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“His Dark Materials” review: An HBO Original to fill the Harry Potter void

The eight-episode debut season of HBO’s His Dark Materials is almost over. How it hasn’t made bigger waves is maddening, especially as it is more imaginative than The Mandalorian and has what it takes to fill the void left by Harry Potter.

Perhaps HBO should promote it as the children’s story once considered too dangerous by religious groups? Seriously, it was almost banned.

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This His Dark Materials review is spoiler-free; it airs weekly on HBO Now, and has already been renewed for Season 2.

New stars for a new brand

It doesn’t have the big brand of Disney+’s internet-breaking Star Wars adventure. Instead, it is about the invention behind the source material. Just like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, His Dark Materials is fantastical, full of characters and a deep, family-friendly journey. It deserves that recognition, not banning.

His Dark Materials stars a young adventure-hungry child named Lyra Belacqua, who is on the cusp of teenagehood. The show works through Lyra’s secret origin story, as events change her outlook and purpose in life. It’s dark for a children’s story — and that’s what makes it suitable for young and old alike.

Dafne Keen’s performance as Lyra is fantastic. Often stealing the scenes from more seasoned actors and actresses, her moments of conflict with Ruth Wilson’s character are powerful. They create a real tension that makes you want to know where their story goes.

A different kind of magic

This is a new world filled with armored bears, aeronauts, and spirit animals called daemons. Every episode feels conjured from a wonderfully twisted imagination, matched with quality acting and brilliant settings that bring this world to life. Just be warned: its take on organized religion is bleak.

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The show portrays the clergy as an all-powerful, controlling organization involved in dark dealings. The books took this further, and it’s the reason they were once considered dangerous. Despite the author’s take, His Dark Materials touches on fate, angels, and the soul in a way that remains very spiritual.

His dark source materials

The show is a $50 million TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials book series. It includes Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass novels.

What you need to know about the source material:

  • Northern Lights is considered one of the top 10 most important children’s novels in the last 70 years.
  • The book series came third in the BBC’s poll of favorite books behind The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice.
  • The book series ranked in Time Magazine’s best 100 books of all time.
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This isn’t some trashy work of fiction. It’s a big hitter in the world of literature. It’s a genuine work of art, and HBO has given it to us in our medium of choice, albeit modernized from Victorian times. Thank you, HBO!

His Dark Materials verdict: Binge


SNIPdaily Review
  • Streaming on HBO Now and Go
  • Created by Philip Pullman
  • Starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, and Amir Wilson

If you are a parent with young children, this is a show you can watch together. Even for religious families, the portrayal of organized religion should entice interesting family debate, not fear. Many shows allegedly suitable for children glamorize violence or dumb topics down. His Dark Materials treats everyone as an adult without chasing shock value. If you’ve got HBO, watch it now.

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