Netflix and Amazon are locked in a TV arms race, firing off ever flashier original content. This week, the two streaming services have perhaps their most direct face-off yet, as they launch two glossy new fantasy shows on the same day. Will Amazon's Carnival Row or Netflix's The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance fill the gap left by HBO's Game of Thrones?
All eight episodes of season 1 of Carnival Row and all 10 installments of season 1 of Age of Resistance will be available to stream on the same release date: this Friday. They're both fantasy shows with dark undercurrents, although they take different directions to establish their own mythical worlds.
The first thing we should note is that both shows are extremely watchable. Amazon Prime Video's Carnival Row is an original story created for television but feels as deeply imagined as a series of novels. It's packed with world building and lore to delight viewers who love complete immersion in strange worlds. It's a bit lurid and not always subtle, but the interweaving subplots spiral to an operatic crescendo and there are plenty of trashy thrills. Stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne are pretty easy on the eye too, even if their accents aren't so pleasing for the ear.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is more family-friendly and has a general sheen of class that might make it more appealing to a wider audience. It's absolutely gorgeous, with delightfully physical puppets giving a weight and realism to the colorful fantasy imagery. Some viewers might be put off by the fact it's acted out by puppets, but they'd be missing out. Age of Resistance is a compelling and powerful story packed with relatable characters.
As you may have guessed, it's also based on an old movie, which could be a double-edged sword. Lots of people love Jim Henson's original 1982 movie The Dark Crystal, but plenty of people may never have seen it. The original film is on Netflix so you catch up before starting the new series, but nobody likes homework. In truth, you can probably manage without because Age of Resistance is a prequel.
Game of streams
OK, you may be getting a bit sick of Game of Thrones comparisons, so we'll get that out of the way. Game of Thrones casts a long shadow, and you can see its influence in a lot of shows today. HBO'seven though it takes place in our present-day world. Like Thrones, both Carnival Row and Age of Resistance are set in bizarre realms plagued by real-world politics and problems, with lots of ruthless scheming and no-holds-barred action. And both showcase a cross-section of their imagined society, from ground-level plots to royal intrigue. Fans of GoT will certainly find a lot to like in either show.
They each establish their own identity, however. Carnival Row, in particular, draws on a different strand of fantasy fiction, set in a steampunk-style world of Victoriana. If anything, it's like Westeros hundreds of years later -- gritty fantasy in the style of Penny Dreadful or Sherlock Holmes.
Carnival Row is also based around a detective/whodunnit format, even if only loosely, which gives it a focus and momentum that Age of Resistance often lacks. As with many Netflix shows, you might wonder if Age of Resistance could have been tightened to fewer episodes.
Unlike Thrones and the gory, lurid Carnival Row, Age of Resistance is suitable for the whole family. But that's not to say it's childish or simplistic. It continues the original film's deliciously sinister sensibility, as well as a few shockingly intense moments that might be a bit much for very young viewers.
More importantly, though, it has some clever and sophisticated things to say about the world we live in. Carnival Row tackles racism head-on, while Age of Resistance delves into very timely themes in a more subtle way. The original film implied that the evil Skekses wiped out the peaceful Gelflings, but Age of Resistance expands on that and adds nuance. It depicts a society in which the Gelflings prop up their own oppression in exchange for a few morsels of power. Watch the show with your kids and you have a fantastic opportunity to discuss how the story translates to real world problems of racism, sexism and privilege.
Amazon and Netflix may be in competition, but that doesn't mean that you have to choose between Carnival Row and Age of Resistance. If anything, their very different approaches to similar themes make them good companion pieces.
The only question then is which are you going to watch first?
Carnival Row, which has already gotten confirmation for a season 2, streams on Amazon Prime Video, starting Friday. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is available on Netflix on the same day.