quite frankly, Hartnett managed to surprise me. Three times. In one season. Yes, folks, it's true. Some men have the stamina of a god. Hartnett, therefore, is a marathoner after my own heart....
So, despite the glaring absence of any good sci-fi on television this summer season, Penny Dreadful will keep my head above the threatening waters, giving me hope and purpose after favorites like Supernatural, featuring my beloved friend and fellow Comic Con alum, Curtis Armstrong as Metatron, go on hiatus until fall. Oh yes, and of course, there is HBO's Game of Thrones, too. But betrayal and slaughter do become rather tedious after a time. Though, one must admit, there are excellent examples of spirited women being oppressed by men in a variety of new and imaginative ways. Unequivocally, the best part of GoT is Peter Dinklage. Period.
Tune in to Penny Dreadful on Sundays at 10pm Eastern on Showtime; if you have nothing better to do, and need a fill-in for the 9pm hour on Sunday nights, check out Game of Thrones on HBO. And always come back to RebeccaHousel.com to see what's new here on the blog. Please #Follow me on Twitter or IG: @DocHousel #PopCultureProfessor
You may also wish to consider #Following the official Twitter accounts of these talents (and friends):
Reeve Carney: @reevecarney #PennyDreadful #DorianGray #YoureGorgeous
Curtis Armstrong: @curtisisbooger #KingOfTheNerds #Supernatural #Metatron #MissYou
Sir Patrick Stewart: @SirPatStew #StarTrek #TNG #CaptainPicard #AhabLives
Denis O'Hare: @denisohare #TrueBlood #AmericanHorrorStory #RussellEdgington #YouRock
Sam Trammell: @SamTrammell #TrueBlood #Shifter #SamMerlotte #WhiteRabbit