Television is a visual medium, and few shows have been more visually stunning than a pair that start streaming on Friday — “Carnival Row” on Amazon Prime and “The Dark Crystal” on Netflix.
They’re both epic fantasies. You ought to watch them on big screens to appreciate how gorgeous they are. And they both have some narrative issues. But they’re also wildly different from each other, and intended for different audiences.
“Carnival Row” is something that writer/producer Travis Beacham (“Pacific Rim”) has been working on for “16, 17 years” — since he was in college. And the look and feel of the show is so detailed, so immersive that you can tell he’s imagined every bit of it.
The plot revolves around the fae — fairies — who have fought a long and unsuccessful war against humans. The survivors are seeking sanctuary from a brutal, mysterious group known as The Pact in The Burgue, which is sort of a steampunk Victorian London filled with magical creatures. (The series filmed in Prague.)
In an echo of present-day politics, there’s a large, anti-immigrant contingent in The Burgue. And someone has been brutally murdering fae immigrants.
Enter Inspector Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom, “Lord of the Rings”) to solve the serial killings. Turns out Philo’s ex, Vignette (Cara Delevingne, “Suicide Squad”), is a fairy; she thinks he’s dead; and they team up.
Yes, there is plenty of interspecies sex in “Carnival Row,” involving humans, fae, goatmen and more. No, this is not a show for children.
Some are pegging this as a successor to “Game of Thrones,” which is unfair and inaccurate. Yes, “Carnival Row” is big, complicated and features an enormous cast of characters, but this is a very different kind of fantasy. And the jury is out on whether the narrative holds up over eight episodes. (Amazon has, however, already ordered a second season.)
But there can be no debate about the look of the show, which is astonishing. Even to Bloom, who has some experience in this area.
“I’ve been on some amazing sets over the years,” he said. “‘Lord of the Rings’ was always talked about for its authenticity. And nothing has really come close to it [until] I walked down the Row.”
The look alone is enough to make “Carnival Row” worth checking out.
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is by no means an unknown quantity. This Netflix series is a 10-hour prequel to the 1982 cult classic “Dark Crystal” — but it improves upon that film in multiple ways.
The Jim Henson Company puppets were state of the art 37 years ago, but the state of that art has advanced unbelievably since then. There are more than 170 puppets in the series, and they’re masterpieces that look like real, living, weird creatures.
And, while the movie was hailed for its look, the story didn’t quite work. The script for the prequel is a big improvement, although it does drag in spots.
The narrative involves the peaceful Gelfling, who have to do battle with the evil and terrifying Skeksis to save their world. It sounds simple, but it’s wound into a nuanced tale that takes on social issues in a way that reflects the world we live in. And the central plot line revolves around a world that’s out of balance, threatening its inhabitants — a clear parallel to global warming.
“The Dark Crystal” is intended for younger viewers than “Carnival Row,” but it’s definitely not for young kids. There’s violence — not a lot of gore, but there is some blood. And it’s scary enough that it will give a lot of kids (and maybe some adults) nightmares.