There's a crisp efficiency to the pilot of Showtime's "Penny Dreadful" (10 p.m. Sunday), an easy-to-follow introduction of the characters that feels like the assembling of a Victorian era Justice League.
Created by writer John Logan ("Skyfall"), "Penny Dreadful" brings together the greats of Gothic literature -- including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray -- and mixes them with new creations for a dark drama that's bloody, sexy and intriguing. But through the first two episodes, it's not clear how these characters fit together and what the assemblage will amount to. That's a little frustrating but perhaps viewers who choose to go with the show's supernatural flow -- there are vampires, too -- will eventually be rewarded.
The show's title derives not from the name of its central female character but from cheap, serialized horror stories sold at London newsstands in the Victorian era. The show's key female role is actually Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a mysterious woman who dresses in black and works with the gatherer of strange characters, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton).
It seems that Murray's daughter has gone missing, and Ives enlists American ex-patriot gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) to help in a hunt among vampires in London's dark passages. Along the way they also meet medical examiner Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadway), and in episode two viewers encounter Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" on Broadway).
Frankenstein and Gray are interested in life/death dichotomies; the former clinically and the latter more sexually. Gray hires a prostitute dying of consumption and he gets most turned on during sex when she coughs up blood and it lands on his face. So, yeah, it's dark.
Episode two falters with a long seance scene filled with portentous mumbo jumbo but redeems itself with a grotesque shocker ending.
Will "Penny Dreadful" turn into a must-watch show? The jury's still out on that. But it's weird and different enough to stick with for a little while to see how it develops.
Prior to its linear debut Sunday, the pilot of "Penny Dreadful" is already available for free viewing via on demand, YouTube and Hulu among other sites. Showtime subscribers will get access to episode two via Showtime Anytime after the series premiere debuts Sunday. Cable subscribers can also catch the "Penny Dreadful" premiere as part of a free Showtime weekend (details at www.sho.com/sho/free-preview/1).
Next week TV viewers will learn the fates of their favorite "on the bubble" series, including CBS's "The Mentalist" and NBC's "Dracula" (if news doesn't leak out earlier). And even that may not be the final word on the shows as studios jockey to move canceled series to new networks.
Already word has leaked out about some shows: The Hollywood Reporter says NBC has renewed "Law & Order: SVU" for a 16th season while Fox canceled "Dads," "Enlisted," "Surviving Jack" and "Rake."
This much is certain: The networks will announce their new fall schedules Sunday through Thursday next week. I'll post the network announcements on the Tuned In Journal blog each morning at post-gazette.com/tv (scroll down and look at the right side for the blog link). NBC announces first on Sunday, followed by Fox on Monday, ABC on Tuesday, CBS on Wednesday and The CW on Thursday.
Cable series renewals drip out on a weekly basis. The latest includes Adult Swim's "Children's Hospital" (back in 2015), HBO's news magazine "Vice" (renewed for two more seasons to air in 2015 and 2016), TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland" (renewed for a 24-episode sixth season), WGN America's "Salem" (back for a 13-episode second season in 2015), Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" (renewed for a third season ahead of its June 6 second season premiere), Starz's "Da Vinci's Demons" (back for season three) and Hallmark Channel's "When Calls the Heart" (renewed for a second season).
On Mother's Day you could watch part one of NBC's two-part miniseries remake of "Rosemary's Baby" (9 p.m. Sunday, WPXI) or moms can hang with '90s sitcom icon Murphy Brown as Encore Classic airs the "Murphy Brown 25th Anniversary Special" (4 p.m. Sunday), a half-hour retrospective featuring a reunion of the show's cast, followed by a marathon of 10 episodes of the sitcom. ... NBC will retain rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2032. ... Terry Crews ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine") will be the new host of the syndicated daily game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" beginning this fall after current host Cedric the Entertainer opted not to return. ... Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously" environmental docuseries moves to 8 p.m. Monday next week. ... This week HBO officially announced Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback," canceled in 2005 after a single season, will return this fall as a six-episode limited series.
Tuned In online
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Fargo," "Sullivan & Son" and "Those Who Kill." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Fargo," "The Americans," "Rosemary's Baby" and a visit to a Hollywood backlot. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "24," "Orphan Black" and upfronts. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.