Is “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” Failing as a Spinoff?

Like many other horror fans, I was absolutely enamored with Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Even though it only ran for three seasons, it perfectly captured the spirit of Victorian Gothic Horror, and was full of atmosphere.

In many ways, it felt like what Universal’s Dark Universe should have been (in fact, I wrote a whole piece on that). So naturally, the news that a spinoff, City of Angels was on its way, it was also cause for excitement.

It was a really cool idea to see supernatural horror tales in other settings. However, the first four episodes of the season have been admittedly disappointing. There’s still a lot that works, but at its core, it feels like City of Angels hasn’t really delivered. And here’s why:

Doesn’t Feel Like Horror
The demon “Magda” seemed like a threatening and foreboding force in the first scene of the first episode.

But it feels like the series is really wasting a talented actress like Natalie Dormer with seeing how many fake wigs and accents she can put on.

Having the same actor play multiple roles can very easily feel gimmicky if it’s not done right.

The first episode shows her as an unseen supernatural force, influencing people to bring out the worst in them, and this is where she’s most effective.

But she’s now up to playing 3 different “human” characters directly interacting with other people and trying to influence them more directly, which just feels less interesting.

At its core, City of Angels feels more like a social drama than a horror show. Lorenza Izzo plays an incredibly mysterious Santa Muerte, who seems to be Magda’s nemesis, but she’s barely featured and underused.

She really should have been the main focus of the series.

Doesn’t Know How to be Subtle
Some of the primary themes of City of Angels includes bigotry, xenophobia, and cultural identity. Tiago makes for a very compelling protagonist, in that he’s clearly stuck between two worlds and identities.

He’s looked down upon by fellow police for being Chicano, and his family and community don’t like the fact that he’s a cop.

The only issue is that many of the racist police and anti-police family members feel like caricatures rather than three dimensional characters.

The original Penny Dreadful dealt with social issues, but did so in a more nuanced nature, while still remembering to be a horror show.

Tiago himself feels underdeveloped at times, because we never really understand what drives him to be a detective, but given the other issues with the series, this is a very minor problem.

There’s nothing wrong with infusing social/political commentary in fiction, in fact some of the best stories are based around this.

But there’s a world of difference between using subtlety to convey a message (look no further than the career of Jordan Peele), and beating the audience over the head with the message. It shows that he narrative doesn’t trust the viewers to infer it.

Doesn’t Feel Like Penny Dreadful
We’ve already gone over the surprising lack of horror. But here it refers more to how City of Angels is very loosely connected to the original series (if at all).

American Horror Story worked as an anthology because it was their approach from the beginning, and between cast members, characters, and even plotlines (most of Season 8), there are overlaps and connections.

Which begs the question, why wasn’t this series released just as City of Angels? There’s absolutely nothing (other than the casting of Rory Kinnear) that connects it back to the original Penny Dreadful.

It’s fitting that “Penny Dreadful” is in much smaller font…

It could have been advertised as “from the creators of Penny Dreadful” but instead is calls itself a spinoff in a cheap attempt to get more people to watch it. The fact that it’s not even really a horror show makes it all the more worse of a bait-and-switch.

However, we’re still only four episodes in, and there is still time for it to get better and go full horror. Episode 4 even had a legitimately creepy moment. Hopefully it does, or there definitely won’t be another spinoff…

On a more optimistic note, Episode 4 did have this really creepy scene!

What do you think of City of Angels so far? Do you feel like it’s not horror enough, or are you enjoying the change in tone and story? Let us know in the comments!

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