His Dark Materials debuted on HBO Monday night. It was good to see—especially Ruth Wilson as the mysterious and alluring Marisa, the very night after The Affair concluded, splendidly, on Showtime, where Wilson played the alluring Alison, of which I'll say no more in case you haven't seen it.
But about His Dark Materials, to begin with, a proviso about me. Although the trilogy by Philip Pullman came out around the same time as I first started getting my science fiction stories and novels published in major places—the mid-late 1990s—I never read them. I should have, and it's even more surprising that I didn't, since alternate realities are one my favorite science fiction/fantasy genres (the other being time travel). But, in a way, I'm now glad that I didn't read the trilogy because it allows me to approach the HBO series as a first encounter, unencumbered by comparisons to the appearance of the narrative in an earlier medium.
The ambience of the TV series including the set-up is a pleasure for the eyes and brain. It's a kind of steampunk, except there are helicopters and all sorts of other present or close-to-present trappings, so maybe radiation punk would be a better label (there's also talk about some kind of dangerous "dust"). Animals talk and are bonded—in a "sacred" way—to humans. That is, each person has her or his own sentient animal, known as a "daemon." The academic town of Oxford is in this alternate world, as is London, much more than academic, which we haven't seen as yet.
It's too soon for a Dark Materials novice to get what's really going on, but we've seen enough to know there are no shortage of heroes and villains, and lots of compelling people in between. Marisa, for example, seems to be such a mix, but Lyra seems as pure as the snow. James McAvoy as Lord Asriel is looking to be entirely good, but Clarke Peters (Treme and The Wire!) as the powerful Master, not quite so. These subtleties make for good story telling.
Which I'll be watching and reporting about back here, on likely a weekly basis.
More alternate reality—"flat-out fantastic"—Sci-fi and Scary