What’s on the TV, Dave?

Elementary is about to end its season, and Justified is completely done. Doctor Who is, as far as I’m concerned, on indefinite hiatus, and Sleepy Hollow has been all but forgotten by nearly everyone I know who couldn’t praise it enough a year ago. So I’m about to be out of luck as far as things to watch, and am in the market for new ones.

We live in a time of great TV, but not so much if you’re not interested in the adventures of horrible people, superheroes, or cartoons for adults. Fortunately, two shows have caught my attention.

The first is Orphan Black, which a lot of folks have recommended. It’s a show about a young woman, Sarah, who already has enough problems finding out that she seems to be one of many clones, bred under mysterious circumstances and for an unknown purpose. The high concept, however, is handled very well, without too much nonsense. We got the first disk and by episode two we were pretty much hooked. The “gimmick” that Tatiana Maslany plays all of the clones seems pretty well done at first, with fine use of camera work to make the multiple roles gel, but when the clone Alison appears you realize just what a fantastic job Maslany is doing. The supporting cast is also great, especially Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s foster brother, Felix. We are about halfway done with season one. and looking forward to more.

Showtime has some kind of free promotion going on now, so we also checked out Penny Dreadful. This is ridiculous, trashy TV at its finest, absolutely luxuriating in its over-the-topness. Set in Victorian England, we follow the adventures of Sir Malcolm Murray, Vanessa Ives, and Ethan Chandler as they delve into the darkest horrors. Oh, and they also hang out with Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and possibly Dracula (Sir Malcolm’s missing daughter is named Mina.) The amazing thing about Penny Dreadful is that we’ve had a vampire hunt, Frankenstein’s monster, a shocking seance, “Ripper”-style murders, and a shocking twist — and we have only seen the first two episodes so far. So far this show, unlike some others I could name, has not forgotten it has a Franklinstein’s Frankenstein’s Monster in it.

Both Orphan Black and Penny Dreadful are examples of my favorite kind of TV show, the kind where they don’t screw around. Both shows, in only a handful of episodes, are at places that other shows would have languidly taken their time getting to, and are stronger for it. You don’t convince me that a threat is dangerous and imminent if you lollygag your way to it. Can this kind of momentum be sustained? I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

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