Carnival Row - Season 1 - Review
Carnival Row is a romantic, urban, gothic, mysterious, steampunk whodunnit with a talented cast and a deep mythology that provides rich stories. The show had a lot of information that it had to get to its audience who knew nothing of the world that Travis Beacham and Rene Echevarria created. It did it masterfully, giving pieces of information that made the story consumable to the masses. It has a lived-in feel, like the first Star Wars movie did. It feels that this world actually exists, and we are just getting a peek of it.
The new Amazon Prime original series takes the strong world building parts of Bright, mixes it with the politics and personal interactions of Game Of Thrones and throws in the supernatural parts of Stranger Things to create a vastly entertaining and satisfying story. The mysterious serial killer that Sherlock-esque detective Rycroft Philostrate (played by Pirates Of The Caribbean star Orlando Bloom) has to catch fuels the plot, but it is so much deeper than that. Romance is at the forefront in this allegory for xenophobia and immigration.
The metaphor that makes it relevant to today's world is laid out well. Fiction and fantasy have always been a commentary on the world it is presented in. The story of Vignette Stonemoss (played by Cara Delevingne) shows one side of things, while the subplot between Agreus (David Gyasi) and Imogen (Tamzin Merchant from Supergirl) drive the point across even further.
Bloom and Delevingne have chemistry. Despite their romantic tale having some familiar tropes to it, the charisma of the two actors make it fun to watch. It was familiar, but had a fresh coat of paint on it. Bloom has really come into his own as an actor, there is a lot of Harrison Ford mannerisms in his performance. Delevingne had the tougher job, and she was able to add depth, warmth, pain, toughness, and an inherent innocence to her performance. Vignette was written and performed to perfection, so the audience instantly wants to root for her.
The supporting cast was wonderful too. Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Indira Varma, Arty Froushan, and Caroline Ford all offer incredible story arcs that make the story complex and three dimensional.
There is a little something in Carnival Row for everyone. Action, romance, humor, politics, real world allegories, mysteries, monsters, and war all get their time in the spotlight. The biggest feat the show accomplished is feeling like a fully realized world. It feels similar to J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World, in that she had the full story in her head so it felt like we were dropping in on an existing universe.
The Gothic inspired sets and locations are beautiful, and have the same sort of detail that Westeros or Middle Earth have. The themes like identity, cultural significance, and judgment all get their time to shine. Carnival Row is a stew with many ingredients, but all of the various flavors compliment each other nicely to make a delicious meal.
The mysteries they present don't linger longer than they need to. Answers are presented quickly, just in time for the next question so they don't stack up too much. Some are easy to guess, but the journey to get the answer is still satisfying. Others are not so much, but those are just as satisfying once the answers are revealed. The show is well paced, and plays like one long feature film, so you don't lose anything in the inevitable binge.
With Good Omens, The Boys, and now Carnival Row, Amazon Prime has stepped up their TV game this year. You can't go wrong with any of them if you need something new to watch.
The first season of Carnival Row is now streaming, exclusively on Amazon Prime.