Penny Dreadful: Pretty Wonderful 

"I'm in need of a gentleman who is not hesitant to engage in dangerous endeavors."

While I admit that I've never been much of a fan of the genre, American television needed another series about the undead like it needed a stake in the heart.

But Penny Dreadful is a deliciously macabre and rather smart bit of business, which recently debuted on Showtime. I'm hooked.

A good amount of the fun in this expensive-looking production comes from a liberal introduction of some famous literary characters to Penny Dreadful's primary plotline: Dorian Gray, Mina Harker (of Dracula) and a young physician named Victor Frankenstein, who brings someone back from the dead in the first episode.

Rounding up this motley crew that must battle with marauders, rippers, vampires and such--not unlike The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen--is the smoky and utterly composed clairvoyant Vanessa Ives (played by the equally smoky Eva Green).

"I'm in need of a gentleman who is not hesitant to engage in dangerous endeavors," Ives half-whispers to arrogant marksman Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), telling him that his shooting skills are needed for "some night work."

Ives is doing the recruiting on behalf of the well-to-do and well-connected Sir Malcolm Murray (a well-cast Timothy Dalton), whose wealth is matched only by his obsession to find his kidnapped daughter.

"To save her, I would murder the world," Murray grizzles.

A word of caution: Penny Dreadful is adult fare, with a surfeit of sex scenes and a bunch of bloodshed. While I'm not enamored with stylized violence, this has a wonderfully bookish discipline.

Penny Dreadful is, by pay-cable accounts, a hit, with more than 1 million viewers tuning in to the first episode, added to the nearly 1 million more who previewed the series for free on Showtime on Demand. It's not too late to catch up; only three episodes have aired thus far. You can thank us later.

Airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET. For more info, visit sho.com/sho/penny-dreadful.

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