Here to kick off my new weekly feature is Dyrk Ashton, self-proclaimed knucklehead, SPFBO finalist, and author of the bold, epic fantasy novel Paternus - sequel coming soon I hope! Enjoy!
So y’all know, and to get things straight in my own crooked mind, Timandra has asked me, and others, to do something a little different with a guest blog. Something refreshing, I think, at least for me. She wanted me to “Forget about writing for a moment. Forget about your book. Forget about your characters, your plot. Forget about your ideas for a sequel. Forget about writing. What's got your interest at the moment? What are you excited about? What are you angry about? What are you preoccupied with? Tell me all about that, and then... Tell me if you think it's going to affect the next thing you write, and if so, in what way. And if not, tell me what effect it is going to have on you, in the near future.”
Of course my first thought was, “uhh not writing? umm…” Tim’s approach is brilliant in that so many of us writers really do obsess about the writing. Okay that may be an unfair generalization. I do. How’s that. So to break out of that and write about something else for a blog, anything else, helps me break out of my little writing world for a bit. That’s good for me. Maybe not so good for you, we’ll see I guess.
Very recently I became obsessed with the TV series Penny Dreadful. I love TV series. I mean really. That’s why I don’t watch many. Maybe three at a time, as they are shown. The rest I don’t watch “live” but wait and buy the DVDs when they come out. I stay away from Netflix and other streaming services completely, because if it is there, and available, whenever I want, I will do it all, right now and forever. If TV were a Tony-Montana-size pile of coke I’d have it all up my nose in a blink. I’d never accomplish anything. And that in particular means writing (oh crap I mentioned writing, Tim’s going to have my ass, don’t tell).
I see commercials for shows, all the time, have them recommended, see folks talking about them online, and like a good recovering addict I take deep breaths and pray and think about rainbows and bunnies and chocolate and unicorns until the desire to WATCH THEM ALL RIGHT NOW finally goes away, or at least subsides to a manageable level, then I go back relatively happily to my life and work.
BUT, not long ago I saw a sale on all three DVD sets, the entire series, of Penny Dreadful. I’d seen those trailers. Eva Green - hrrrgng. Timothy Dalton saying things like “For her I would murder the world” - eeeeee. Other than that it looked very dark, creepy as hell, and oh so British - I do love the British TV sensibility - visually stunning and often risk-taking in narrative style. Now we Yanks can put together some wonderful TV and have produced some of my favorite series ever, don’t get me wrong, but British TV is different, and I like different. And did I say Eva Green?
So guess what happened when I saw that big rock of TV-crack right there in front of my face and SO CHEAP? I bought it, duh. Then when it arrived I put it all in my eyes as fast as I possibly could. To my credit, I showed some little restraint, watching only 4 or 5 episodes a day until it was done. And there aren’t very many, only 8 per season, so 24 hours total. Much too short but thank God for that or I’d still not be getting enough sleep or writing.
So that’s my TV addiction, what about the show? Why did I keep watching it? I mean besides the fact that I can’t help myself, I don’t continue watching shows that I don’t like. And by saying that I don’t like, I mean they don’t have something pretty powerful to keep me intrigued. I should back up a bit. I have seen a bazillion TV shows and perhaps more films that most people in the whole world. I’m jaded. I’m not easily impressed. I need something pretty - how can I put this - interesting, to keep me hooked. Why don’t I just say good or brilliant or incredibly well crafted? Because that’s not it. A show or movie doesn’t actually have to be all or even any of those things for me. But it does have to have something.
[Caveat: This is all my opinion, like any review or critique from anyone, no matter what they might claim or imply.]
Music and credit sequence: Not that impressed. I couldn’t hum the music today, and if someone else did I probably wouldn’t recognize it. Images are not particularly original or interestingly put together. I didn’t want to watch and listen for every episode. It ain’t no Battlestar Galactica or True Blood or Game of Thrones or even Dexter.
Interesting characters: Oh yes very much thank you. Check.
Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives is so strong but vulnerable and robust but sickly and brilliant but out of her mind and so very tortured and weird I couldn’t help but be captivated.
Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray is the epitome of driven opinionated powerful white male patriarchy - but with a tick, tragic flaws, and ultimately practically impotent compared to the rest of the main characters.
Josh Hartnett - he’s okay. He’s pretty. He fills the screen. His Ethan Chandler is okay too.
Roy Kinnear is brilliant as The Creature. Simon Beale as Ferdinand Lyle the Egyptologist and unlikely ally often outshines all of them though, for me. Doctor Frankenstein and the rest are okay. Reve Carney’s uber-pretty unblinking Dorian Gray was interesting but ultimately just kind of ineffectual and unimportant in the grander scheme of things. Again, my opinion, just how I felt about it. My favorite may have been Sembene. Murray’s ally and manservant of sorts. I feel there was a lot more too him, though, that could have been explored, and was sad to see him go, though the device behind the narrative choice made sense and made him a truly heroic character in my view.
Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with the first episode. Or the second, really. But the grim and dirty feel that made me uncomfortable, the terrific flaws of the characters, the visual beauty of the grim, kept me watching. Then the nearly ridiculous leaps in logic, physics and almost silly narrative shifts kicked in. I grumbled - but instead of turning me away, they became such a built-in part of the plot and inherent sensibility of the series I realized this was not incompetence but a purposeful style of storytelling - and I became more intrigued. And then witches and surprising deaths and more poor suffering Eva, I had to keep going to see what would happen to her and then off to America with cowboys and a Native American shaman shape-shifter and oh my God it’s Brian Cox as Ethan’s father. I love Brian Cox. Shocking and ridiculous and wonderful stuff. Some, or maybe a lot, of it a bit contrived. But never predictable. Never clichéd (at least not the most important stuff).
The series is morally gray but edging closer to the darkness all the way through. There’s sacrifice everywhere. And torture. Literally. This is grim stuff. As grim as I’ve seen without just being gratuitous suffering. And it gets pretty gratuitous. I have to admit I like that when done appropriately, so higher on the intrigue meter for me. And yes, it all looked incredibly lush and lovely (for the subject matter). Lots of stuff to make even me go wide-eyed. Something like that in every episode, I’d say, thinking back on it. So, yeah, Penny Dreadful, that’s what I was really interested in for awhile that isn’t writing or my characters or my books.
Now, however, I can talk a little bit about writing per Tim’s criteria, specifically, how is that other interest going to affect what I write or am working on now? I get a lot of my inspiration for writing from visuals. Especially when I see something and think, oh, that’s big, that’s powerful, I can do something like that. I also like alternative narrative. Shows like Penny Dreadful reinforce my thinking that there is no right or wrong, good or bad, in storytelling, be it visual or on the page. There’s just what works. What works for me, that is. I can use that. I have before, and I will again.
Shows like Penny Dreadful reinforce my thinking that there is no right or wrong, good or bad, in storytelling, be it visual or on the page.Penny Dreadful
Enough out of me. Thanks Tim!
Thank you, Dyrk, this was exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for sharing your obsession with us. For those of you who want to cyberstalk Dyrk IN A GOOD WAY, you can find him nearly everywhere:
Next week on Where Is My Mind? Another SPFBO finalist: Phil Tucker
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