HBO Max Orders Gothic Mary Shelley Mystery Series ‘The Shelley Society’

Elle Fanning in "Mary Shelley" (Photo: IFC Films)
Elle Fanning in "Mary Shelley" (Photo: IFC Films)

2019 is apparently the year for bizarre and creative costume dramas on screens both large and small.

From Gentleman Jack and Harlots flipping expected period drama tropes on their heads, to Catherine the Great and The Spanish Princess reimagining traditional historical tales from a women’s perspective, all sorts of TV series are exploring stories that go well beyond whether a plucky heroine can snag a husband. Anachronistic film The Favorite won Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Award – and a Best Actress nod for its star Olivia Colman – as AppleTV+ just launched its similarly modern take on the life of the famous poet in Dickinson.

In short, it’s a great time to be a period drama fan. And the trend just keeps on going.

According to Deadline, new streaming service HBO Max has greenlit a pilot of an irreverent teen Gothic drama based on the life of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Called The Shelley Society, the series is described as something of a Victorian take on The X-Files, featuring a young Shelley who investigates various supernatural threats with her friends.

The full description from Deadline honestly sounds amazing.

Young author Mary Shelley leads a band of Romantic outlaws—among them, her lovers Percy and Lord Byron—against all manner of supernatural threats and monsters…including Frankenstein author Shelley’s own iconic Creature.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the mind behind popular comics adaptations Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, co-created this series alongside Riverdale writers Tessa Leigh Williams and James DeWille. It will obviously be full of messy teen drama that’s going to be a ton of fun and impossible to look away from, is what I’m saying.

To be fair, this kind of sounds like an answer to AppleTV+’s Dickinson, a series that’s being touted as a more modern take on the poet’s story, full of modern slang, overt gender politics and popular music. But, I’m not actually complaining about that.

Mostly because Mary Shelley is a fascinating figure in her own right, with a raucous and colorful life. (There’s a rumor she slept with a married man on her own mother’s grave, though I don’t think anyone ever proved it either way.)  But Hollywood has long struggled to tell her story in any meaningful way. There was a weird attempt at a feature film last year with Elle Fanning that somehow managed to make the author’s life seem conventional and dull. (How?) 

At least The Shelley Society sounds as though it’ll be a good time, even if it’s likely destined to get almost every historical fact about her life incorrect. This is sort of the same approach The CW’s Mary Queen of Scots series Reign followed, and it worked just fine.

So we’ll have to cross our fingers and see. Would you watch a show about Mary Shelley hunting ghosts? Let’s discuss.