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TCA: Carnival Row creates a world so rich it demands a season 2

By Tara Bennett & Andrea Ayres
Carnival Row Amazon Prime

The Amazon Studios series Carnival Row is a show about the crisis of modern life set in Victorian England. In Beverly Hills at the TCA 2019, the stars, co-creator Travis Beacham, and executive producer Marc Guggenheim gathered to talk about the upcoming series, and SYFY WIRE was there to give you all the jaw-dropping details.

Orlando Bloom stars as Rycroft "Philo" Philostrate, a human detective in a relationship with Cara Delevingne's character. Delevingne plays a refugee fairy named Vignette Stonemoss. Their relationship is not looked upon favorably in their society, which sees fairies as refugees who have been driven from their homeland by humans. The show is set up around a string of gruesome murders Bloom's character (Philo) is in charge of investigating. Delevingne (Vignette) may hold the secret behind these murders, and it's one that threatens the uneasy peace of a city already on the brink.

Here's a brand-new look at Carnival Row:

Carnival Row - Official Teaser: Bury a Friend | Prime Video
Filming of the show took place in Prague, a place known for its beautiful and intricate architecture. Speaking about the set design of the show, star Orlando Bloom says, "I’ve been on some amazing sets. Nothing has come close to it since Lord of the Rings. [I remember] Cara was taking videos of all these creatures in jars. She had these playing cards, and the backs were made of snakeskin. You may not see it, but it’s that detailed."

Travis Beacham, who also serves as executive producer on the series, envisioned the world of Carnival Row around 17 years ago. He says he briefly considered making it a graphic novel but always knew he was telling a visual story. The expansive and detailed world was so complex that Beacham says he created a map just to keep track of everything.

There's no denying there are some, shall we say, adult themes in Carnival Row. Asked about the sexiness of the show, Beacham says he wasn't interested in objectifying the characters. He added, "At the same time, it [the story] was using the tropes of fantasy in a more adult way, not gimmicky, but real and lived in. When it becomes too whimsical and removed, the things it’s trying to say as a consequence become too simple."

Delevingne agrees with Beacham; she says there's nothing objectifying about the show. "The subject matter is so real -- if you miss the sexiness -- then where is the light?"

Considering the ambitious world-building of Carnival Row, the panel were frank about the production challenges of making sure the characters, and rules of this universe, were clear for the audience. Amazon allowed them to do reshoots, which all day improved the narrative immensely. Beacham says, "I think the advantage of a true series order where you shoot all eight episodes; then you can go back and look at the whole. Are we setting up the things we are paying off as well as we can? When you get to the end and Amazon goes, 'What do you need to make it better?' I think it becomes necessary."

Far from detracting from the quality of the show, both Bloom and Delevingne were both adamant that the reshoots helped make the show stronger in every way. "Some of the most ambitious things we did were in those reshoots," says executive producer Mark Guggenheim. They detailed that the reshoots were particularly pointed in the first episode and allowed for the characters to have more time to develop their backstory.

The group revealed that one of their favorite episodes of the season is the third, where flashbacks inform the audience how Philo and Vignette came to meet. Bloom says, "[Philo] was institutionalized as an orphan, and that’s where we meet. It’s not supposed to happen. We make a connection and it’s a really beautiful episode."

It is impossible to view the trailer of Carnival Row and not see parallels to the story of refugees and migrants today. Guggenheim says though Travis wrote the story over 17 years ago, it's as relevant today as ever. He added, "It’s a sad commentary that the plight of refugees has gotten so much worse. But the immigrant story is a very, very old story, so we’re not doing anything new. We’re holding a mirror up."

"The notion that sci-fi and fantasy are escapist at its core, which is what toy commercials have reinforced, but it’s shows like Star Trek have always held a mirror to the real world. It’s a transporting genre, but it shows you where you came from and where you’re going," Beacham said.

Beacham was inspired by Celtic mythology and the dark fey folk and fairies that populate these stories.

When Beacham first began writing the story, he says, "It was a little more about race than immigration. It’s still very racial. In looking at it, part of that was growing up in the South [United States]. I was also thinking of the world of [Charles] Dickens and how he put a lens on a whole society. He dealt with it as a character study. I thought that was an interesting structure and wanted to explore it in a fantasy construct."

Bloom says, "As a Brit growing up in London, it was a melting pot that is even more different today. You have your take on race from America, but it’s playing out on a European stage. It’s the American perspective through Travis’ upbringing, but the stages are European. You get the global view with both sides of it."

Amazon has already announced it has picked up Carnival Row for a second season. What does this mean for the arc of the first season? Guggenheim says the eight-episode season will leave the city on a cliffhanger, "None of the main or secondary characters end the season in the same circumstances as they started."

While there isn't much to reveal about S2 yet, Beacham did say a location scout is currently searching in Croatia and Prague. "The world is getting bigger."

Bloom and Delevingne are joined by a cast of all-stars including David Gyasi (Interstellar), Karla Crome (Under the Dome), Indira Varma (Game of Thrones), and Tamzin Merchant (Salem).

Carnival Row premieres on Amazon Prime Aug. 30.