Should you give a puck about Carnival Row?

People looking for the next version of—or comparing Amazon Prime series Carnival Row to—Game of Thrones, need to give it a rest.

Philo staring into Vignette's eyes

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Carnival Row is an entirely different beast to Thrones and probably has more similarities to films like District 9, Bright and TV shows like Alien Nation than it does HBO’s incest riddled, sword and sorcery T n’ A fest. Although you’ll still get a little bit of T n’ A here if that’s what you’re looking for. This show is more like Sherlock Holmes with fairies and has themes that are far more focused on the state of our world right now than anything that went on over in Westeros.

Who made it?

Series creator Travis Beacham has been trying to get this thing made for a while now. Carnival Row started out 17 years ago as a script he wrote in film school. It was intended to be feature film long before the 8 episode series we see before us. It’s also been renewed for a second season, however no release date has been set. Given it started out as a film script 17 years ago and there were a lot or re-shoots taking place after they wrapped season 1 you can speculate that the contracts have been signed in the absence of any kind of script being developed for season 2.

It’s not developed from a book or comic so they don’t really have any source material to fall back on other than the screenplay. So they’d best pull their fingers out of their arses and get to writing!

Critics haven’t been as kind as the fans who are holding this up. And we can expect to see a whole bunch of horny pucks and fairy hookers being cosplayed at your next con, which should be quite pleasant actually.

The story

The story is set in a land of mythical creatures like fairies, pucks and centaurs (collectively known as Fae) that has been ravaged by war. The Fae are refugees driven out of their homeland of Tirnanoc by a war between the Pact and the Brugue, two factions of pretty nasty humans after the riches that lie pithing the land of the Fae, whatever that is. The Brugue pull out of the war, the Fae flee Tirnanoc and are forced to settle in the Brugue’s capital city, also called the Brugue, which is like a steampunk version of old London complete with a quaint steampunk monorail.

The Brugue is governed by a parliament although their chancellor seems rather dictatorial that consists of two parties, the Commonwealth Party who hold the balance of power. On the opposition we have the nationalist Hardtackers.

Carnival Row is the neighbourhood where all the Fae refugees have settled and it also serves as the cities red light district. A fairy by the name of Vignette escapes the pact and settles in Carnival Row after attempting to free a bunch of refugees, she is mourning the loss of a Brugue soldier named Philo whom she fell in love with during the war. She was led to believe he died at the hands of the Pact. Little does she know Philo is alive and well and working as a detective in Carnival Row trying to solve a series of murders against the Fae that he believes are racially motivated.

That’s enough to get you started.

The cast

The main cast include Orlando Bloom as Philo, Cara Delvigne as Vignette, Tamzin Merchant as the toffee nosed Imogen Spurnrose, David Gyasi as the wealthy Puck Agreus Astrayon and Jared Harris as Chancellor Absalom Breakspear… among many others.

The world they have built is complicated however, as the story unfolds it actually becomes quite simple. The political themes of refugees, racism and immigration start off strong in the beginning kind of lose their way in the middle and come back towards the end of the series. It’s not helped but the gratuitous sex scenes, that really would have been better left implied. Instead viewers are left asking questions like how strong must a fairies vagina be to grip and lift up a fully grown man when she orgasms (they should work in construction not as prostitutes) and when fucking a half man half sheep which part of the man is more sheep and would that help or hinder the performance?

“Was it good for you my dear?”

“Not baaa-aaaad!”

The chemistry between Philo and Vignette is ok but it peaks during the flashback third and best episode of the season. The production value is decent and it looks like they make a small amount go a long way, shooting a lot of the exteriors in Prague and investing fairly heavily in some decent CGI to create a world that looks familiar and yet nothing like anything you would see anywhere else. The murder mystery at the centre of the story is entirely predictable and people more intelligent than I will no doubt have it all figured well before the finale which makes the last few episodes quite boring.

The verdict

Overall Carnival Row is enjoyable, but forgettable. The whole fantasy with modern day themes that holds a mirror up to society is an interesting premise that is let down by a slow and predictable plot.


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