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Carnival Row: Season 1 Review

There’s a revolution on the horizon.

Amazon’s new show Carnival Row offers viewers an original and engrossing story about a city where Fae-folk and humans struggle to co-exist, even if it sometimes feels overstuffed with too many characters to keep track of.

It’s hard not to see the similarities between the current situation in the United States and Carnival Row.  The series begins with a Fae (a pixie) who goes by the name of Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevigne).  She is trying to help others of her kind flee from their war torn land.  On the other end of the spectrum, we’re introduced to Philo (Orlando Bloom).  He’s a detective living in Carnival Row who is investigating a string of violent attacks on the Fae-folk.  It’s an introduction that immediately lays the ground rules for where the rest of the story will go.  Carnival Row doesn’t shy away from suggestive language, gore, or sex.  It’s like Game of Thrones in regards to all that naughty language, but instead it embraces its fantasy roots from the very start.

While I was uninterested with the story involving the rich and powerful Breakspear family and their snotty, kidnapped son Jonah (Arty Froushan), everything else over the course of the eight episode season more than makes up for it.  Discovering the history behind Philo and Vignette’s relationship is exciting and felt real.  The benevolent god that lurks in the sewers and steals livers from its victims is terrifying.  The “Pix” prostitute and one of Vignette’s closest friends, Tourmaline Larou (Karla Crome) is a scene stealer.  The Beauty and the Beast type story involving Imogen Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant) an heiress to a wealthy family, and a new resident to Carnival Row, a very rich “Puck” named Agreus Astrayon (David Gyasi) was easily my favorite part.  What begins as a hostile relationship between two very different people from different worlds quickly evolves into something more personal, and they were characters that grew on me over the course of the season.  The only downside to so many stories happening is everything can feel pretty jam packed.  There are other characters I haven’t mentioned and trying to keep track of all them is almost exhausting.  With such a short season it doesn’t give much room to breathe.  It’s one of those things where I love short seasons and a show not overstaying its welcome, but in the case of Carnival Row, a couple more episodes wouldn’t hurt.

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Over the course of the series, you’ll learn about the different races that live in Carnival Row.  “Pix” are the ones with wings.  “Pucks” are the ones with horns on their head and hooves for feet.  It’s a little confusing at first, but before you know it, you’ll be a master in the art of recognizing all kinds of Fae-folk.  You’ll grow to understand these outcasts and the predicament they’re in.  They’re just trying to get by, and the humans aren’t helping the situation.  While some of the Fae’s motivations feel wrong, you can sympathize with the rest.  Most of the humans are just rotten though.

Guillermo Del Toro was originally tied to this series as an executive producer, and it shows.  This is a world filled to the brim with imagination and interesting ideas.  The production values are top-notch.  There are some fantastic creature effects on display here, each with a history begging to be explored further down the road.  The city of Carnival Row feels real, with its various shops and vendors.  The detail is impressive.

At times, Carnival Row can almost be too bleak, offering a look at something that feels all too real.  It’s this realism though that sets it apart from other fantasy shows and engrosses you.  Series creators René Echevarria and Travis Beacham should be applauded for bringing audiences something new and original to feast their eyes on and indulge their senses.  You haven’t seen anything quite like this before.  While it can feel sometimes bloated with so many characters, Carnival Row is  is definitely worth your time. – NVJ

Carnival Row is now available to stream on Amazon Prime

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