‘Carnival Row’: Season 1 TV Review – An Epic Fantasy That Genres-Bends Its Way To Greatness

Published by Shah Shahid on

Amazon Prime Video’s newest original is a wonderful blend of literary and genre fiction. Carnival Row is about a world where mythical creatures coexist with humans, amidst much tension and politics. 

Carnival Row is an instantly likable and intriguing show. The setting, characters, and concept are incredibly new and fresh. While the themes are familiar, its approach and storytelling are amazing. The set up for Season 1 is very binge-worthy and promises much more to come in the inevitable Season 2 premiere. 

The series is set in a fictional world made up of fictional lands and countries. In this world, mythical creatures like fairies, werewolves, centaurs, and fawns all exist in their own corners of the world. When man eventually arrives at their shores, war breaks out for conquest of these open land. Having had to flee their respective homes, these very real creatures are now refugees and immigrants in the world of men. Their treatment is exactly what history has shown of the treatment of immigrants and refugees to be. The real-world parallels are obvious and not at all subtle. But that works in the show’s favor. 

Carnival Row’s World Building Is Incredible.

Carnival Row begins with one of these mythical beings, a fairy or ‘pix’, having to leave behind her country of Tirnanoc during a battle. She arrives in the land of men, the Republic of The Burgue. Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) has to now make a new life for herself. In the meantime, Inspector Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) investigates a serial killer of these creatures, derogatorily referred to as ‘Critch’ (slang for ‘creature’), otherwise known as ‘Fae’. The title of the show refers to the area of the city where the Critch most commonly live. 

Carnival Row is intriguing. While the majority of the series focuses on the personal stories of Vignette and Philo, as the season progresses, so does the scope of the story. The story is small and compact. There’s a love story, heartbreak, and betrayal. Followed by murder and investigations that lead to the inner workings of the city. It’s all very neo-noir but in a fantasy setting. But the world-building is where Carnival Row excels.

The universe set up by this series is one of the endless possibilities. The backstory about the Fae’s native land Tirnanoc alone is spellbinding. The history and background are so rich that it’s a shame that the show doesn’t explore it further. Maybe intentionally so to leave room for the (now confirmed) Season 2. That’s not a complaint, but just an unfulfilled wish on my part. The exploration of immigration, racism, segregation, and prejudice is not subtle at all here. But the similarities to real-world history, not to mention current events, is incredibly engaging. 

Carnival Row Has The Potential Of Epic Long-Form Storytelling Of Game Of Thrones

There’s substance in Carnival Row for those looking for it, while it can also just be a fluff genre piece for others. There are ample amounts of fairy sex and star crossed lovers and backdoor greed to appeal to any casual audience. Parts of the show are incredibly unique and original. While other moments come off as cliched romance novels. Not that that’s a bad thing.

There’s something to be said about a show that can create such a rich background without the use of ham-fisted exposition. Carnival Row never simplifies things for the audiences. There are elements that are introduced but never properly explained. Leaving the audiences to fill in the blanks. Which to me is a credit to its writing.

There’s a moment in Carnival Row, near the end, that it finally clicks what this show is and where it’s going. And it seems to me that it’s building towards being a grand fantasy that mirrors the intrigue and originality of Penny Dreadful and the epic long-form storytelling of Game Of Thrones.

Creator Travis Beacham gives us an amazing world full of wonder, history, and conflict. Any shortcomings in individual episodes of the series, or complaints about the story is easily overshadowed by the incredibly rich and detailed world that Beacham has created. 

Carnival Row Season 1 Trailer

This is Orlando Bloom’s first performance where his baby-face doesn’t take away from the performance. Instead, I would say it’s one of the most mature performances of his career. Delevingne hits all the right notes as Vignette. I wish her storyline was better fleshed out, as the second half of Season 1 seems to struggle to know what to do with her character. Indira Verma, steals the show, as always, with her immense screen presence and poise. 

Carnival Row is an easy binge. The world-building is the hook. The story and performances are what keep you watching. And it’s a rare work of fiction that blends aspects of the real world into a massively entertaining piece of fiction, in a world brimming with possibilities. It’s a show that not only blends the obvious fantasy and romance genres but even toys with the dramatic elements of what audiences expect from a series like this.

Carnival Row is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

What did you think about Carnival Row? Let me know in the comments below.

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


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