×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Carnival Row’

The race to replace “Game of Thrones” has its latest entrant, with Amazon’s new “Carnival Row,” a series that combines fantasy, melodrama, ultraviolence, and strained political allegory. But, for now, the “Thrones” legacy seems safe: This new series reaches for credibility with gruesomeness and exaggeration, falling flat at every turn. It’s painful proof that a genre success cannot be reverse-engineered.

That engineering does seem solid: “Carnival Row,” renewed for a second season before its first has aired, was built to last in our current Comic-Con-fueled universe. Its marquee stars are Orlando Bloom (of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” cinematic universes) and Cara Delevingne (of the DC Comics one, as a star of “Suicide Squad”), and it tells a story whose nastiness would appear, in theory, to be ameliorated by the dreamy magic at its margins.

The show takes place in a sort of fantastical Victorian era in which guns and bombs are real, but so are fairies; the former are the sanctioned tools of those keeping the peace, the latter perceived as threats to the human order. It’s a premise as fine as any, but one that ends up, in practice, having far less to say about the potential for fairylike transcendental flight than about the grotesqueness of us humans down in the muck. That’s a story that’s been told before, far more ably, and far less reliant on simple shock to make its point. I’d posit that the image of a violently disemboweled person — the sight of whose splayed-out intestines cause a policeman character to vomit onscreen — should be earned, somewhat, by a show we trust to treat the story with care. This happens at the top of the second episode, and, having been dosed with much mythology but little in the way of meaningful character, we’re not there yet. Later comes the threat of sexual violence, dispatched less to develop character (as was the “Thrones”-era line) than simply, lazily, because it seems expected of the genre, now.

Delevingne does her best as a would-be liberator, a winged fairy, who, through a stroke of misfortune, finds herself trapped in the world of humans. The series’s attempts to situate her as a migrant in an unfeeling world more like ours than we’d like to admit fall perhaps short of resonance, but hers is the most compelling storyline, if only because the show feels lost without her flashing charisma onscreen. Bloom, pitching his voice low as a human detective, does little at all while trying to solve various uncompelling mysteries. However much narrative energy spent ginning up an alternate universe in which divine creatures exist seems wasted as Bloom plods through cases that are either uninspired or inspired by every Jack the Ripper copycat in history.

“Carnival Row.” Amazon. August 30. Eight episodes (four screened for review).

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Simon McBurney, David Gyasi, Tamzin Merchant, Andrew Gower, Karla Crome, Arty Froushan, Caroline Ford, Indira Carma, Jared Harris.

Executive Producers: Marc Guggenheim, René Echevarria, Jon Amiel, Travis Beacham.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Carnival Row'

More TV

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has a Name: Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film has been given the name Leonine, it was revealed Friday. Fred Kogel, CEO of Leonine, said: “When choosing the new brand as our company name, the following aspects were decisive for us: it [...]

  • PERFECT LIFE

    San Sebastian: Leticia Dolera on Canneseries Winner ‘Perfect Life’

    SAN SEBASTIAN —  “La Casa de Papel” (“Money Heist”) may be the most seen of Spanish series this year. Leticia Dolera’s still-to-bow “Perfect Life,” however, is the most laureled, sweeping at April’s 2nd Canneseries TV festival both best series and best special performance for its female leads, Dolera herself, Celia Freijeiro and Aixa Villagrán, from [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Re-Elected as President of Writers Guild of America East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” has been re-elected without opposition to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. Kathy McGee was elected to the vice president slot over Phil Pilato. Secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider [...]

  • Dickinson First Look Teaser

    TV News: Apple Drops New 'Dickinson' Trailer With Hailee Steinfeld (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Apple TV Plus’ “Dickinson” series released a new trailer and Netflix released the trailer for the fifth season of “Peaky Blinders.” DATES More Reviews Toronto Film Review: 'Red Penguins' Film Review: 'Zeroville' The “Cash Cab” revival will come to Bravo on Oct. 7. The game show takes place inside a New York [...]

  • Jennie Snyder Urman, Katie Wech Team

    Jennie Snyder Urman, Katie Wech Team for Medical Drama in Development at CBS

    CBS is developing a medical drama that hails from writer Katie Wech, Variety has learned. Currently titled “Good Sam,” the series follows a talented yet stifled surgeon who embraces her leadership role after her renowned and pompous boss falls into a coma. When he awakens and wants to resume surgery, however, it falls to her to [...]

  • Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent,

    Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent, Dies at 88

    Jack Gilardi, a longtime ICM Partners agent who represented such stars as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Lewis, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88. Gilardi was known for his gentlemanly style, love of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his skill at representing top actors. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content