As soon as a prophecy declares that “a time will come when race will devour race, when brother will kill brother, until not a soul is left” in the Penny Dreadful season premiere, “Santa Muerte,” I knew I was in for a treat.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels explores Los Angeles of 1938, as a war of ideals begins to erupt while Mexican-American folklore, conspiracies, angels and demons all set up violent culture clashes and power plays. Meanwhile, just about all of the main characters seems to be portrayed as cultists. Talk about a great introduction to the franchise!
Things are tough for Tiago Vega, the first Chicano detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. His first day on the job somehow involves a quadruple homicide, the Day of the Dead and lifeless bodies without hearts, as if they were victims in The Temple of Doom. The city’s first freeway is about to be built while warring supernatural factions aim to claim some souls.
Never wasting a good tragedy, the transportation city councilman aims for political gain while The Fuehrer dreams of expanding his evil empire throughout Los Angeles, where “a man can live under the sun and spread his arms, where there’s breathing room.” Funny how that’s far from the truth these days, but there’s plenty of plots to keep the first two episodes of the season moving with a reason.
“I think everyone’s a fraud.”
City of Angels features beautiful set construction, perfectly lit props and costumes that absolutely bring the Los Angeles of 1938 to life. Watching the show, I was transported back to a place I never knew, even though I lived near the area for four years.
Brent Spiner as the no-nonsense police chief is the perfect touch to break free from Data’s grasp (it doesn’t hurt that he’s sporting his natural grey, if not all-white, hair color). And I really have missed Nathan Lane’s performances for a long time. His return to the spotlight brings him f-bombs aplenty and he oozes the vibe of a veteran cop who’s seen it all… that is, until he’s paired with a partner from a very different background. This definitely isn’t a buddy-cop comedy.
Remembering yesteryear seems to be a popular trend these days. Much like Quentin Tarantino fondly looked back onto Hollywood and Ryan Murphy had a nostalgic vision of ’80s slashers (and to a certain extent, the historical fiction of The Terror‘s two seasons), Penny Dreadful takes a look back at the Golden Era of Los Angeles. Forget Chinatown (even though that film is a favorite of mine), City of Angels tackles different topics, but social unrest, race riots and uneasy politics growing in Southern California can definitely be found at the forefront.
As this was my first visit within the world of Penny Dreadful, I don’t know what to expect for the remainder of the season, and it may be a while until I actually get to watch it. Since I don’t normally subscribe to Showtime, I’ll be on the lookout for the next free preview, but somehow this season reminds me of a combination of L.A. Confidential and L.A. Noire. Honestly, that’s not bad company for this television series.
“All mankind needs to be the monster he truly is, is being told he can.”