Emmy FYC: The Actresses of "Penny Dreadful"
Monday, June 27, 2016 at 8:15AM
NATHANIEL R in Best Actress, Emmy, Eva Green, FYC, Helen McCrory, Patti Lupone, Penny Dreadful, Supporting Actress

Our Emmy FYC series concludes with Nathaniel's final plea for Penny Dreadful...

When Penny Dreadful aired its surprise series, not season, finale a week ago, the event felt as dark to fans as Vanessa Ive's increasingly fatalistic worldview. In its 3 short seasons the series grew quickly from a gimmicky concept -- all your favorite monster myths thrown together! --  with rich visual panache (Season 1) to a complex, increasingly focused, and confidently disturbing drama (Season 2) to a rushed and scattershot but even more thematically daring and superbly acted grande finale (Season 3). By the Season 2 premiere it had become abundantly clear that the blood-pumping heart of this gothic universe, belonged to its haunted, dangerous, three-dimensional women...

Due to the structure of the Emmy calendar which runs June to May, and the fact that Penny Dreadful's seasons always crossed eligibility periods it's been a confusing show for awards even beyond the obstacle of genre biases. Even the "hanging episodes" rule, which places some episodes (if there are enough of them) into the previous eligibility period if the season was far enough under way, haven't made this show's awards prospects that much easier to understand. To make a long story short: Penny Dreadful was first eligible last year for its debut season two years ago (it received three nominations, two for music and one for makeup), and may or may not be eligible in 2017 for its third season (the Emmy ballot seems to suggest that only Season 2 is eligible this year -- or else Helen McRory and Patti LuPone would have to switch ballots as "Guest" rather than "Supporting" due to their numbers of episodes) . But eligibilty confusion aside,  with or without the promise or currency of new episodes, it will be a distant memory, an apparition even to those who loved it by this time next year.  

So this year's Emmy's are really its last chance and we're here to plea for longshot recognition to three women, available in three separate categories on the Emmy ballot, who are enormously deserving but could easily be shut out due to the triple obstacle of the Academy's genre bias, eligible episodes airing so long ago, and voter's stubborn embrace of past luminaries even after they dim at the expense of fresher marvels. Look, Claire Danes is marvelous on Homeland, but she already has three Emmys for it and if you think she's the best there ever was at psychotic breaks and playing a brilliant woman undone by her own demons than you haven't seen...

Best Actress Drama
EVA GREEN as "Vanessa Ives"
... who can do psychotic breaks and undone by her own demons just as well. On top of that showy Emmy-worthy scrumptuousness, she'll layer the frosting of complex stylization as befits her supernatural gothic show, and spike it all with television's most hypnotic vocal chords. You can get drunk with pleasure just listening to that strange mellifluous voice, as its slide up and down the scales of internal disturbances, poetic soul, and warm pleasantries... sometimes within single line readings! And if that weren't enough Green makes disparate plot threads and incongruous character beats like demonic possession, padded cel lunacy, agoraphobe depression, extroverted social graces, and devout Christianity all feel like they're coming from the same exact woman.

It's quite a fate of acting and, frankly, if all Emmy categories were combined into one this year, I'd still want to hand her the statue. 

Best Supporting Actress, Drama
HELEN MCCRORY as "Madame Kali"
While Eva Green's star turn was startling from episode 1 of Penny Dreadful I'd argue that she didn't truly ascend into undeniable "give-her-all-the-Emmys!" greatness until she had an acting partner grand enough to challenge her Best in Show status. That happened as soon as the first episode of the second season when the spiritualist Madame Kali, played by Helen McCrory, who appeared briefly in the first season, was revealed to be a powerful devil-worshipping witch who wanted Vanessa's soul. Genre acting this transcendent and confident while doing ridiculous things like bathing in blood, stealing babies, building voodoo dolls, and speaking in dead tongues is NOT easy, folks. When it's done so well that it never feels anything less than authentically possessed and truly dangerous even when it's so clearly larger than life, is the work of genius acting. Helen McCrory did the seemingly impossible with her Bride of Satan, proving a completely formidable rival for Eva Green's star turn. Watching them face off (oh, the disturbing things that happened to both faces in the process!) was when Penny Dreadful hit its delirious horror peak.

Helen McRory is still best known as Narcissa Malfoy but her show-elevating work on this series suggests that Harry Potter had no clue what to do with her powers. The entire House of Slytherin would tremble at the sight of Madame Kali.

Best Guest Actress, Drama
PATTI LUPONE as "The Cut Wife/Joan Clayton"
And finally we come to Broadway's musical superstar diva, who wanted to prove she could deliver DRAMA even without those ear-blasting pipes. Prove it she did with her impressive work as Vanessa's damned defiant mentor "The Cut Wife". In perfect contrast to Helen McRory and Eva Green's theatrical largesse and as a surprising rug pull to her own fans, LuPone is rivetingly subdued as this sharp tongued witch and abortionist who had escaped Satan's claws and her sisters in his evil service (Helen McCroy's Kali). LuPone was so terrific in her guest work that she earned the highest praise you can get from a TV show -- they wrote her a whole new character just to have her as a regular. She plays "Joan Clayton" a psychiatrist in Season 3 who happens to be related to the Cut Wife and her acting rapport with Eva Green grows even stronger in one of the series all time best episodes "A Blade of Grass"

Would these three make your ballot?

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (http://thefilmexperience.net/).
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