Amazon’s Carnival Row debuted yesterday, and the genre-blending series is already becoming one of the streaming platform’s most talked about titles.
Set in an alternate Victorian-era world, the series is built on the idea that humans, upon discovering the world of the Fae went to war over control of it. The battle lasted for years until The Republic of the Burgue withdrew from the conflict leaving the Fae world to the opposing force known as The Pact.
As the series begins, it has been seven years since the Burgue withdrew, and the Fae are now actively hunted by the Pact causing many of them to flee their world, selling themselves into indentured servitude and worse to escape death.
One Fae in particular, Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne), has been helping her fellow Fae escape, never fully understanding what the world outside was like until she has to flee the Fae world herself.
She soon finds herself entangled with her former lover Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) as a dark creature begins roaming the streets of the city brutally killing human and Fae alike.
Showrunners Rene Echevarria (Medium, Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim) created the show’s meticulous mythology, expanding the world that Beacham had created in a film script which was never realized.
Much of it was filmed in the Czech Republic which proves an ideal backdrop for this particular tale. It is dirty and gritty, and surprisingly real considering its fantastic elements.
Delevingne and Bloom give excellent performances as Vignette and Philo leading an equally brilliant cast including Jared Harris (The Quiet Ones), Indira Varma (Game of Thrones), Alice Krige (Sleepwalkers), David Gyasi (Annihilation), and Tamzin Merchant (Salem) to name just a few.
The character relationships with each other and the world around them are incredibly complicated, and in many ways, reflect a sad reality we’ve seen play out time and again in our own world history.
The Fae face constant bigotry and prejudice by humans who in turn exploit everything about them.
At one point, for example, Vignette finds herself face-to-face with a poster advertising an exhibit of Fae artwork collected from Tirnanoc, the Fae World, but the exhibit comes with a prohibition: NO UNACCOMPANIED FAE ALLOWED.
A once wealthy brother and sister chafe when a Puck, a satyr-like Fae, buys the elegant home next to theirs, but they aren’t above using his resources to try to turn their own fate around.
The police constantly harass Fae street vendors asking for “permits” which they’re more than happy to sell to the unfortunate Fae on the spot, lining their own pockets, and nothing is so alluring and taboo for certain society gentlemen than traveling down to the Row to sample the delights at a Fae brothel.
The fact that we see these kinds of behaviors daily in our own society with lines drawn in the sand over race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion in 2019 makes Carnival Row feel relevant and timely.
Overall, Carnival Row is masterfully made though it does suffer from the growing pains we’ve come to expect from a brand new series in its first season caught between character development, exposition and a complex plot.
It stumbles from time to time, but it never falls, and anyone who has ever followed a series like Game of Thrones, for example, will have no problems with the complexity of the story.
Moreover, it has one of the most terrifying monsters we’ve seen in quite some time on any screen thanks to an incredible visual effects department.
And then there’s the glorious score created by Nathan Barr. No stranger to the genre space, Barr has composed for Cabin Fever, Hemlock Grove, The House with a Clock in its Walls, and The Domestics to name just a few.
He has that incredible ability to immerse the audience in a fantastic space, creating music and soundscapes that amplify what we’re seeing onscreen, and his work in Carnival Row is no exception. His score for the series, colored with Celtic instrumentation, sets the perfect tone for a dark fairy tale.
All eight, hour-long episodes of the first season of Carnival Row are available on Amazon Prime. It’s a series worth binging. In fact, it almost demands it.
Check out the trailer below, and let us know if you’re watching in the comments!