By Tom Gliatto Melody Chiu
May 26, 2014 12:00 PM

PENNY DREADFUL

Showtime, Sundays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

Edgar Allan Poe would never have stopped writing valentines to Eva Green. Just as she was in her last series, Starz’s Camelot, the Casino Royale actress is the instant standout in this horror fantasy set in Victorian London. She’s seductive and magnetic in a peculiarly unhealthy way. She could be a 19th-century fashion model with an absinthe problem. In fact Vanessa Ives is a highly spiritual creature. It’s just that the spirits chasing her soul seem to be demonic. When she goes under at a seance, she arches into positions that haven’t been attempted since Flashdance. Against Green, no one else in the show’s ensemble has the ghost of a chance. Penny Dreadful—the title refers to what could be considered Victorian pulp fiction—brings together an assortment of horror icons, including Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and pretty Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), along with Josh Hartnett as an American sharpshooter who’s drawn into the group’s adventures in the supernatural underworld. (Jack the Ripper, the Jason of his day, may end up being somewhere in here too.) This appears to be Showtime’s answer to shows like True Blood and The Walking Dead, but the first two episodes are too leisurely and unfocused, closer to The Ambling Dead. As the season goes on, the narrative grip will (one hopes) tighten and grow as richly decadent as the surrounding production – or Eva Green.

GANG RELATED

FOX, May 22, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

Ramon Rodriguez (Need for Speed) plays Ryan Lopez, a promising cop who’s part of a special antigang force in Los Angeles. There’s a reason he’s so knowledgeable, apart from his training, but it’s a bad one. He’s a mole for a major gang, the Los Angelicos, and has been for years: Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis, behind an intimidating goatee) took Ryan under his wing when he was just a boy. And yet, like a compass needle swinging true north, Ryan is starting to think he’d make a better cop than spy. In the show’s best moments, this moral pickle leaves Ryan scrambling to improvise ways to prevent gang crimes without really catching anyone. He’s almost as desperate as Walter White, only with an angel on at least one shoulder.

PETALS ON THE WIND

Lifetime, May 26, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

A sequel to Lifetime’s hit movie Flowers in the Attic, Petals doesn’t have the same smothering intensity—no one is experimenting with incestuous sex locked away high up in a mansion—but it’s compellingly crazy, the TV equivalent of outsider art. In this misshapen story, which burst forth from what must have been lumpen bubbles of inspiration in the mind of V.C. Andrews, Christopher Dollanganger and sister Cathy (Wyatt Nash and Rose McIver) have grown up and assumed a semblance of normal life, but they can’t conquer their forbidden lust. And then—oh no!—another poisoned doughnut. Heather Graham returns as their monstrous mother, lost in a sick fantasy of dollhouse perfection. She looks like a “Michelle Pfeiffer” Barbie.

LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER

HBO, Sundays, 11 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

John Oliver, the smart British comedian from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, now has his own platform to flush out the absurdity in so much of the news. Whether it can be flushed away isn’t his problem. His delivery, which falls between Monty Python and Austin Powers, explodes with enjoyable little pips of indignation. And a death-penalty discussion ended with a viral video of a hamster eating a tiny burrito. Why not?

Follow Tom on Twitter @gliattoT

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