Since May, Games of Thrones fans have been looking for the next heavingly violent, gritty and sexy fantasy to be totally sucked in by. Enter stage right Carnival Row.
The first eight episode season of Amazon Prime’s instant popular hit debuted on August 30, showcasing the most spotlit thing Orlando Bloom has done since he took a swing at Justin Bieber in an Ibiza bar in 2014.
Reviews for the “wacky mess” have been mixed – Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the “beautiful but bloated” show a 53 per cent approval rate while viewers scored it at 91 – but it doesn’t matter.
Carnival Row has already been picked up for a second season, days after it began streaming.
Described as “steampunk-esque”, Carnival Row’s gothic Victorian-era world is one where fairies and other assorted fantasy folk struggle to co-exist with humans.
Cara Delevingne sports an Irish accent and set of wings as fairy freedom fighter Vignette Stonemoss, who flees her homeland with other elfin refugees to Carnival Row.
It’s a ghetto for mythical creatures where Bloom’s Detective, Rycroft Philostrate, is kept busy by grisly murders. He’s a former flame of Vignette, and of course there’s unfinished romantic business.
There’s also brawling factions, conflict between fairies and humans, social divides and Mad Men and Chernobyl star Jared Harris as a powerful man with family and job problems.
— Carnival Row (@CarnivalRow) August 30, 2019
Calling the show “Game of Thrones with a pixie cut”, CNet described Carnival Row’s tangled plot as “Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes falling in love with Tinker Bell, against a backdrop of Thrones-esque dynastic nastiness.”
There’s also a stack of sex, “including scenes that will delight anyone with a fairly specific festish … or fairy-specific fetish,” said the site.
Based on a Travis Beacham original script that was first mooted in Hollywood in 2005, Carnival Row’s opening episode is an uneasy mix of gory and goofy.
The language seems designed to shock but is instead vaguely unoriginal and clunky.
Bloom, acting his head off by frowning, is a treat although it’s unclear if he meant his performance to be comedic.
When an assault victim gives a full description of her attacker – clothes, hair, tattoo – he growls, “Anything else? The smallest detail?”
Talking to Collider about getting ready to scout for Carnival Row season two locations, Beacham said “I always knew it would be like a big deal, but for the longest time … it was too big to ever get made.”
He wrote the script in film school, and its instant global success is something “in my wildest dreams, I would have never imagined it. It’s really crazy.”
As for his stars Bloom, 42, and Delevingne, 27, “Both of them are doing things that are so different from anything they’ve done before,” Beacham said.
“The baggage that they bring – and baggage, in a good way – with Orlando having played Legolas and Cara having the faery, Tinkerbell look about her, it’s nice that they bring that to it.
“Orlando comes with this very baritone voice that you’ve never seen him do.”
Exhausting voice tricks from its leading man or not, Carnival Row was judged not perfect but perfect escapism by critics.
While Rotten Tomatoes praised its “meticulously crafted mythology and luscious world building”, it noted, “unfortunately its story of haves and have simply has too much going on to create anything cohesive.”
The UK Guardian called it a “spectacularly silly fantasy tale” that is “great fun. Too crass to care about, too serious to take seriously.”
For The Verge, “terrific” Carnival Row “is a gorgeous, well-written, and unrepentantly political series, but it’s at its absolute worst when the writers try too hard to make it feel like Game of Thrones.”
But most armchair critics were totally caught up: