If “Carnival Row” is any indication of what we can expect from post-“Game of Thrones” fantasy TV, we are headed to the slough of despond. It’s a grab bag of styles and themes that sit uneasily side-by-side.
The central story, a series of murders that take place in a world that looks and sounds like Victorian England — even though one characters proclaims that she’s living in the seventh century and there is a light rail system that looks like the Loop in Chicago — is so routinely staged that one wants to scream, “Bring back ‘Taboo’ with Tom Hardy.”
Orlando Bloom (“Lord of the Rings”) plays Rycroft Philostrate (but you can call him Philo), a human detective investigating a string of murders most likely committed by Unseelie Jack (Matthew Gravelle), a mysterious assailant with a grudge against the fae, immigrant fairies that are pouring into The Burgue following a war in their homeland of Anoun. Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) is one of the refugees the upper classes are complaining about, except when they want to avail themselves of their services at the notorious Hotel Tetterly, where orgasms, hilariously, come with levitation (those fairy wings have multiple uses).
Before you can say “star-crossed lovers,” we learn the copper had an affair with the fairy during his time as a Burguish soldier dispatched to Anoun during the war. (Anoun does strange things to people: The soldiers turn into wolves when the moon is full and attack their own or local livestock.) Their reunion in Victorian England is strained because Philo has a secret in his past that she knows way too much about.
As it lurches from crime story to sci-fi/fantasy, star-crossed romance to politically relevant social drama, “Carnival Row” has a hard time developing its strengths. The many echoes with “Game of Thrones” certainly don’t help. We have a witch who looks not like the alluring Melisandre on “GoT,” but like a central casting crone. The leads look great which works when they are asked to perform extended love scenes, not so much when their characters have intimate conversations and they don’t really connect. As for the supporting cast, both Jared Harris and Indira Varma, predictably playing another schemer as she did on “GoT,” have been in better projects. One bright spot is Karla Crome as a feisty fairy prostitute named Tourmaline.
Fantasy junkies may be able to get by on this grade-B stimulant until the next great visionary show comes along, but right now the second-season renewal (before premiere) for “Carnival Row” seems extremely rash.
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