I watch TV. A lot of TV. Like, an ungodly amount of television. Then I let you fine people know what I think and I try my best not to compare it to Alf. Here’s the binge bunch this week.
Carnival Row (Amazon)
With Disney+ on the horizon and Netflix dominating watercooler conversations, Amazon Prime is pulling out the stops with their own fantasy show filled with kooky creatures, complex themes and slightly unnerving sex scenes galore. Carnival Row is set to fill the void left by Game of Thrones, hoping to nab the fans who wrote strongly-worded tweets about the season finale. All of the elements are there: top-notch acting, amazing set pieces, beautiful costumes, a well-known cast, and sex. Lots and lots of freaky, winged sex. Yet despite all that, there is something still lacking.
The premise of Carnival Row mirrors Showtime’s Penny Dreadful and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove by offering a new take on whimsical creatures and big, bad beasts of classic literature. The story centers on police inspector Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and his one-time fae lover Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) as they attempt to solve a string of ghastly murders in a Victorian-age world where humans share their ‘hood with filthy second-string players from Jim Henson’s workshop.
The world of the Carnival Row would do Jules Verne proud. From every dusty tophat to each filthy corset, Amazon Prime gets the look right, as well as the cast. Everyone is pulling their weight with the material. The real issue here is the tone, which makes Chernobyl look like a laugh riot. The show places a lot of emphasis on the plight of the fairy refugees who are seemingly victimized by everyone with a speaking role. This is an unrelenting theme of the show, in which mercy is rarely given to either the characters or the audience.
Carnival Row is muddled down by the weight of its own seriousness. While the series is rich with conflict — and did I mention weird-ass sex scenes? — it lacks the humor needed to give audiences a chance to catch its breath. The genius of Game of Thrones came from its moments of levity, where the characters got to exhibit charm and give audiences a reason to smile between the moments of violence. In Carnival Row, instead of the occasional wisecrack, we are given lots of nekkid people with wings and horns and scenes of mid-air coitous, and after a while, you start to not give a flying fuck about the flying fucks. It gets tedious pretty quickly, offering no happiness, no joy and no fun. And fairies should be fun, shouldn’t they?
The Banana Splits Movie (SyFy)
As the first R-rated movie adaptation of a Hanna-Barbera property, The Banana Splits Movie is a confusing jumble of jump scares, murderous furries, and tainted Gen-X childhood memories. Based less on the beloved Saturday morning cartoon and more on Five Nights at Freddy’s (but with characters that could be easily optioned), SyFy’s Splitz movie is awash in confusion as it attempts stabs at horror. There are not enough laughs to be scary and the scares are too feeble to be effective, but a few gory kills save the pic from landing in Dullsville, USA. As a scary movie, it hits all the typical beats: ominous music, cray creatures of some sort, a bunch of jerks primed for the kill.
Though predictable, it is slightly better than the usual SyFy fare. And man, I hope you like that theme song, ‘cause you are going to hear it a lot. Even when you are not watching. It just stays with you. Forever. One of my favorite parts of this mishmash TV movie is the IMDB page, which states: “Loosely based on the show except the show had no killing.”
It is my hope that this ushers in more remakes of ‘70s family fare with strange little sidenotes, like “Loosely based on the 1970’s Partridge Family sitcom, except the original show had less of Reuben Kincaid murdering hobos with a hammer.” And hey, maybe this one will open up opportunities for the horror script I’m working on about a bubblegum pink, anthropomorphic jungle cat who slashes coeds while yelling,”Exit, stab left!”
It had all the makings to be great, and if not great, then at least entertaining. Thanks to pop culture’s current love affair with all things ’90s, Fox’s BH90210 reboot was on the fast track to success. And for the first three minutes, everything seemed right. The gang was at the Peach Pit, Color Me Badd’s “All 4 Love” was playing, and hijinks ensued. Even the throwback intro was a gut punch to the feels.
But then… Turns out the “reboot” is a re-imagining in which the Beverly Hills, 90210 actors play themselves, but “heightened” versions of themselves. Um, OK. Granted, that’s not what fans expected, but even this unexpected turn could find an audience if the show embraced the high camp. Instead, BH90210 trips and falls before it gets a chance to really run. Despite rare bits of amusing dialogue and a tender moment thanks to a Luke Perry tribute in the pilot, most of BH90210 is a confusing, cringe-inducing affair looking to cash in ’90s nostalgia.
At some point during the creation process, Fox failed to realize that the success and charm of the original show hinged on the reliability of the characters despite wealth and privilege. But these folks have turned contemptible and unpleasant with age. The show has no idea what it wants to be. Is it a parody? A drama? Are we supposed to laugh at Jennie Garth’s failed marriages? Show creators overestimated the size of the BH90210 fanbase’s mean streak, me thinks. Few people like to laugh at old friends. The premise of the original 90210 was that it was a zip code, a lifestyle, and a group of friends that audiences vied for and wanted to visit. But this? This is not a place to visit. This is a place where you avoid eye contact with the residents in fear of Brandon Walsh needing a place to crash.