Amazon Prime Video’s recent original series, The Boys, based on the comic book series by Garth Ennis has surpassed expectations for the streaming service. So much that they are hard at work on the second season. This, of course, was one of their originals that Amazon Prime Video had brought with them to showcase at San Diego Comic-Con last month. The other new original series that they promoted was the upcoming fantasy title, Carnival Row. This is one of many fantasy titles that the streaming service is working on which also include the series based on The Lord of the Rings and The Wheels of Time. With Carnival Row premiering on Friday, August 30th exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, we had the privilege of getting a first look at the series’ tone at Comic-Con as well as the opportunity to watch the eight-episode first season and share our thoughts.
Carnival Row stars Orlando Bloom, who is most associated with the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, and Cara Delevingne, who played Enchantress in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. The series is set in a Victorian fantasy world where humans share the world with mythological creatures that lived in exotic homelands. I use the word “lived” in the past tense because their homes have been destroyed thanks to a war between the Burge and the Pact. You can think of them as the British and the Central Powers from World War I. The retreat of the Burge has left many fae creatures displaced and forced to take refuge in the Burge, which has caused a refugee crisis as fae creatures are discriminated by humans and forced to take lowly jobs. This tension between humans and fae creatures was showcased at the Amazon Prime Video’s Carnival Row activation, where you are transported to Carnival Row and labeled either a human or creature. Depending on what species you are, you are treated very differently by the actors and actresses playing the role of police officers.
Despite these conditions, a human detective named Rycroft Philostrate, played by Bloom, and a refugee faerie named Vignette Stonemoss, played by Delevingne reunite and struggle to attempt to rekindle a dangerous love affair that could lead them to a lot of trouble. With everyone on edge, things get worse as Carnival Row is hit with a string of gruesome murders that threaten what little peace is left in the Row. Besides our two main characters, the series also follows the story of Agreus, played by David Gyasi, who is a wealthy faun that moves into an affluent human neighborhood in defiance of the social order. This catches the attention of siblings Imogen and Ezra Spurnrose, played by Tamzin Merchant and Andrew Gower, whose now-deceased father was a prosperous watchmaker, left them a fortune that they have gambled away in the risky enterprise of transporting migrants from the dangerous fae homelands to the Burge. With their new “puck” neighbor, they look to take advantage of his desperation to join the up class human society and regain their wealth.
Of course, there is the political side to this story that the series also showcases as it follows the family of Absalom Breakspear, played by Jared Harris, the imperious and secretive Chancellor of the Burge, whose opinions about the fae immigrants have led to many political enemies. By his side he has his wife Piety Breakspear, played by Indira Varma and their son Jonah Breakspear, played by Arty Froushan. As a compulsive playboy that loves to visit fae brothels in Carnival Row, Jonah’s actions continuously endanger his father’s political legacy. But the looks of it, there is a lot going on in the Burgue so the question is how does it all come together in an eight-episode series?
I found that the overall storylines for the first season of Carnival Row were a little predictable. But, like a roller coaster, where you can see the track ahead of you, Carnival Row is a fantastic ride. The series does a great job at not just giving you a linear simple narrative where the humans must eventually accept the fae and live happily among each other. Carnival Row has a lot more social problems like the portraying homosexuality as a crime and a world that looks down at women. Although one of the main themes of the series is the discrimination of fae, many of the other problems come into play that put the characters in bad situations that make things in the Burgue worse, even at times making it seem like the killer may not be their biggest problem.
Carnival Row‘s story is complemented by beautiful visuals. I thought that the lighting of the scenes was handled very well, something that we got to be a part of at the activation, when you are invited into a Carnival Row lounge. The dim lighting with bright colors gives some scenes with fae characters a mythical feel. The greys and mute colors showcased in the pathways of Carnival Row really gives you a sense of oppression and hardship. I thought that the wings on the faeries were done well and I liked how they portrayed flight. Even intimate scenes that feature faeries are given a creative magic touch that convey a lot more emotion to the scenes. The make-up of each of the fae creatures really seem to all have a unique touch that allow traits of their personality to show through.
Although it does have some slow moments, overall the first season of Carnival Row puts together a complete story that leaves the door open for a second season, which has already been ordered by Amazon Prime Video. The series does a great job at creating compelling characters that are worth audiences their time and investment. It looks like Amazon Prime Video may have another hit on their streaming service.
Final Grade: B+
Carnival Row is from Amazon Studios and Legendary Television, with executive producers Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, Eli Stone), René Echevarria (Star Trek, Teen Wolf, Castle, Medium), Jon Amiel(Outsiders), Bloom, and Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim, Clash of the Titans). Beacham’s A Killing on Carnival Row, on which the project is based, appeared on the very first installment of the Hollywood Blacklist in 2005.
Amazon Prime Video’s Original Series’ Carnival Row will premiere exclusively on their streaming service on August 30th.
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