HomeTelevision'His Dark Materials' Premiere Review: HBO Has Found Another Great Series

‘His Dark Materials’ Premiere Review: HBO Has Found Another Great Series

His Dark Materials
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

HBO never ceases to amaze me.

In a year when Game of Thrones, the network’s undisputed ratings juggernaut, ended its run, and there was no boxing since 1973 — you’d think HBO would be in for a rough year.

Yet, it feels like they produced their strongest year in a long time. True Detective Season 3 kicked things off with an absolutely triumphant return to dramatic form. Game of Thrones, despite all the (well-deserved) criticism, brought in unfathomably high ratings. While GOT was crushing, Barry and Veep delivered remarkably brilliant seasons. Post-GOT, Chernboyl came out of nowhere as a critical and audience smash. “Little” shows like Euphoria and the sophomore season of Succession became cultural phenomenons. Watchmen took everyone by surprise with how brilliant it is, and the ratings showed.

His Dark Materials, a the television adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s classic series, is here and is yet another awesome addition to HBO’s “murderer’s row” known as 2019.

There’s two reasons His Dark Materials works so well, and they’re both fairly obvious.

The first is the world building which is fairly obvious given this show is based on a series of mega-popular fantasy novels. However, we’ve seen bad world building before. Real bad. Especially on television. Luckily, this is HBO, and they’re not afraid to shoot the works for their projects. The world of Pullman’s novels comes jumping off the page onto the screen, and it’s just a beguiling world that evokes some imagery of Harry Potter (a huge knock against The Golden Compass film back in the day), while also feeling highly unique onto itself. You want to know more literally about everything in this world.

To be fair, this can be seen as a bit of a frustrating thing for some viewers. The series does not over-explain a lot of the concepts that appear in the premiere. Who is this highly feared Magisterium? Why does this college where we find our hero Lyra (Dafne Keen) allowed to be a sanctuary for her? What are “The Gobblers?” What is the Western Kingdom? This will probably be worked out in the wash as the series continues, or so we hope.

The second reason this series works, which is also fairly obvious, is the cast. First, Dafne Keen is just brilliant as our precocious hero, Lyra. As evidenced in Logan, Keen is an elite actress. She does all the heavy lifting in the premiere — emotionally, comically, and dramatically. She’s just a wonder to watch on screen. Also, it doesn’t hurt that James McAvoy is bounding around the premiere chewing scenery with a brutish intensity. The Affair’s Ruth Wilson appears towards the end as the iconic Ms. Coulter. There’s something dark and sinister about her (as seen in the trailer for the season), and Wilson’s “sweet on the surface” performance just adds an air of dramatic weight, and suspense to every moment she’s on screen. Her’s is the character I can’t wait to see more of as the series unfolds.

If there is one downside to His Dark Materials is its placement on the schedule. This feels like a series best suited for a high profile night like Sundays. A Monday night timeslot worked tremendously for Chernobyl, but a series as high gloss as this feels much better-suited for a Sunday night timeslot. Imagine this paired with Watchmen? That’s must-watch. Hopefully this series will not get lost in the very crowded sea of programming — from network and cable television, and multiple streaming services, including the emerging Disney+.

Regardless, His Dark Materials is an absolutely fascinating series that wonderfully blends lighthearted fantasy with sociopolitical/religious intrigue, and very sinister undertones. It’s going to be intriguing to watch this unfold throughout the coming weeks.

His Dark Materials airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. The season premiere is now streaming on HBO NOW.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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