Some Dark God Wakes – | Review Score – 3/5
Aisling – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Kingdoms of the Moon – | Review Score – 3.5/5
The Joining of Unlike Things – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Grieve No More – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Unaccompanied Fae – | Review Score – 3.5/5
The World to Come – | Review Score – 3.5/5
The Gloaming – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Carnival Row is a show that personifies both the best and worst of the fantasy genre. The archetypal, forgettable characters and heavy-handed, clumsy way of handling racism certainly holds this back from being a more exciting title but yet there’s glimmers of brilliance here that’ll keep you watching until the end. The production design is second to none too, boasting incredibly detailed settings that feel alive and brimming with life at every turn. There’s a really wicked blend of steam-punk and fantasy here that’ll surely hook lovers of both genres but it’s just a pity that these hooks never quite feel deep enough to fully reel you in.
At the heart of it, Carnival Row is a relatively straight forward crime mystery, with a series of faerie deaths seeing Inspector Rycroft return to The Burgue and try to figure out just who’s behind these killings. Running parallel to this story is runaway Faerie Vignette, who winds up in collusion with a vigilante group called the Black Ravens. As the two stories merge and we see more of both characters and their shared past, all of this leads to a climactic finale where secrets are revealed in a 65 minute episode to close things out, but keep things wide open for the inevitable second season.
As far as stories go, Carnival Row does have a few issues with its pacing, especially early on when it meanders through its first few episodes, only to jump back for an hour-long flashback showcasing Vignette and Rycroft’s past. While this is certainly necessary to progress the plot, it also feels a little ill-timed given the lack of momentum early on. As the series progresses, things do become more interesting but there’s a certain lack of grip here to keep you coming back, with the series struggling to really nail that binge-factor. It’s also not helped by some of the heavy-handed themes too which overpower the narrative work done in the show.
Herein lies one of the biggest problems with Carnival Row. Using fantasy as a social commentary, when done correctly, can really add some context and depth and help a show stand the test of time. Unfortunately Carnival Row stumbles and wobbles through its bold ideas about racism and xenophobia, time and again holding the narrative back in favour of reminding us over and over again the divisions holding back our society. While the message itself is okay, the execution is far too blunt, lacking any sort of subtlety. Unfortunately the two lead characters lack the acting prowess to hide some of this too, which only further accentuates the problems.
As far as fantasy worlds go, Carnival Row certainly boasts a very beautiful one and there is some intrigue and interest here. Lovers of the fantasy genre will surely take to this one, especially given how good the world building really is. As a lover of all things fantasy, Carnival Row certainly scratches that itch for me and the lore in general is very well done indeed. It’s just a pity that the story at the forefront of this fails to shine as much as the background detail. The characters are difficult to root for and most feel very archetypal – portraying a stock trope rather than a living, breathing character.
Despite all its shortcomings, Carnival Row does have some excitement, enough to keep you watching until the end. It’s not a bad show per-se but it’s not a particularly great or memorable one either. It’s simply an above-average fantasy thriller that manages to disguise a lot of its narrative shortcomings behind its stunningly realized world. I want to love Carnival Row but having finished all 8 episodes I found myself lukewarm to the whole affair, rather than burning with excitement ready for the second season.