The subtle trick Showtime's "Penny Dreadful is that it is far less about the blood, gore and the specter of gruesome death than the sharp pain and exhilarating pleasure of living, and the terror of feeling alone even in close company. Read our review in the May Picks section.
COnstantly surprising, this is one of the BBC's unsung gems.
Dylan Moran and Charlotte Coleman have such chemistry, there is no doubting the warmth of Ian and Lisa's love for each other. They're a perfect couple in many ways: she's level-headed and sensible, but sees their country life as bliss; he's sarcastic and thoughtless, seeing their life as a provincial nightmare. They are both right, and both wrong. The support they give each other, and the tenderness of some of their scenes, are quite touching and emotional; very unlike any other sitcom. Of course, knowing the series was cut short by Charlotte Coleman's terrible death makes it even more poignant.
Every attempt Ian makes to fit in, half-hearted though it may be, is destined to fail. Frank Finlay is frightening as Lisa's "lord of the manor" father, bringing real menace and threat to his scenes. With Lisa's icy mother and violent brother adding colour, the only normal one of the bunch is Lisa's sister, Helen, played with restraint and lack of cuteness by The Vicar of Dibley's Emma Chambers.
There are some huge laughs along the way: Marc Warren as a comedian Ian ships in for a village fundraiser, who ruins the night and trashes the stage; Ian's stint managing Helen's shop; Ian's "rural fire stations" calendar; the restrained anger of Clive Merrison's headmaster; Ian giving up booze.
At heart, this is a very dark, bleak series. The harmonica music enhances the isolated rural atmosphere, and there are some shots of the countryside that make the village seem totally alone. The shining light of this forgotten little outpost is the warmth of Ian and Lisa's love. Such a shame that this was cut short.
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