Roush Review: High Fantasy in HBO's 'His Dark Materials'

Matt Roush
Review HBO

While we wait for the next chapter of graphic adult fantasy in the Game of Thrones franchise, HBO finds a new world of more juvenile wonder in a robust yet familiar-seeming adventure series — part Dickens, part Jules Verne — based on Philip Pullman's celebrated YA trilogy.

While there are no dragons in His Dark Materials, there are enough talking animals to turn even Doctor Dolittle's head. These are daemons, each linked to a human and representing his or her soul. Although later on, armor-plated bears enter the picture, so basically, anything goes.

All of which is OK with the story's irrepressible and inevitable child of prophesied destiny — every saga seems to have one — and Dafne Keen is terrific as restlessly rambunctious teenage heroine Lyra, who seeks exciting new experiences when she leaves the stuffy Oxford college in which she was raised as an orphan under murky circumstances.

His Dark Materials Ep1

HBO

Mystery is apparently the main course of study at Jordan College, where the headmaster (Clarke Peters) and other academics, under the oppressive rule of a church-like entity called the Magisterium, discourage discussion of a material known as "dust."

Lyra is more concerned about a recent epidemic of missing children, including her BFF kitchen servant Roger (Lewin Lloyd). So it doesn't long once she's taken under the wing of enigmatic, sinister Mrs. Coulter (a perfectly cast Ruth Wilson) that she escapes on a mission to rescue her friend and perhaps to be reunited with her dashing explorer uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy).

'His Dark Materials': Meet the Humans & Daemons of HBO's Epic Fantasy (PHOTOS)

'His Dark Materials': Meet the Humans & Daemons of HBO's Epic Fantasy (PHOTOS)

The cast and EP offer insight into the show's major players.

Precocious Lyra's picaresque escapades make for solid escapist entertainment, eventually taking her to the less regimented north. She's joined in the fourth episode by Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, who's clearly having a ball as swaggering aeronaut Lee Scoresby. He somehow restrains himself from clever rap riffs, but I wouldn't put anything past those giant bears.

His Dark Materials, Series Premiere, Monday, November 4, 9/8c, HBO