The second season of Dublin-shot gothic romp Penny Dreadful begins on Sky Tuesday night. Gorgeously gloomy, the show is already a cult hit either side of the Atlantic. If you're considering dipping in, here's what you need to know...
1: It's Basically The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen…Only Not Rubbish.
Remember that Sean Connery movie about Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde etc hoofing about in a giant shiny submarine? It was essentially a Steampunk Avengers– and it was terrible. Penny Dreadful takes the concept and refashions it for grownups, with Dr Frankenstein, Dorian Gray (again) and a tag team of other Victoriana archetypes confronting the forces of evil.
2: There Will Be Witches.
Up against our "heroes" – who, cleaving to modern TV convention, are a flawed and conflicted bunch – is a nasty coven of witches, with Satanic etchings and a penchant for yellowed tomes festooned with pictures of the devil. What do they want? To summon Lucifer and plunge the world into strife and pain. When do they want it? As quickly as possible, if not sooner.
3: There Will Also Be Blood.
Penny Dreadful's trademark is a sort of high-gloss ickiness – season one was a blur of deformed babies in jars, bald vampires, sex scenes that typically ended with someone's throat slit. With Satanic sacrifice on the menu this year, belt up for a deluge of gratuitous blood-letting. In one scene a character actually puffs a cigarette in a tub of gleaming red goo.
4: Cherie Blair is the Big Bad.
Character actress Helen McRory is best known for playing Tony Blair's wife in two separate productions, The Queen and The Special Relationship. Here she's at the head of a gang of crones bent on mayhem. Hers' is a world of skulduggery, vicious ambition and dark temptation – playing a politician's wife couldn't possibly have prepared her for the part, could it?
4: Josh Hartnett is an American Werewolf in London.
As is now traditional for movie stars whose careers have gone a bit soggy at the edges, Josh Hartnett has sought reinvention on the small screen. In Penny Dreadful he's perfect as an American washed up in Victorian London, hipster facial hair eventually revealed to be a signifier of his secret identity : a lycanthrope who turns distressingly lupine in the presence of a full moon.
5: Sarah Greene Is In It.
Six months ago Sarah Greene was a up-and-coming stage actress (you might remember her from Alice in Funderland at the Abbey). Now, by dint of her relationship with Poldark's Aidan Turner, she's is one half of Ireland's biggest celebrity couple (and reportedly not at all impressed with the prurient attention). In Penny Dreadful, she plays recurring character Hecate, a junior witch who hopes to claw her way to the top by demonstrating extreme cruelty.
7: It has Its Own Clothing Line.
The opening season of Penny Dreadful received a ho-hum reception from critics. But the fashion world adored its moody updating of Victorian 'chic' (is that a thing? apparently). Inevitably, a tie-in Penny Dreadful clothing line has been unveiled in association with US chain Hot Topic. Highlights include a a 'Victorian' jacket and scorpion print dress (with, yes, lots of tiny scorpions). Ideal for that big PowerPoint presentation you're giving next month.
8: The First Episode is on YouTube – Sort Of.
Showtime has posted the opening episode on YouTube. Strictly speaking it is only available to US viewers. However, if you know even a little about the internet, you shouldn't have much difficulty convincing your computer you live in Milwaukee.
Penny Dreadful season two begins on Sky Atlantic, 10pm Tuesday.